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Monterey And Egremont School Closures Take A Step Forward

By John Phelan - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9813699
The Monterey School

Elementary schools in Monterey and South Egremont could close following a special Southern Berkshire Regional School District school committee meeting. 

A cherished past clashes with a tenuous future in the Southern Berkshire Regional School District, as a debate over two historic schoolhouses—one empty, the other lately underutilized — has led to public hearings on their closure.

“The school committee was hearing that the budget for the school district was not going to be approved by any of the member towns because they wanted to have a voice in this portion of the discussion around what resources could the district support and they wanted to have all five towns weigh in on that decision, which is what the regional agreement calls for," said School Superintendent Beth Regulbuto on the special school committee meeting Feb. 21st. The 1953 regional agreement united Sheffield, Alford, New Malborough, Egremont, and Monterey into one school district.

“I think the school committee did the right thing, honored the agreement and the wishes of the taxpayers to say let’s put these questions in front of everybody, let’s make a decision on what the communities want to do, and then we can move forward and plan,” said Regulbuto.

Concerns about funding the schools in Monterey and South Egremont prevailed in two separate votes to move forward discussion of their closure. Monterey’s currently shuttered schoolhouse was put on hiatus by the district in 2015, and Egremont a year later. Only an April 2017 lawsuit from Egremont – later settled -  lead to their school’s reopening and funding for the 2018-2019 school year.

“There’s declining enrollment in the schools. And with the declining enrollment, the budgets seem to continue to grow,” said Tara White, Select Board Chair of New Marlborough.

She says her town’s spending on schools constitutes half of the town budget, making the need for savings more pressing.

“Both Sheffield and New Marlborough have the most children going to the district, so therefore they have the brunt or the higher percentage of the budget money going towards the schools,” said White.

Steven Weisz of the Monterey select board, who wasn't at the meeting, characterized his response as “disappointment. In one word, disappointment. The reason why I use the word disappointment is because I do believe each of the towns in the Southern Berkshire Regional School District have the right of self-determination. We should be able to determine for ourselves whether our school should be closed, have our townspeople vote on whether they should close their own school, not have it closed for us.”

Weisz feels the move violated the spirit of the regional agreement.

“I think that the two towns have been working together to preserve what is a real jewel of berkshire county," said Weisz. "I think that people fail to understand that sometimes small can be wonderful.”

Egremont select board member George McGurn sees much more at stake with closing the school.

“It’s a point of attraction. People say the school and broadband are the two things that are of importance to young families, and the more young families we attract to Egremont, the better off we’ll be,” said McGurn.

A public meeting about the Monterey school is set for March 6th at its town hall.

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