Amherst-Pelham Regional to benefit from community compact grants

  • Amherst Town Hall

Staff Writer
Friday, January 12, 2018

Money for studying possible regionalization of the Amherst and Pelham elementary schools and for examining how consolidation and increased cooperation can take place between Turners Falls High, Pioneer Valley and Franklin County Technical schools will come from a portion of $2 million in Community Compact Cabinet state grants.

Amherst-Pelham Regional School Superintendent Michael Morris said he appreciates that the state acted on the application for the regionalization effort that would put the four elementary schools, three in Amherst and one in Pelham, into a single district.

The state is providing $21,500.

“We will have necessary support to explore regionalization and to address any concerns both towns may have,” Morris said.

Last fall, Town Meetings in both Pelham and Amherst endorsed forming study committees.

Funds from the grant will be used to support the work of the two committees and, if formed, the research necessary for a full study of potential regionalization.

Eight school districts and 92 communities are among those that will benefit from the state’s Efficiency and Regionalization program, which began in 2016 with an aim to give money to cities and towns interested in providing services in more cost-effective ways.

For the Franklin County schools, $109,998 will go toward work that will examine what Gill-Montague Schools Superintendent Michael Sullivan said are two possible tracks for the future of the three school districts.

“We’re thrilled to have received this grant,” Sullivan said.

The first track would examine a range of level of collaboration between Turners Falls High and Franklin County Tech. “It could go so far as creating a comprehensive high school,” Sullivan said.

The second track would study Turners Falls and Pioneer Valley to determine if long term the districts might combine, but more immediately they could share administrators or special education programs.

Hiring a consultant, providing support for facilitating meetings and paying for bus trips for students interested in taking classes at both Turners Falls High and Franklin County Tech, whose campuses are just 1 ½ miles apart, will be covered by the grant.

The state money supplements an earlier grant from the Boston-based Barr Foundation that is already helping Turners Falls High and its project partners, including the technical school, to prepare students in a redesigned high school experience by 2019.

Other awards

The largest amount received in the region, at $150,000, was received by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, which will use the money to create a system for enhancing information technology management in rural communities, with Cummington and Huntington, as well as the Gateway Regional School District, among those designated as pilot participants.

Molly Goren-Watts, principal planner at PVPC, said the grant will allow the agency to set up a new area of support for municipal IT management and to assess current situations, such as the needs for hardware or configuring network systems.

Goren-Watts said the plan is to use the grant to develop a system in which basic level IT management can be offered for communities that don’t have an IT manager or staff likely through a third party,

The belief is that good economies of scale will make this affordable for the many small towns throughout the region.

Also getting $150,000 is the Pioneer Valley Mosquito Control District, which includes 11 communities, mostly in Franklin and Hampshire counties, including Bernardston, Conway, Deerfield, Hadley, Montague, Northampton, Shelburne, Southampton and South Hadley.

The aim of the district is to combat the threat from mosquito-borne illnesses by providing access to the mosquito-testing laboratory in Jamaica Plain, insect-killing adulticide spray, egg-killing larvicides, educational resources, and a coordinated means of communicating and addressing risk.

Last October, the State Reclamation and Mosquito Control Board approved a petition to create this regional entity.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who chairs the cabinet, said in a statement that she and Gov. Charlie Baker understand the importance of continuing to support cities and towns.

“We are committed to using these grants to work with cities, towns and school districts to better serve their residents and make Massachusetts a great place to live, work and raise a family,” Polito said.

Other projects funded are $42,339 for a regional economic development planning for six communities, including Huntington, Middlefield and Russell, $22,109 to support regional treasury and collections for 13 communities, including Conway, Hawley and Heath, $10,350 for improving records and reporting for the Williamsburg Police Department, and $67,000 for regional animal control for Ware, Palmer, Monson and Warren.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.