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Leverett proposes new plan to regionalize elementary schools

LEVERETT — The Amherst-Pelham Regional School District will explore a new plan for a four-town pre-kindergarten to Grade 12 school district.

The proposal, from Leverett officials, is a variation of what has become known as the “hybrid” model, and would amend the existing regionalization agreement to allow any of the four towns to join in a pre-kindergarten to Grade 12 region or to opt out of regionalizing at the elementary level and instead join the district starting in Grade 7.

The original version of the model would have allowed Amherst, Pelham and Leverett to regionalize in a pre-K to Grade 12 district while Shutesbury would retain an independent elementary school and merge with the district in Grade 7. The new model extends that option to the other three towns as well.

At previous meetings, Shutesbury’s representatives rejected the idea of joining a pre-k to grade 12 district, saying that the town’s residents did not support it and that they feared losing local control of their elementary school.

Under the new model, Amherst would be the only town that would be excluded from opting out of the pre-k to grade 6 district due to the fact that its absence would make the model’s success unlikely, as it comprises 85 percent of the district’s total population.

Much of the discussion about the final form of the regionalization model centered around whether towns that choose to opt out of the pre-k to grade 12 district should be allowed to share its central offices and superintendent. The board eventually agreed to add a provision that would allow the towns that desired those services to negotiate with the regional school committee, which would then make the final decision.

Representatives from Amherst expressed skepticism as to whether the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education would accept the language of the plan without the towns that might opt out of the elementary school region being explicitly named in the amendment.

Chairman Andrew Steinberg said that if that were to occur, the board would have to ask state legislators to introduce special legislation that would allow the amendment to be adopted. That process, he said, could become costly and time-consuming.

Steinberg said he would draft a memorandum containing the details of the model that would be sent to the state for review. Those details will be further discussed during the board’s future meetings, the next of which will likely be held in mid-January.

In order for the schools to become regionalized, voters in Pelham, Leverett and Shutesbury must approve the regional district model at their respective town meetings, while a ballot election would be required in Amherst. The four towns have been regionalized in grades 7 through 12 since 1953, with the students in those grades attending the Amherst Regional middle and high schools.

At a meeting in July, the board voted to delay the presentation of any plans to their town meetings until the spring to allow time for the development of a model that would meet the needs of all four towns.

Amherst and Pelham’s elementary schools are joined together in a superintendency union know as Union 26, while Leverett and Shutesbury’s elementary schools are part of Union 28 with Erving, Wendell and New Salem.

According to Steinberg, regionalizing the elementary schools would result in increased efficiency and coordination by bringing the curriculum for students entering grade 7 under common direction. Additionally, he said, it would allow the towns to band together to share resources and save money.

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