School districts across the Commonwealth will benefit from updates to the existing Chapter 70 funding formula, along with increased state investment in other vital education aid programs such as transportation, school construction and renovation and special education.
School committee members noted that the driving force behind the merger should be greater opportunity for students and a desire “to keep education strong” in the two districts amid declining enrollments.
At last Thursday’s school committee meeting, Rich Dohoney of Great Barrington proposed that Berkshire Hills issue a written request to its member towns, along with the Southern Berkshire Regional School District and its own member towns, to form a planning board “for the purpose of either forming, or consolidating into, a regional high school district to serve grades 9-12.”
Led by senior Lucy Doren, about 20 Monument students created a survey to distribute to fellow students, broke up into small groups and began imagining a design crafted around a core schedule, natural lighting, an enclosed courtyard, break-out spaces and more space for the school’s growing career and vocational technical education program.
The devil, however, was in the details, as panelists debated the pros and cons of building a brand-new new school or stripping the old one down to its core, constructing an addition and adding sprinkler systems and new infrastructure.
If the Berkshire Hills Regional School District could increase the number of towns that are formally members of the district, it could be leveraged to have a significant effect on the reimbursement rate for a potential project from the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
A common complaint among employees of the district and their families was that district officials did not adequately consult with faculty and staff about what was needed in terms of design and the accommodation of innovative curriculum, for example.
The largest incentive (up to 6 additional percentage points) to increase state reimbursement lies in the formation of a new school district as part of the building project. That incentive might resonate with South County residents because of declining enrollments.
This will be the third try since 2013 to get state aid for the ailing high school. BHRSD Superintendent Peter Dillon noted that “constructing a new high school is actually less expensive than renovating and adding to the new building.”
Berkshire Hills’ director of operations Steven Soule will once again assess the condition of 50-year-old Monument Mountain Regional High School and draft the statement, which will explain a number of deficiencies including ‘building condition, access, health and safety, as well as deficiencies for instructional programs, especially science and career and technical facilities.’
Monument Next Steps includes 22 members and will be modeled after the Regional Agreement Amendment Committee, which met several times over the course of the last year in a successful effort to change the district agreement’s formula for taxing the district’s member towns to pay for its operations and capital expenses.
At a meeting Thursday night, the school committee voted unanimously to ask Superintendent Peter Dillon to draft a mission and recommend the composition of a panel that would meet regularly and propose a solution for the aging school.
According to correspondence between the Berkshire Hills Regional School District and the Massachusetts School Building Authority last winter, Monument is not eligible for reimbursements through their Accelerated Repair Program, in which specific renovations or replacements can be made to an otherwise robust school building.
It was 57 degrees in Monuments Regional High School science labs and several more barrels had appeared in hallways to catch leaks. Indeed, students report several space heaters in a biology classroom where the teacher recommended they wear hats and fingerless gloves for Friday’s bitter temperatures.
Superintendent David Hastings noted that of all the Accelerated Repair Program projects accepted by the MSBA Monday, “our project is the largest, by far…” and that reimbursement rates are based on a host of variables that include “the relative wealth of the towns…”
“Taking the MSBA accelerated repair program off the table simplifies the situation. What we can do to repair the building will be pretty much limited to what we can pay for with our own resources.” — Great Barrington Finance Committee member Michael Wise
In her letter to the editor, Claudia Laslie of Great Barrington writes: “When it comes to security and safety there are so many concerns here. Is there any greater negligence than knowing what might occur and not preventing it?”
“Great Barrington has a habit of putting off expensive public projects to the detriment of future generations, waiting until its older buildings desperately need repair and upgrade.” — Karen Smith, Renovation Committee Chair
Richard Coons, chair of the Monument Mountain Regional High School Building Committee advises that the so-called Alternative Approach to Renovating Monument “reflects a lack of knowledge of virtually every aspect of law, building planning, design, construction and educational program needs.”