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Plan to expand school regionalization in Amherst, Pelham and Leverett delayed

It initially intended to do so this fall.

The decision, made at a meeting of the Regional School District Planning Board in mid-July, delays implementation of a plan by at least a year, according to Andrew Steinberg, chair of the committee. The board, which has been meeting for over a year, had been considering a new plan to start next summer.

In March, the board voted to support a proposal to regionalize pre-kindergarten through grade six in Amherst, Pelham and Leverett, eliminating Shutesbury, whose representative said the community did not support the idea. Grades seven through 12 are already regionalized in the four towns, which formed that district in 1953. They share a high school and a middle school, both located in Amherst.

The Regional School District Planning Board, which has weighed various scenarios, including consolidating into one region for grades pre-kindergarten through 12, decided it best to take more time to develop a plan that better serves “the combined and unique needs of each of the towns,” Steinberg wrote. He said a delay will also provide more time to explain changes to voters and allow for a slower transition to a new region.

The committee meets Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Amherst Regional Middle School to continue the discussion.

A consultant hired to advise the board reported last winter that creating a regional elementary school district would produce about $500,000 in annual savings and greater administrative efficiency. Steinberg wrote that the committee also believes regionalization will improve the education of students in the four towns with leadership and oversight provided by one superintendent.

Now, Amherst and Pelham, which are joined in a unit known as Union 26, share a superintendent, who is also superintendent of the secondary school region. Leverett and Shutesbury, which belong to Union 28 with Erving, Wendell and New Salem, share a superintendent with those towns. Steinberg pointed out that elementary school enrollment is declining in Amherst, Pelham and Leverett. He said that while each town is committed to its schools, it may not be feasible for all of them to continue to exist in the future. The committee, he wrote, “recognizes the need to assure that there will be a deliberate and careful process if it ever becomes necessary” to close a school. The board, which includes representatives from all four towns, held forums in each community and invited public comment.

Among concerns expressed are the loss of autonomy and questions of representation. Amherst has 85 percent of the region’s population.

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