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Clarksburg Votes To Continue Stamford School Union Study

Rows of people sit in a small gym looking at a projected presentation on a screen
Josh Landes
The scene inside Clarksburg Elementary School at Wednesday night's special meeting

Residents of Clarksburg, Massachusetts agreed Wednesday night to continue examining a possible interstate school district merger with Stamford, Vermont. 

The vote mirrored a similar one carried across the state line in Stamford earlier in July. With it, the Northern Berkshire County community affirmed an interest in further exploring what it would mean for the two schools to unite. The yes vote was overwhelming, with only a handful of residents from the town of around 1600 just north of North Adams on the Vermont border against it. It was a stark contrast to the almost 30 no votes at the Stamford meeting.

“I think tonight gave the confidence to the school to keep moving forward discussions with Stamford and see what it brings us. It’s not a final vote, but it will bring us what we need to make an educated vote," said Interim Clarksburg town administrator and select board chair Ron Boucher, who says residents have a number of questions that the study will be able to answer: “You know, you’re talking about curriculum, you’re talking about teacher’s pensions and pays, how is it all going to work?”

John Franzoni is the superintendent of North Berkshire School Union, which the new united Stamford-Clarksburg schools would theoretically join.

“Educationally it makes sense for the two schools to come together," said the superintendent. "The question is, we need some more information from the state level about the funding, about the licensure for teachers, about the transportation costs.”

He says the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is already communicating with the NBSU about the potential merger.

“That state line complicated things a lot," he told WAMC. "So we need some answers from our state agencies that can help us to determine if we can make this work.”

Clarksburg’s 180 or so students and Stamford’s 85 students would use both towns’ buildings.

“The proposal that was voted on tonight was that Stamford would have a pre-K through 2 school and the students in grades 3 through 8 would come to Clarksburg if this merger came to fruition,” said Franzoni.

“If you look at our Chapter 70 school aid, it went up three one thousandths of one percent. The handwriting is on the wall," said former town administrator Carl McKinney, who resigned in May after about five years over a contract dispute. He says Clarksburg’s need to find a more efficient way to operate has been a long time coming.

“There’s also a pot of money for regionalization and sharing of services in the governor’s budget, and so this hopefully will enable us to access that to assist in this process,” McKinney told WAMC.

He says the original funding for the study came from the late 1st Berkshire State Representative Gailanne Cariddi, a Democrat.

“And then under the Lieutenant Governor’s community compact program, I wrote the grant for the next component of this," said McKinney. "So we have not used any tax dollars, and I think that this can offer a template if you will for other border communities, because we have a shrinking population, and Clarksburg is losing 1 percent of its population per year. And that’s real. And if these trends continue, you have a larger and larger share of the tax burden falling on fewer and fewer people.”

Now, the two communities can move forward with state money left over from the previous merger study to see exactly what it will take to unite – a process that could take years. If successful, it would be the first interstate school district in Massachusetts.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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