Discord Emerges in Talks to Combine Monument Mountain and Mount Everett High Schools | South Berkshires

Exterior of Mount Everett School (copy)

The entrance to Mount Everett Regional Middle and High School in Sheffield. South Berkshire Regional School District school board officials say they don’t feel heard and describe “negative” dynamics on the panel studying a merger of Mount Everett and Monument Mountain High in Great Barrington.

GREAT BARRINGTON — A group working to merge regional high schools in Monument Mountain and Mount Everett is battling tensions over that goal. District officials say they feel pressured — and may ask for a break.

Members of the South Berkshire School Board, in a letter this week to the eight-town Regional School District Planning Board, said they were considering opting out of the consolidation. They want to regroup, the letter says, in light of what they call “negative dynamics.”

The work of the 23-member council is expected to halt until “we address the difficult dynamic between the two districts and the lingering sense of imbalance,” the letter said.

The board discussed the letter on Wednesday and voted unanimously to hire a facilitator to “unpack” what several people described as an unease in the South Berkshire school community with the tenor and direction of the work.

Laura Rodriguez, one of four South Berkshire School Committee members on the council, suggested a facilitator, saying the issues raised cannot be ignored.

The vote brings the merger of Berkshire Hills and South Berkshire schools closer to reality

“I think there’s a tough conversation that we don’t have, and we have to have it,” Rodriguez, of Monterey, said.

All 10 members of the South Berkshire School Board signed Tuesday’s letter outlining their concerns.

One key point: Some people feel pressured by the timelines of a state program to help fund the rebuilding of Monument Mountain.

The letter says South Berkshire board members are in a “constant state of defensiveness and accused of not cooperating because we are not 100% behind putting all our energy into being ‘absorbed’… and working to create a new Monument Mountain. ”

To plan for Monument’s new size, Berkshire Hills Regional School District officials need to know if students from five additional towns will be attending.

Berkshire Hills plans to do enrollment screenings for the new monument, with and without students from other towns, Superintendent Peter Dillon said later. The school has until April 28 to finish its work and submit to the state.

Monument High nears state funding pipeline for new school

The assumption that Mount Everett students will simply pander to Monument’s academic philosophy seems to be a major sticking point.

Committee members also say the financial benefits of the merger don’t always make sense. Other questions remained unanswered, they say.

The council began work in 2020 to find a way to somehow merge the districts of Berkshire Hills and Southern Berkshire. The board voted 16 to 6 in favor of a consultant’s recommendation to consolidate high schools and create an administrative district.

Consultant says Berkshire Hills and South Berkshire should merge into one district

Elementary and middle schools in both districts would remain as is.

With rising budgets and declining enrollment and public funding, schools are struggling to control costs while creating more educational opportunities.

Taxpayers in the eight cities served by the two districts are chafing at rising bills and pushing for a consolidation study. The the planning council emerged as a study group which will present its findings and recommendations to voters in the eight cities.

Past consolidation talks have not been easy. There is a feeling that Mount Everett could lose its identity and ideals in a merger. A merger would also threaten some jobs.

Community discomfort

Counseling faces complex emotions.

“From the start, we felt an imbalance,” said Jane Burke, chairwoman of the Southern Berkshire School Committee, in a telephone interview. “Some aren’t interested in the underlying feelings – they just want the job done.”

Burke said the interruptions and derogatory remarks made about representatives from South Berkshire tainted the panel and left those members “offended”.

Panel member Danile Kelly, a member of the Egremont School Committee, said she found the climate at some meetings “almost cringe-worthy”.

Kelly and Burke said the decorum for Wednesday’s meeting had improved.

Board Chair Lucy Prashker began with a reminder to respect opinions, not to interrupt, and to assume the best intentions of those present.

Jonathan Sylbert, a member of the Monterey board of directors, said the unease in the community is real and needs to be addressed.

“There are a lot of people in the Southern Berkshire School District – teachers and staff – who are uncomfortable…I think it’s critical that we address this immediately because we all need to do this together” , said Sylvert.

South Berkshire Superintendent Beth Regulbuto told the meeting that the issue of a merger is more complicated than expressed. “It’s not the whole picture here,” she said, but didn’t mention specifics.

Bonnie Silvers, South Berkshire committee member from Sheffield, elaborated a bit.

“That’s the biggest issue Beth has raised about what we hear in the community. When I go to a softball or baseball game…I feel like a target…there are things being said in our community,” she said.

Burke said there was an urgent need to mend relationships. Two members from each of the relevant school committees will leave the panel, as they are not standing for re-election.

Prashker later said in a phone interview that the council needed to continue its work and voters in the eight cities would ultimately make the decision on a merger.

She said she was not surprised at the sentiments expressed in this week’s letter, given the prospect of such a massive overhaul.

“Talk of a school merger is not for the faint of heart and the stakes couldn’t be higher,” she said. “Emotions run deep.”

Comments are closed.