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Pioneer, Gill-Montague regionalization committee sets tentative date for first meet

  • Turners Falls High School and Great Falls Middle School Staff File Photo

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School Staff File Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 9/22/2019 9:31:35 PM

Town officials are pushing to begin exploring options for merging the Pioneer Valley and the Gill-Montague regional school district, even though the exploratory committee isn’t fully staffed yet.

A meeting for this new committee is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 29. More details will be available as it approaches.

The six involved towns — Gill and Montague being the Gill-Montague district; and Pioneer being Bernardston, Northfield, Leyden and Warwick — have been seeking volunteers for the committee since the beginning of September. Each town would have three members on the committee, one of whom is legally required to also be on that town’s school committee.

There has been at least some interest in all six towns, but not enough for an 18-member committee, according to Montague Town Administrator Steve Ellis, Gill Town Administrator Ray Purington and Leyden Municipal Assistant Michele Giarusso.

Yet it appears to be legal to proceed without a full committee, Montague and Gill town officials discussed at a joint meeting on Sept. 17.

And, considering that it’s expected to take up to a year and a half just to decide whether the six towns actually want to merge their school districts, town officials agreed that the sooner the group gets going, the better.

“There needs to be somebody who takes the lead and gets the ball rolling,” said Montague Selectboard Chair Rich Kuklewicz. “Otherwise it will just sit there and stagnate for years.”

One difficulty in the process seems to be in coordinating all eight of the relevant municipal groups — six selectboards and two school committees. At the joint meeting, Gill and Montague were well represented by their town administrators, selectboard members, finance committee members, several school committee members, and school Superintendent Michael Sullivan and Business Director Joanne Blier. But the only person there from the Pioneer district was Giarusso.

The necessity of involving the school committees was somewhat unclear at first. Everyone at the meeting ultimately agreed that the school committees are not legally involved in the work of the new exploratory committee (members are appointed by the town moderators) but that it would be best if the school committees voiced some support.

The Gill-Montague School Committee had previously been under the impression that it had to nominate representatives. When the subject was discussed at a School Committee meeting last week, “no one jumped at the chance to be on another committee,” said Gill-Montague School Committee Chair Jane Oakes.

The Pioneer School Committee, on the other hand, has not discussed the subject at all since the district’s four towns voted to join the exploratory committee in June. Whereas the Gill-Montague School Committee voted in favor of forming the regionalization exploratory committee this spring, the Pioneer School Committee never put the question on its agenda, and it was not addressed until the four Pioneer towns took action on it via their town meetings, in effect bypassing the School Committee.

This has lead some Pioneer town officials to wonder whether their School Committee is dragging its heels.

“The School Committee is not in favor of this. It’s loud and clear,” Giarusso said. “I think the School Committee is afraid to lose Pioneer Valley Regional School District. They do not want to see a larger school district.”

Yet, Montague Finance Committee Chair Jennifer Audley said, if the school committees have no legally necessary involvement in the regionalization project, it would make sense that the Pioneer School Committee hasn’t discussed it. The School Committee’s job, she pointed out, is to run its school district.

“I’m not worried that the Pioneer School Committee isn’t cheering this effort on,” Audley said.

Reach Max Marcus at or 413-772-0261, ext. 261.

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