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Projected student enrollment of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District, as compiled by the Berkshire County Educational Task Force.

Education needs of high school students require combined school districts

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By Sunday, Apr 21, 2019 Viewpoints 7

While we all want to see our students have access to top teachers, academic/vocational programs and modern facilities, we need to allocate our resources wisely in order to support our students and teachers.

As Terry Cowgill reported last week in The Berkshire Edge, the Next Steps Committee of Berkshire Hills School District (BHRSD) is deciding whether to recommend rebuilding or renovating the outdated Monument Mountain high school, largely based on what costs will be tolerable. On the other hand, towns like Sheffield in the Southern Berkshires Regional School District (SBRSD) are complaining about the cost of schools experiencing shrinking student populations.

However, the big question is being ignored: How do we provide the best education for high school students under conditions of rising costs and declining enrollment?

WHAT’S THE ANSWER? If we pool our resources where all towns pay the same average operating costs per student for education, we should be able to get the most education at the most reasonable cost spread equitably across towns.

Great Barrington supports education as much or more than any other town. However, it cannot continue to supplement 70 percent of the non-district students’ deficits that it’s been paying for at least a decade. This inequity surely contributed to Great Barrington’s rejection of the multi-million dollar high school renovation proposals in 2013 and 2014.

CONCEPT FOR CONSIDERATION:

  1. Close Mount Everett (grades 9-12) which graduates few students and projected to experience the most severe decline over the next decade (according to the Berkshire County Education Task Force (BCETF).
  2. Combine its resources with Monument Mountain Regional High School so that all programs are available to all students from both schools. More expeditiously, Mount Everett could simply “tuition-in” to Monument Mountain without merging.
  3. Standardize the “tuition-in” contracts across South County at the average annual operating cost per student (about $16 – $18,000), demonstrating that ALL towns support education equitably.
  4. Besides those in the BHRSD district (Great Barrington, Stockbridge, West Stockbridge), out-of-district towns would then include the fiveSBRSDtowns (Sheffield, Egremont, Alford, Monterey, New Marlborough) as well as those currently without high schools now attending Monument High: Richmond, Shaker Mountain, Otis, Sandisfield.
  5. Monument Mountain Regional High School (under the supervision of BHRSD School Committee) could be welcoming and ensure that participating towns have a voice in the broad curriculum and operations of the larger high school.

TIMING. If schools in South County agree in 2019 to make this transition over the next three years, planning for a new high school could proceed expeditiously. If not, it’s doubtful if Great Barrington would vote to build a high school with extra space for 30- 40 percent more students than the district needs. Without excess capacity, students from adjoining towns would not be able to attend.

In May, we should vote in Selectboard members and later in the year, school committee members across South County who support such prudent and equitable plans. An entirely new high school is needed and should be supported by appropriate organizational and financial improvements.

Economic growth begins with a well-educated and well-trained population. Let’s start now to turn things around.


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7 Comments   Add Comment

  1. David Blumberg says:

    finally someone making sense, I guess that you are in contact with Chip.

  2. Karen W Smith says:

    I have a few concerns ..1 What happens to the space that SBRSD built for grades 9-12 and the debt they have incurred. AS well as the cost to construct the campus at MMRHS and the tuition in costs 2. What happens to the faculty and staff at SBRSD?3. Where does the increased cost of transportation get factored in and who pays it? One other thought what is the strategy to get 12 (twelve towns) to agree to this and where is the financial plan on what the costs would be for each of the towns.

  3. Ted B. says:

    As I have half kiddingly said to people turn SBRSD , Mount Everett into a low security prison, make some money with it ! Make a new MMRHS somewhere on the Sheffield flats and combine school districts ! In any case install solar panels in parking lots and on top of buildings ! With the 20th anniversary of Columbine being in the news, they show the school building with solar panels, brilliant people ! And one more pet peeve of mine ….how does Great Barrington get re-imbursed for all those tax dollars it’s never going to see because we have all those schools on all those acres that we are never going to generate tax dollars from ! Stockbridge and West Stockbridge are still laughing !

  4. Carl Stewart says:

    The writer’s thoughts on the need for consolidation of educational resources in southern Berkshire County are just a bit short of profound. Anyone who has looked at the history of county demographics over the past 50 years has seen the declining population, the aging of that population, and unsustainable increase in education costs crying out for consolidation or merger of small school districts. (The two districts discussed, BHRSD and SBRSD have among the highest per pupil costs in the entire Commonwealth of Massachusetts.)

    What Ms. Gregory ignores, whether purposely or inadvertently, is the elephant in the room, that is, who will bear the very significant cost of solving the problem of the crumbling Monument Mountain High School building? Would the 5 towns of the Southern Berkshire Regional School District, once they are sending students to Berkshire Hills, be expected to share in the approximately $100 million that will likely be required to build a new school or rehabilitate the existing one? If so, why would these towns, who have a perfectly good high school building in Sheffield that has just had major renovations undertaken with the full participation of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) agree to such a merger or consolidation? While the idea of combining the resources of 2 (and possibly 4) of the ultimately unsustainable small districts in South County is something that most educators agree on, it would be both unfair and unrealistic for Berkshire Hills to ask towns that are in no way responsible for the failure to remediate the Monument Mountain building problem to contribute in any significant way to this cost.

  5. dennis irvine says:

    The SBRSD should not ‘merge’ with BHRSD. Nor are the suggestions in this letter really about a merger. The notion that the “Monument Mountain Regional High School (under the supervision of BHRSD School Committee) could be welcoming and ensure that participating towns have a voice in the broad curriculum and operations of the larger high school.” Seems rather tone deaf to the history, culture, community and financial responsibilities of the residents of the SBRSD. “Could be welcoming” and “ensure that participating towns have a voice’ does not, in any way, speak to SBRSD towns having elected representation. The burdens BHRSD struggle under due to non-resident students are clearly a problem the BHRSD needs to address. Nonetheless, they will still face the challenges of the crumbling physical plant. Suggesting that the people of the SBRSD should ‘merge’ and relinquish control of their school district to the BHRSD that has yet to be able to resolve years of conflict within their communities over the costs of educating their children is not a viable solution for anyone. Bigger is not better, it just breeds more complexity and more problems. Our future will best become smaller, hyper-local and community focused. Transporting students, burning more fuel, emitting more CO2 while continuing to expect the cost of energy will remain cheap is misinformed or naive. The merger idea has been being floated for over 40 years and has been repeatedly rejected because it is an unsound and unequal plan, not an idea whose time has come.

  6. Brian Tobin says:

    Please don’t forget Mount Washington. With its own non-operating school district, the town currently tuitions students into SBRSD schools and they will have to be accommodated if a merger plan between the two regional school districts is adopted. The town has only a few public school students so a workable accommodation should not be a problem. That said, we’re happy with the current arrangement, and grateful for the fine education our students receive.

  7. MarkTomlinson says:

    I am not sure how the US government would start these programs for students. In my opinion, it has to concentrate on digitalization of studying process providing research and writing tools, such as RobotDon.com or Google Scholar. Yes, a budget for this type of campaign takes more funds, but effectiveness is required.

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