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HWRSD moves toward regional middle school

Date: 12/18/2014

WILBRAHAM – At its Dec. 16 meeting, the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School Committee voted unanimously to recommend that the Middle School Task Force (MSTF) continue to examine a one regionalized middle school model for grades 6 to 8. 

“We really recognize that there may be things needed in the long-term to get us towards one school district that we have to really consider as well with the short-term implications of that, whether its sustainable to continue the way we are but also what options would be available in the short-term,” MSTF member Alison DiGrande said.

The combined enrollment of Wilbraham Middle School (WMS) and Thornton Burgess Middle School (TWB) this year is roughly 750 students. Based on current K-5 enrollment figures, there would be 564 district middle school students during the 2020-2021 school year.

Superintendent of Schools M. Martin O’Shea, at the MSTF’s Dec. 11 meeting, said the potential educational benefits of one regionalized middle school includes a specialization of staff, focused delivery of special education services, stabilized class sizes, an economy of scale for administration, maintenance, and food, as well as social benefits for more peer networks.

O’Shea stated at the MSTF’s Dec. 4 meeting that the district would also save between $675,000 and $1.2 million from personnel at a unified regional middle school.

The current operating cost of WMS for personnel is $3.9 million and costs for staff at TWB is $2.3 million, Assistant Superintendent for Business Beth Regulbuto stated.

Prior to the School Committee vote, O’Shea made a recommendation that the MSTF focus on examining the applications of one regionalized school, which was unanimously approved at the MSTF’s Dec. 11 meeting.

“I for one would like to have Marty and his team looking into whether we can achieve a one middle school model in the near future,” Wilbraham Selectman Susan Bunnell said on Dec. 11.

School Committee and MSTF Chair Marc Ducey said both towns would need to approve of changes to its regional agreement before the district could utilize one regional middle school. 

O’Shea gave also gave the MSTF two directional recommendations related to short-term and long-term solutions.

As a long-term facility solution, the town could potentially amend its regional agreement and or make an agreement with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) to ensure that a facility would meet 21st century learning needs, long-term enrollment patterns, and be responsive to the fiscal environments in both communities, he added.

“I wouldn’t be presumptuous to say that’s the only route,” O’Shea noted. “Really, these are town based decisions and town owned buildings.”

Ducey said Minnechaug Regional High School was constructed for $65 million through the MSBA’s program, which cost the towns $33 million.

Chapter 70 funding from the state is also dependent on stable enrollment numbers, O’Shea explained. Currently, Chapter 70 funds are not keeping pace with the net school spending requirements in the district and heightened state mandates are also leading to rising costs.

“I think it’s vital that we recognize that the resources that we’re going to have to invest [in the MSTF is] going to be beneficial,” School Committee member Peter Salerno said. “We need to have those resources to support your work, without it we’ll probably be pie in the sky.”

The next MSTF meeting is scheduled for Jan. 8, 2015, which would likely be followed by another meeting on Jan. 29, 2015.