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Berkshire Union gives Rowe green light to join

FLORIDA — About a dozen Rowe residents cheered as School Committee members from the North Berkshire School Union voted unanimously to invite Rowe to join its shared elementary school superintendency and opt out of the administration it has shared with Mohawk and Hawlemont for the last 40 years.

Berkshire School Committee members voted to “accept Rowe into our school union, contingent upon contract negotiations.”

If the agreement is reached, the administrative change will save Rowe about $50,000 from what it now pays to the Mohawk Central Office. But more important to those Rowe residents present were assurances that the School Committee and principal — not the superintendent — would run their school.

“What is your main reason for walking away?” asked Carla Davis-Little of Monroe.

Rowe School Committee Chairwoman Lisa Miller said she felt that joining a union shared by several small schools was “a better fit.”

Another Rowe resident recalled that, when Superintendent Michael Buoniconti decided not to renew their 13-year principal’s contract in 2010, about 95 percent of the townspeople and school community wanted to keep their principal, Robert Clancy. “But that didn’t matter to the superintendent,” she added. “He didn’t care and that still bothers me.”

However, selectmen’s Chairwoman Marilyn Wilson said she’s been fielding lots of phone calls from residents who want to stay with the Mohawk administrators because of ties to that community.

Lisa Danek-Burke, who voted against negotiating a new contract with the Berkshire School Union in February, was asked to explain why she voted against it.

“I don’t feel there’s any education advantage for moving,” she replied. “Residents have expressed concerns over whether our children will still be able to go to Mohawk. I feel one of the best ways to prepare our children for Mohawk is for the teachers to work with the other teachers in that district. We have after-school sports, band and chorus activities. This move hasn’t really been explored and I haven’t heard of an educational advantage.

“I feel this decision is being pushed much too quickly,” she added.

Berkshire school board member Judy Olson of Florida explained: “We have a contract with the union office to use their services. But all in-school decisions are made through our principal. That’s what the School Committee and principal would have to work out for yourselves. We don’t make any decisions about anyone else’s school.”

Rowe Selectman Noel Abbott said Rowe left the Mohawk Trail Regional School District 30 years ago, at the request of the other member towns, in return for tuition to send its students to Mohawk, but doesn’t have any votes on the Mohawk School Committee. He said he thought the smaller school superintendency was “a much better match” for the 60-student Rowe Elementary School.

“There are comments that we have lost control of our school, and the (administrative) costs have become top-heavy,” said Ellen Miller, School Committee secretary. “If we join your union, we’re cutting our costs in half. That’s huge.”

Rowe’s joining the district would also save the other towns a combined $12,000 in the next school year.

The next step, after the Berkshire vote, is for Lev and the school system’s lawyer to draft a new regional agreement that would include Rowe. Miller said she hopes to call a School Committee meeting as soon as the contract has been completed, so that Rowe can discuss it and deliberate.

(Editor's note: Some information in this story has changed from am earlier edition)

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