Six Town Regional Planning Board seeks facilitator, public input

  • 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: 10/13/2021 4:54:56 PM

The Six Town Regionalization Planning Board tasked with exploring the feasibility of merging the Gill-Montague Regional School District and the Pioneer Valley Regional School District is seeking a facilitator to help continue its work into a phase seeking public feedback on the results of the board’s study.

In 2019, the Gill-Montague school district was awarded a grant and contracted with The Abraham Group and the Massachusetts Association of Regional Schools (MARS) to develop both enrollment and financial baseline data. An analysis of merging union contracts, health insurance and central office, among other related topics, also began.

According to Six Town Regionalization Planning Board Chair Alan Genovese, the facilitator will be tasked with sharing a summary of the findings to date with stakeholders and soliciting feedback, suggestions and ideas for the board to review. He noted that board members — who represent all six towns in the Pioneer and Gill-Montague school districts — “are open to all ideas and are eager to hear from their constituents.”

The facilitator will be paid using the last regionalization grant, and this phase of public feedback will occur through Dec. 30, with an interim report provided. A second grant is being sought to continue this work, with a full report due on June 30, 2022.

“Due to declining enrollment in both school districts, a trend that is projected to continue, and the financial pressures that this is creating for both districts and the towns, the planning board was formed by the towns and asked to study this idea and make a recommendation to the six towns for their consideration,” said Genovese, who is also a member of the Pioneer School Committee and the Warwick Selectboard.

The exploratory committee has previously explained that the vision for the new district would be to reorganize Pioneer Valley Regional School and Turners Falls High School, so that one would be a middle school and the other a high school. All the currently open elementary schools would remain unchanged.

One of the state’s financial criteria for supporting public education is tied to enrollment. However, Genovese said limited state support shifts more financial burden onto the towns when a district tries to maintain the programs and services offered to students.

“Initial data indicates that a merger would allow for more programs and services for students due to a larger student population, but the financial implications do not appear favorable for some towns and for a newly created school district,” Genovese explained. “This finding is prompting the planning board to engage the state and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to discuss how this might be addressed.”

Concurrently, he said, the Six Town Regionalization Planning Board is seeking a facilitator to meet with various stakeholders “including parents and students, teachers and staff, administrators and town officials to weigh in on what they think and feel about this possibility.” While it was originally planned to have public forums and working sessions with the stakeholders to include input as part of their study, Genovese said the pandemic made it difficult to collect full public feedback.

As a result, the study focused on gathering information and producing several reports. These can be found on the Six Town Regionalization Planning Board’s website, sites.google.com/view/strpb/home.

“We had a couple years of collecting data, and now it’s a matter of getting that to the public and seeing what they think,” Genovese said.

With the help of a facilitator, the board hopes to schedule events for extended public input throughout the next two to four months. Genovese said “if all goes well,” the group may be able to bring a recommendation on whether to merge the two school districts to member towns for the 2022 Annual Town Meeting cycle.

The Gill-Montague Regional School District recently crafted a request for quotes (RFQ) to engage the services of a facilitator on behalf of the Six Town Regionalization Planning Board. This RFQ ran in the Oct. 6 edition of the Greenfield Recorder and can be found online at bit.ly/3Bpsk5g.

Anyone interested in providing services as a project facilitator should contact Joanne Blier, Gill-Montague’s director of business and operations, by emailing Joanne.Blier@gmrsd.org.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.




Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906

 

Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy