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Vote To Shutter Historic Berkshire Schoolhouses Tabled

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

The Southern Berkshire Regional School District has tabled a decision to begin closing two schools. 

A plan to shutter two historic schools in Berkshire County has emotions running high.

“Shame on whoever has been whispering in our new superintendent’s ear," said Monterey Select Board member Kenneth Basler, speaking at the March 9th meeting of the Southern Berkshire Regional School District school committee.

"Have you forgotten what happened last year? There was a lawsuit that was withdrawn, settled by a negotiation, that ended with the district agreeing to provide a program in Egremont next September. The reason for this settlement was that two towns turned down the budget. Not because of educational issues. Not because of financial concerns. But because the school committee violated the process. The two towns were Monterey and Egremont. And here we go again.”

His emotional address synopsized the lead-up to and the fallout from a February 21st vote by the district that would have formally begun a process to close one-room schoolhouses in two of the five towns the district represents. Reactions from residents of Monterey and Egremont were strong.

“Don’t treat us like second class citizens, because we’re part of this organization too," said Bruce Turner, chairman of Egremont’s select board, speaking with WAMC about the vote on March 8th. There was mention of changing school districts, and talk of the district disrespecting the significance of the schools to the towns.

But the story has taken a new turn. A March 15th meeting of the school committee saw the motion to begin closing the schools tabled, in part due to a letter spawned by a public meeting on the closings in Monterey nine days earlier.

“Monterey had sent a letter to the school committee asking them to reconsider the proposal because they were working on the initiative themselves within the town and their own taxpayers, and I think the committee stepped back and said let’s find ways to work together as a group and have these conversations and honor what the towns are requesting,” said School Superintendent Beth Regulbuto.

Reactions from the towns are complicated.

“Well, I’m heartened that the school district decided to table this vote," said Steven Weisz, who sits on the Monterey Select Board.

“If there’s any good that came out of it, it’s probably that the discussion was pushed a little bit in town, and so we’re now talking about the school again. But as far as the relationship between the district- between the town and the district, we’re becoming more cautious in how we deal with them,” said Weisz.

“I think it would be helpful if the five towns started talking with each other a little bit better and trying to work through some of our problems and figure out how we can better work at the ups and downs of the way the assessments are working now,” said Bruce Turner of Egremont.

Meanwhile, Monterey will take over financial responsibility for its decaying and still shuttered school building, estimated at between $3,000-$5,000 a year. Egremont is set to hold a public meeting on putting an additional $75,000 toward the repair of its schoolhouse on March 27th.

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