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State Awards Grant to Explore Four Town Regionalization of Schools
Submitted by kochn on Fri, 01/18/2013 - 10:42am.
State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education grant enables Amherst, Leverett, Pelham and Shutesbury to comprehensively assess regionalization of elementary education
After six decades of being regionalized for middle and high school, town leaders of Amherst, Leverett, Pelham and Shutesbury are exploring options to regionalize their elementary school systems. A recent Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) regionalization grant award provides the 2012 initiative with the ability to determine whether there are financial and educational benefits to merging into a single region for elementary schools and to develop the structure for such a region that meets the unique needs of each town.
The competitive grant funding from DESE is to provide “one time funding to: support improved service delivery through innovative and cost effective approaches; create operational efficiencies that might be shared with other districts; and encourage regional and collaborative planning”. The Amherst Public Schools is the lead applicant on behalf of the four towns. Despite recent state budget cuts, a grant totaling $62,651 was awarded to cover expense activities through June 2013.
In 2011, Town Meetings in each of the four towns created committees to explore the topic of regionalizing at the elementary school level. The Town Moderators appointed three members to these committees. In June 2012, after meeting for six months to determine if a joint venture might be appropriate, the representatives unanimously voted to establish a four-town Regional School District Planning Board (RSDPB). The towns have sporadically engaged in similar explorations since coming together as a region for grades 7-12 in 1955. Regionalization discussions have occurred in 1968, 1976, 1992, and 2009. This is the first time that outside resources have been awarded for a comprehensive analysis focused on educational and financial benefits and implications.
In describing why this exploration process is important, Andrew Steinberg, Chair of the Regional School District Planning Board and Amherst Finance Committee Chair, stated; “Our communities are recognized for a long history and commitment to quality and effective education. Our towns have thrived because those before us - created regional Middle and High Schools that are recognized for providing high quality education. Today, it is our turn and it is our responsibility to explore ways to continue this tradition for the benefit of our residents and coming generations of children and families.”
Since July, the twelve board members and experts hired to provide analyses have been visiting all the elementary schools, interviewing school leadership, staff , PTO’s and school councils. A document published on the Regionalization Board’s website (www.RegionalSchoolPlanning.com) states that the Board is guided by five key values: being good stewards; being fiscally responsible; providing ample opportunities for town and resident input; respecting and reflecting the culture of the different communities; and maintaining the best features of current schools and capitalizing on their strengths.
Regional School District Planning Board Vice Chair and Shutesbury Select Board Chair, Elaine Puleo, noted that “All the towns have come together in a spirit of cooperation, motivated to preserve the high quality education they currently offer the children of their residents.” Puleo explained that “The world of education is changing, school districts face daunting challenges, and it is our responsibility to continually explore the best, most financially sound ways to protect the quality of education our towns treasure for future students”. Puleo pointed to several pressures including consistently shrinking funding, increased mandates, and most importantly, the need to educate children for a future that current educators cannot even anticipate. Amherst Regional Superintendent Maria Geryk is supportive of the exploration process, stating that “Creation of a new region could provide greater capacity and more cohesion that ultimately will benefit students. The increased efficiencies and effectiveness of a more coordinated education system will allow resources to be better spent in meeting the educational challenges of the future.”
On February 2, 2013 a “Report to the Communities” meeting will be held at the Amherst Middle School from 1:00 to 3:00 pm. This will be the opportunity for all residents of the four towns to hear directly from the finance and education consultants regarding their findings. Beginning on February 12 through March 2, there will be individual forums held in each town for residents to provide feedback in advance of any recommendation by the Regional School District Planning Board. The RSDPB plans to make a recommendation to the towns about whether or not to move forward in creating a region in early March. Options under consideration are either a preK-6th grade or preK-12th grade region. Any proposal will be brought to each town for a vote in Fall 2013 and must also be approved by DESE. If a new region is established, operations would begin fall 2014.
Last updated January 18, 2013