Hearing for Egremont lawsuit against SBRSD postponed indefinitely, settlement near

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By Wednesday, Jun 14 News
Terry Cowgill
Officials of the Southern Berkshire Regional School District, from left: Superintendent David Hastings, school committee Chairman Carl Stewart and school committee member Bonnie Silvers.

Egremont — A hearing scheduled this week at Berkshire Superior Court regarding a lawsuit filed by the town of Egremont seeking damages and an injunction against the Southern Berkshire Regional School District has been postponed indefinitely while the parties work on a settlement.

A hearing for the injunction sought by the town of Egremont in the lawsuit was originally scheduled for May 30 but was postponed because of the judge’s family commitment. It was rescheduled for Thursday, June 15, but has now been adjourned.

School committee chairman Carl Stewart confirmed that, about a week ago, that hearing was adjourned to Thursday, June 22, but now has been delayed indefinitely.

The South Egremont Village School, the center of a rift between town offices and the school committee. Photo: Terry Cowgill

The recently closed South Egremont School. Photo: Terry Cowgill

“After a meeting among the principals earlier this week, it was agreed that the June 22 hearing would be adjourned sine die,” Stewart said in an email, referring to the Latin term meaning “with no future date set.”

Because of the sensitive nature of the pending litigation, which seeks to reinstate funding for the now-closed South Egremont School, Stewart declined to comment further, adding only that, “When there is something substantive to report, it will be reported.”

The 26-page complaint was filed in Berkshire Superior Court April 13 by town counsel Jeremia Pollard. The document seeks an immediate and permanent injunction barring the district from “closing or suspending operations with respect to any district schools … until the district has performed all procedures required by the agreement for school closure.” The document stops just short of asking to leave the district.

At issue is whether the school committee is actually closing the South Egremont School or whether suspending operations constitutes a legal closing. The school committee prefers the term “on hiatus.” Pollard and the selectmen believe otherwise.

The school committee executed a similar action in Monterey, effectively closing that town’s tiny community school last year. In separate annual town meetings, both Egremont and Monterey soundly rejected the proposed budget, although it did pass in the other three member towns.

Egremont Selectboard Chairman Bruce Turner. Photo: David Scribner

Egremont Selectboard Chairman Bruce Turner. Photo: David Scribner

Still, four of five towns must approve their share of the regional district’s operating budget or it fails. On May 25, the school committee voted to send the same budget back to Monterey and Egremont for approval in separate special town meetings: Egremont on Thursday, June 22, and Monterey on Friday, June 30.

The school committee met in a closed-door session earlier this month and unanimously endorsed a proposed settlement with Egremont, Stewart said.

“We have a potential settlement agreement,” Bruce Turner, who chairs the Egremont Board of Selectmen, told The Edge. “Both parties will be voting on it next week. If both parties agree, we will not go forward with our suit.”

Representatives from the two parties met yesterday (June 13) to continue discussions, said Turner, who declined to comment further because of the delicate nature of the negotiations.

Egremont has a regular meeting of its board of selectmen scheduled for Monday, June 19, at 7 p.m. Turner expects the board to open the meeting in executive session to discuss the litigation. If the board approves a settlement, he expects it to be made public by early- to midweek next week.

Egremont’s special town meeting is scheduled three nights later on Thursday, June 22. The first article on the warrant is approval of the town’s share of the SBRSD budget.

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