Southern Berkshire Parents Push to Keep Elementary Schools

Parents with children in schools in the Southern Berkshire Regional School District have been pleading with officials to keep their elementary schools open. The School Committee has been holding public hearings across the district to discuss a section of the 2013 draft budget that calls for the closure of the Monterey, New Marlborough Central and South Egremont elementary schools in the summer.

Superintendent Michael Singleton has been explaining the proposal, which was drafted as a means to meet the request of the member towns and the School Committee for a level-funded budget, writes Trevor Jones at the Berkshire Eagle.

Rising energy prices, district union negotiations and educational opportunities have raised questions about the financial implications of keeping the schools open, said Singleton.

The issue of closing the schools has been discussed for years, said Singleton. The draft budget will give voters the chance to make their opinion felt on the future of the district.

"Let's put the issue forward and figure out once and for all, are we going to continue to support the three outlying schools or not?"

Many parents who attended the hearings asked for more detailed documentation to explain how the administration came to the conclusion that it can save $330,000 by closing the schools through reduced energy costs and a reduction of five full- and part-time staff positions.

Last May voters in New Marlborough and Sheffield rejected plans for a $3 million bond proposal that would have seen funding split between the main campus in Sheffield and the three outlying schools.

The quality of education delivered by the schools is the not the issue, says Vito Valentini, a School Committee member. Voters should consider the underlying costs keeping the schools operational.

The School Committee will decide on the future of the schools in February once the hearings are complete. However, any proposal would need support from four of five towns as any kind of bond requires majority sponsorship.

School Committee members have said that they are also prepared to consider the outline of an alternative budget that would see the schools stay open as means to better understand the financial impact of the proposal.

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