STOCKBRIDGE — Elected officials from eight Berkshire towns and school committee members from Berkshire Hills and Southern Berkshire school districts finally have a seat at the extended table of school district consolidation talks.
A total of 21 appointed members representing the towns of Sheffield, Alford, New Marlborough, Monterey, Egremont, Great Barrington and West Stockbridge met on the morning of Saturday, March 7 as part of the regional district planning committee of the two aforementioned school districts.
Although the meeting was held in the Stockbridge-based offices of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District (BHRSD), there was no representation from the town of Stockbridge at the meeting.
The soon-to-be 24-member board is the culmination of the former 8-town/school consolidation committee, where each town was tasked to appoint three members to the regional district planning committee.
Of the three appointees from each town, one representative was required to be a current member of their respective school committee. Each representative to the larger 24-member planning committee was appointed by their town moderator.
Lucy Prashker, a representative from Alford on the former 8-town/school consolidation committee, was elected as the chairperson of the planning committee, after being nominated by Jane Burke, superintendent of Southern Berkshire Regional School District (SBRSD).
George McGurn, serving as part of Egremont’s representation, was also nominated for the position of chairperson, but lost to Prashker by a 12-6 vote.
Former chairperson of the 8-town/school consolidation committee, Nadine Hawver, was also nominated for the position, but removed herself from consideration, citing personal reasons.
“The hearts, minds, behavior and structure of this is so complex, so loaded, that I, looking around the table at meetings that I’ve attended so far, Lucy is outstanding in her ability to listen, keep calm and to keep us focused,” said Burke in her nomination of Prashker. “The spirit of the chair is to make sure the meetings go smoothly, and that the work gets done. I can’t think of anyone else who can do that, except for Peter [Taylor], who would be my second choice. I think keeping both the educational leaders and elected officials, in their jobs of working with their constituencies, separate from the management of the group … that is really important.”
Peter Taylor, representing Great Barrington, was unanimously elected as the planning committee’s vice-chairperson.
Tara White, serving as part of New Marlborough’s representation, was unanimously elected as the planning committee’s secretary. Marie Ryan, representing West Stockbridge, was unanimously elected as the treasurer for the planning committee.
Hawver, who represents Sheffield, informed the committee that the needed quorum for the committee at its full capacity is 13 members, or over 50 percent in attendance. Prashker said obtaining a quorum could arise as a future issue, and said the amount needed for a quorum could be legally reduced.
Thomas Berkel, part of Egremont’s representation, asked how a quorum can be reached if one of the eight towns were not in attendance, much like the Saturday, March 7 meeting, where there was no representation from Stockbridge.
He suggested lowering the amount of needed members for a quorum to eight, to ensure each municipality had a seat at the table. Future voting also came up. Ultimately, it was still undecided if each town would be granted a single vote, or if each of the towns’ representatives would each receive a vote in the decision making process.
Jonathan Sylbert, who represents Monterey, said issues may arise where representatives may vote differently from their peers, but it is ultimately up to the towns to make sure they are represented at the table.
“Each of the eight towns has three representatives,” Sylbert said to the planning committee. “That’s the way it’s designed, it’s designed to be fair. Without sounding like a tough guy or anything, it’s the responsibility of the towns to bring their representatives to these meetings.”
During the meeting, the planning committee heard from Jake Eberwein, a part-time project manager with the Berkshire County Educational Task Force, and the former superintendent of Lee Public Schools. Conversations of consolidation usually go hand-in-hand with a declining student population and the need to pay the district’s bills, but the common goal of improving education in Berkshire County was a unifying point of his talk to the planning committee, said Eberwein.
“We’ve shifted our language around how we’re talking about the work now,” he said. “We talk about educational quality as the primary driver. We know educational quality is influenced by money and numbers, but you really want that to be front and center in the work that we’re doing. We’re focused on the experience our students are having.”
The committee agreed to set a future date for their next meeting by surveying the availability of the current and future members.
Members in attendance for the planning committee’s meeting were Nadine Hawver, Bonnie Silvers and Colin Smith representing Sheffield; Tara White, Susan Smith and Jane Burke representing New Marlborough; Jonathan Sylbert and Don Coburn representing Monterey; Jeffrey Blaugrund, Lucy Prashker and Charlie Ketchen representing Alford; Marie Ryan, Molly Thomas and Roger Kavanagh representing West Stockbridge; George McGurn, Marcella Bush and Thomas Berkel representing Egremont; Peter Taylor and Deb Phillips representing Great Barrington; Peter Dillon representing BHRSD; and Beth Regulbuto representing SBRSD.