New school district model proposed for Gill-Montague, Pioneer

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Turners Falls High School and Great Falls Middle School. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 9/29/2020 4:19:02 PM

A blueprint for a potential six-town school district that would replace the Gill-Montague and Pioneer Valley regional school districts is being discussed by the six towns’ exploratory committee.

The Six Town Regionalization Planning Board is expected to formally recommend this fall whether the towns should pursue this model.

As it is being discussed now, the potential new district would likely restructure Pioneer Valley Regional School and Turners Falls High School/Great Falls Middle School — both of which now serve grades seven through 12 for their respective districts — and instead turn one of the buildings into a middle school serving the six towns of the new district, and the other building into the new district’s high school.

However, the six towns involved are not necessarily committed yet to creating a new school district. The regionalization board started its work this past winter, but has not yet made any recommendations to the member towns’ selectboards.

The Gill-Montague Regional School District is made up of Gill and Montague. The Pioneer Valley Regional School District is made up of Northfield, Bernardston, Leyden and Warwick, although Warwick resolved in its most recent Annual Town Meeting to leave the Pioneer district. Warwick Town Coordinator David Young has said the town will remain in the district for the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years.

A merger of the two school districts is seen as potentially a way of adapting to issues stemming from long-term population decline in the region, explained Six Town Regionalization Planning Board Chair Alan Genovese. As population growth stagnates or reverses, Genovese said, it becomes increasingly difficult to support programs that would keep the schools relevant and competitive.

“This is trying to look ahead to the future of these two separate school districts — having something that is sustainable for the towns, and that is rigorous for the kids,” he said.

Economic sustainability and the strength of the educational programs are both equally important, Genovese said. The regionalization board is seeking not only operational cost efficiencies, but also possibilities for new curricular and extracurricular programs that now may be infeasible due to insufficient enrollment.

“Are you going to have band with four kids? What kinds of clubs can you have?” Genovese said. “The economy of scale may lend itself to provide more opportunities for kids that they wouldn’t have if we were on a different trajectory.”

This proposed model — two separate buildings for middle school and high school — is the subject of a feasibility study that had been commissioned by the committee and was recently completed. The final report was sent to committee members for consideration about two weeks ago.

As such, the Six Town Regionalization Planning Board does not yet have an opinion on this proposed model, and does not yet have a recommendation to the six towns, Genovese said.

The study was conducted by consultants who were directed to investigate the feasibility of creating a new district with one middle school and one high school, and to provide an initial recommendation on whether such a model is feasible and advisable. But, Genovese said, the Six Town Regionalization Planning Board will not necessarily agree with the consultants’ conclusions, and will discuss in its meetings before making any recommendation to the selectboards.

The report compares financial projections of the two existing districts against a projection of the potential new one that would replace them. Though a larger district may be more efficient, the report notes, savings might not be realized immediately in the first year, and it would be expected that the new district’s school committee would make adjustments in the first few years.

It is also noted that the proposed model does not prioritize cutting costs by reducing staff, although one of the committee’s interests is in combining services where possible and appropriate.

Dates have not yet been announced for upcoming meetings of the Six Town Regionalization Planning Board or its four subcommittees. Meeting dates are posted on the Gill-Montague school district’s website, gmrsd.org, under the “School Committee” tab at the top of the page.

A public forum for the exploratory committee to present and discuss the proposed model is likely to be held this fall, Genovese said, but a date has not been set.

Reach Max Marcus at mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-930-4231.




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