AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP) - School leaders in several Hampshire and Franklin County communities want to centralize the elementary school system. School administrators say streamlining operations could do more than save time and money.
Amherst, Pelham, Shutesbury and Leverett have shared a regional secondary school system for more than five decades. Since 1955, students from all four communities have attended the same middle school and high school.
That's not the case with elementary schools.
Shutesbury, Pelham, Amherst and Leverett are all within a 15 mile radius. Each of the towns has its own school committee, shared superintendents and one or more elementary schools.
"The Leverett and Shutesbury schools are in a school union that was created in 1901 with three other towns. Amherst and Pelham have a school union that was also created in 1901," said Andrew Steinberg of the region's long-standing elementary school systems.
Steinberg chairs the Regional School District Planning Board. The town-appointed 12-member group was created last year and is made up of school committee members and municipal administrators. The Board's plan to regionalize is encouraged by the state, proven to provide a firmer financial footing.
"It provides greater flexibility with budgets and that's kind of where we are at as a region," said Steinberg of the benefits of regionalizing preK-6 th grade schools.
He says a $62,000 state grant could advance a reform that has been discussed since 1968. On Saturday, a panel of consultants will present recommendations to the four towns at a scheduled public meeting.
Amherst School Committee Chair Katherine Appy supports the idea. "I'm working with a superintendent, who is also a superintendent to two other districts," said Appy of Maria Geryk, Superintendent of Amherst Regional Schools. "She has a wonderful educational vision. I want her to use her time doing that as opposed to having to worry about three budgets and three reports to the state," Appy said.
But there are some concerns. Leverett School Committee Member Kip Fonsh says some parents fear consolidating will mean having to let go local control.
"Most of our communities are represented by a security center, next to that is the school, next to that is the town library, and next to that is the town hall. And that's our strip mall. Clearly the focal point for adults and children and even for those who don't have children," said Fonsh.
The panel will present their findings Saturday, February 2 nd, during a public meeting at the Amherst Regional Middle School at 1pm. Public forums will be held in all four towns starting February 13 th.