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Clarksburg Officials Want to Study School Regionalization
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
06:12PM / Sunday, January 28, 2024
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CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Town officials are asking the school superintendency union to consider regionalization as a way to reduce education costs. 
The Select Board met with school officials during a joint meeting on Wednesday night at Town Hall. 
Select Board member Daniel Haskins said he and John Franzoni, superintendent of Northern Berkshire School Union, had "spoken briefly about the possibility of moving forward with investigating the advantages and disadvantages."
Franzoni pointed to the study that had been done with Clarksburg and Stamford, Vt., a few years ago for an interstate school merger and recommended a similar process. 
"We could probably get some funding to do a study, basically look into what would be the benefits, what would be that the positives of doing that with the five NBSU schools," he said. 
The school union is made up of five communities: Clarksburg, Florida, Monroe, Rowe and Savoy. Monroe sends its children to Gabriel Abbott Memorial School in Florida while the other communities operate separate elementary districts. 
Franzoni noted that discussions about regionalizing have cropped up over the years but some school districts have been against the idea. A major concern over regionalization has been loss of control over local schools. 
The school union shares a superintendent, an assistant superintendent, business administrator and information technology director along with two administrative assistants. It also directs other certain shared services such as music and art teachers and certain paraprofessionals. 
Each town has its own school committee and sets its own budget and is assessed for shared services. Regionalizing would streamline governance and financial structures and open the new district to funding such as state regional transportation reimbursements. 
Franzoni also raised the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's finding that accepting school choice students could put small schools on the hook for secondary education. 
"This has thrown a lot of these small districts into panic because what it's saying is even though we only educate Clarksburg students to Grade 8, they're saying once we accept them, we're responsible for education through Grade 12," he said. 
For example, there are some students from Adams — if they decide to go to Drury, the town would have to pay their tuition.
The state has been pushing more regionalization for some time but it's unclear if this would result in any significant savings for the communities. 
Plus, the superintendent said, "one of the key points is there are some in the NBSU that don't want any part of it." It would be challenging to move forward if more than one district opted it because of the shared employees, he said. 
Chair Robert Norcross asked how such a regional school committee would be set up. Franzoni said the Hoosac Valley district, for example, has seven members with four from the Adams as the larger community. 
Among the five in the NBSU, Clarksburg's enrollment is about half and currently it has three votes out of 11 on the union school committee. 
"I think there are different ways you can formulate that based on whatever your agreement is," said Franzoni. "That would be up to the towns to negotiate."
The officials agreed that having a study done would be best way to start discussions. Franzoni didn't think it would be difficult to get funding for the study since the state is pushing regionalization. 
"It would be good to make a decision on what the facts are, on what the actual numbers would say, what the benefits are, what the challenges as opposed to making decisions based on fear and speculation," Franzoni said. "We don't know all the answers ... the Southern Berkshire group that just did like a two- or three-year study and eventually the towns voted on it and they voted it down."
Assistant Superintendent Tara Barnes said she's got the 500-page roadmap from the state on the regionalization process, which includes approval by town meetings.  
The board agreed that Haskins would be the liaison to the school and that Franzoni would raise the issue with NBSU towns. He also encouraged the Select Board to reach out to the town's other boards to see if there is support. The Clarksburg School Committee will take it up at its meeting next week.
"It's just preliminary. We're just planting a seed here and so I want to see what happens," said Select Board member Jeffrey Levanos, a former member of the School Committee. 
In other business,
Mary Giron asked if a police officer could be at the school during drop-off and pickup times. Saying she was speaking as a resident and taxpayer, not as a member of the School Committee, Giron said she'd was driving by the school in the morning and was "horrified" at the traffic switching lanes and trying to go around other vehicles entering the school driveway.
The board members said it was difficult to get the town's one full-time officer there every day and suggested that pickup and drop-off occur in the back of the school to get cars off the road. Giron said she would not speak on behalf of the School Committee but that this issue had been discussed numerous times. 
"In the meantime, I'm asking for a police presence," she said. "I'm telling you there's going to be an accident."
• The board did give Giron its blessing to raise funds for another electronic sign for the front of Town Hall. The one purchased is only lighted on one side because of cost issues; a second sign would allow a message both coming and going from the town. 
• The board approved a transfer of $7,500 from the reserve fund to the wages line item to cover the cost of hiring a 20-hour accountant. The town's been behind in its finances for some time and the hours currently assigned to two part-time accountants are not enough. The transfer could not happen until a Finance Committee was in place; the newly sworn in committee will take up the transfer next week. 
• The board told Town Administrator Carl McKinney to focus on getting in a Massworks application. The town has a lot on its plate: it's looking to complete the south end of Middle Road; repair a deteriorating wall near Hall's Ground, fix a culvert on upper West Road and replace or remove a 300-foot long culvert on Millard Avenue. 
The allocation of $575,000 from the state for the damaging floods last July 10 will go toward fixing the Band-Aid repairs. 
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