$125K grant supports work toward potential school merger

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

  • Turners Falls High School and Great Falls Middle School. Staff File Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 12/27/2022 1:45:27 PM
Modified: 12/27/2022 1:44:41 PM

With several outreach meetings already held regarding the possibility of merging the Gill-Montague and Pioneer Valley regional school districts, the Six Town Regionalization Planning Board will gather more community input in 2023 thanks to a $125,000 Efficiency and Regionalization grant from the state.

The grant will support the board’s efforts to share the work it has already completed with the Gill-Montague and Pioneer member towns, while also supplying money to fund, if approved by the board, the drafting of a new regional agreement between the two existing school districts and any outreach associated with it, according to Six Town Regionalization Planning Board Vice Chair Greg Snedeker.

“Where we’re at now is sharing that information, which is what we’ve done in the last month,” he said. “We’re in the midst of community outreach and you need more facilitation of that.”

The $125,000 allows the board to pay for professional consultants, facilitators and legal services that it expects to use as it continues to hold informational forums for students, families, town officials and the general public, as its work continues.

One of those informational sessions was held in late November, when the Six Town Regionalization Planning Board invited the Bernardston, Leyden, Northfield and Warwick selectboards to a presentation laying out the expected educational benefits and opportunities that could come from merging the two districts, along with some enrollment numbers and early financial projections. The Gill and Montague selectboards listened to the presentation a few weeks prior to the Pioneer towns’ meeting. The slideshow put together by the board is available online at bit.ly/3jmKDUH.

While the grant will mostly fund community outreach at different phases, Snedeker shared the budget request for the grant, which shows $15,000 will be used to facilitate a report on the community forums and the anticipated feedback the board will receive; $40,000 will bring in a consultant for outreach and solicitation of feedback for a new district agreement; and $15,000 will fund legal review of the district agreement.

Snedeker emphasized the use of many of these funds is contingent on whether the Six Town Regionalization Planning Board votes to recommend the merging of the two districts. If the board votes against merging them, he said unused money will be returned to the state. A vote is expected in the spring.

The grant will also fund the development of a transition plan for employee records, an update of the board’s financial assessment and revenue data, and the development of a potential salary schedule and benefits.

Asking for these funds ahead of time, Snedeker explained, is a proactive move that will allow the board to move forward with the next steps if it recommends merging the districts without having to wait.

“If we do decide to move forward … then we need to have the funds available to do the district agreement,” Snedeker explained. “This is being proactive, and saying, ‘If we do vote to move forward, then we have the funds to move forward.’”

Laying out a rough timeline, Snedeker said if the board votes to recommend a merger, then it will take approximately nine months to craft a new district agreement and hold a substantial number of meetings with all the stakeholders involved. With an 18-month timeline attached to the grant, Snedeker said he is “optimistically and realistically” planning for everything to be finished by May 2024.

In the coming weeks, the Six Town Regionalization Planning Board plans to continue its outreach to various community groups. The first of those meetings will be held Tuesday, Jan. 10, when the Gill-Montague School Committee is expected to view the slideshow. A presentation to the Pioneer School Committee is expected at a later date, and Snedeker said Planning Board Chair Alan Genovese is working out dates to talk to students of both schools.

“I think we’re in good shape,” Snedeker said. “Ultimately we’re tasked with just gathering as much information as we can.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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