Time crunch delays revisions to Pioneer Valley Regional School District agreement

Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield.

Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

By BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer

Published: 02-26-2024 11:05 AM

NORTHFIELD — School officials put a pause on revisions to a new regional agreement for the Pioneer Valley Regional School District after Selectboards in all three district towns voiced concerns about the timeline for the rollout.

“There does not seem to be a realistic time frame at this point to complete the process in time for it to appear on this year’s warrants, Reina Dastous, chair of the Pioneer Valley Regional School Committee, wrote in an email to the Recorder. Dastous said the PVRSD Regional Agreement Subcommittee will discuss a new timeline at their next meeting on Feb. 27.

The PVRSD School Committee hoped to present the three district towns with revisions to the regional district agreement during their spring annual Town Meetings. The Northfield Selectboard decided to write a letter stating it did not have enough time for review before their Town Meeting warrant closed at the end of March.

“As a board, we need time to review this agreement with town counsel. We also need to allow time for citizen input and to help our residents understand this long-term commitment,” Alex Meisner, Northfield Selectboard chairman wrote in the letter on behalf of the Selectboard to PVRSD Superintendent Patricia Kinsella.

The district agreement was first created in 1990. It was amended once in 1999, but it has not been revisited in 25 years. The towns did not voice any concerns with substantive changes to the agreement, only concerns about the process. All three towns would need to vote to accept any edits for the agreement to change.

“We share many of Northfield’s concerns,” Leyden Selectboard member Katherine DiMatteo said in an interview. “The district agreement is a major commitment for the town.”

Northfield Selectboard members criticized the District Agreement Subcommittee, pointing to a timeline they planned to follow in the 2022-2023 academic year for amendments to the agreement. Over that year, the town of Warwick followed a year-long process that resulted in the town leaving the PVRSD and creating its own district. Members of the Northfield Selectboard indicated they thought a similar process to the one laid out, taking almost a year to complete, would be followed simply a year later. However, in anticipation of receiving revisions in the coming weeks, they voiced concerns that a public process would have to be completed in less than a month.

“Many of the important steps (collaboration with the towns, public input, legal review) laid out over a year in the original timetable posted on the website, are now assumed, per your email, to occur in the month of March. This is not a workable time frame,” the board wrote in its letter.

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Like all district agreements, revisions must be reviewed by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, a process that also takes time to complete. Once DESE makes its revisions, the School Committee presents the proposal to the towns.

“It is ridiculous the time they have taken,” Bernardston Selectboard chairman Stan Garland said in an interview.

DiMatteo indicated that all three town Selectboards and Finance Committees plan to meet together to discuss amendments to the regional agreement once it is given to the town. DiMatteo said that Leyden has the latest annual Town Meeting, commencing in June, and she noted that with the increased timeline compared to Northfield’s month, that is still not enough time for review.

With the regional agreement amendments being pushed back, they may be presented to the towns at the same time as a possible six-town regional school district is being proposed, which may complicate the matter further. That agreement involves combining the Gill-Montague and Pioneer Valley regional school districts.

“I believe it is not a walk in the park,” DiMatteo said. “It is a journey we are taking with the issues related to the school, and we need time.”

Reach Bella Carmela Levavi at 413-930-4579 or blevavi@recorder.com