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Guest Column: Education Task Force Misconceptions Clarified
Guest Column,
02:00PM / Tuesday, December 13, 2016
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To the Editor:

The Berkshire Education Task Force and the University of Massachusetts' Donahue Institute recently have completed Phase One of a comprehensive look at the past, current and projected education landscape of the nineteen school districts in Berkshire County and 15,900 students (as of last count). The full Phase One report is online at www.berkshireeducation.org. The focus is on the challenges faced because of significant declining student enrollments, near stagnant financial resources and increasingly limited academic offerings.

Phase Two will explore ways to address these challenges through options of expanded shared services, partnering of neighboring school districts, where appropriate, and larger regionalization models. Online postings and direct invitations for Requests for Proposals (RFPs) to 20 education consultants were sent out in November with the opening of bids due in mid-December. The target date for completion of Phase Two is June 30, 2017. The group then will make recommendations to school districts and municipalities, with the ultimate goal of quality educational outcomes for our youth and financial sustainability for our school districts.

Implementation — or not — of our recommendations will be up to the individual school districts and municipalities.

Task force members, an advisory group of current and former school superintendents, educators, school committee chairpersons, municipal administrators and local business leaders. are now making presentations to school committees, city councils, finance committees and select boards throughout the county, seeking feedback.

There have been misconceptions expressed by some that we feel we need to clarify. During the Phase One and Phase Two efforts, the Berkshire County Education Task Force remains neutral and takes no stand on ongoing or planned school building projects, ongoing or planned school consolidation efforts, and ongoing or planned regionalization efforts at the school district level. The task force supports the school districts and municipalities' responsibility to make these decisions in the best interest of their respective students and constituents.

We understand the need to move forward with ongoing or planned efforts instead of waiting for task force recommendations. In this pre-Phase Two timeline, we do not know any specifics of what the eventual recommendations will offer. Delays or making any changes to ongoing or planned efforts at the school district level are not being asked by the task force, and it is not our place to do so.

John Hockridge is chairman of the Berkshire County Education Task Force and a member of the North Adams School Committee. 

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