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New York Gov. Hochul announces "parameters of conceptual" budget deal, two weeks after deadline

Berkshire Education Task Force Defends Countywide School District Plan

The Berkshire Education Task Force is sticking by a controversial recommendation it made in July to create one countrywide school district. 

Some of the concerns residents have over creating a single Berkshire County school district are whether cost savings will be applied to classroom instruction or to lower taxes, and whether programs, like vocational schools and extracurriculars, will improve.

Members of the Berkshire Education Task Force that recommended the plan answered questions Tuesday night at the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition’s October Forum.

Adams Town Administrator Tony Mazzucco says creating one countywide school district would pool resources so every student has the same access to academics, sports, and extracurriculars.

“The goal of this is not just to say let’s regionalize and share all of the schools in Berkshire County and take a dollar off everyone’s tax rates,” Mazzucco says. “It’s to maintain the quality of education we have and to improve that quality of education. It’s not just about saving tax dollars. We are going to spend those dollars one way or another. We want to spend them effectively so that the dollars we are spending can get us a quality education so we don’t fall behind the rest of the commonwealth.”

Adams-Cheshire Regional Superintendent Robert Putnam says what’s offered now to most students is extremely limited.

“Right now depending upon the community you live in, that can determine the type of communities you have,” Putnam says.

North Adams Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Malkas says the task force’s recommendation comes at a pivotal time.

“Student enrollment continues to decline, per pupil costs rise, levy limits and tax ceilings are reached, and state and federal aid stagnates,” Malkas says.

There has been a 22 percent decline in student enrollment countywide in the last decade.

“Classes entering freshman year in many of our high schools are becoming so small that their chances of experiencing a course of studies that offers anything beyond the core are dwindling,” Malkas says.

Malkas says at the same time, expectations for students in the competitive world of college admissions are rising.

Last year, the Berkshire Education Task Force hosted forums to identify the region’s needs. It identified five options ranging from the status quo to increased regionalization in north, central and south county, before recommending what it called the best-case scenario:

“A single Berkshire County School District offers the best opportunity to provide the best education for the most amount of students at a sustainable cost,” Malkas says.

“Taxpayers will have a more equitable and fiscally sustainable way of funding education and other municipal services,” Cynthia Brown says.

Cynthia Brown, who’s on the task force, was the vice president of Academic Affairs at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and served as the college’s interim president.

Brown says savings of up to $8.5 million a year could go toward reinvestment. Managing class size and enrollment declines could mean up to $27 million in savings.

The task force predicts it will take 10 years to shift to a countywide school district – if that’s what each municipality opts to adopt. Most municipalities are already in some kind of shared or regional school district.

“We envision that these relationships will deepen and expand,” Brown says. “We envision that over time existing and new combination of districts could grow and include more districts, as more and more towns and other districts see the gains that could be made by coming together.”

Residents in Williamstown and Lanesborough are scheduled to vote November 14th on whether to combine the four school committees that operate in the region.

The state auditor’s office released a study Wednesday calling for long-term modernization of regional school district structure statewide.

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