Warwick, Pioneer making headway in district withdrawal

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Staff Writer
Published: 4/28/2022 4:14:40 PM
Modified: 4/28/2022 4:13:13 PM

WARWICK — The transition agreement that would allow the town to withdraw from the Pioneer Valley Regional School District and re-establish its own town-based district has made “steady progress” over the past three months, according to both Pioneer and Warwick representatives.

“Meetings have been collaborative, productive and focused,” said Pioneer Valley interim Superintendent Patricia Kinsella. “Both parties are approaching each other with candor and respect.”

Adam Holloway, the chair of Warwick’s Education Committee, said conversations between the town, the district and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) have been “plugging along” as the town seeks to move forward in a process that began with the Pioneer Valley Regional School Committee voting to recommend the closure of Warwick Community School in January 2020. Then, in July of that same year, Warwick residents voted at Town Meeting to begin the withdrawal process from the district.

“The really great thing, and I can’t stress this enough, is the current administration at the district has really been open to working with us and communicating with us effectively,” Holloway said. “DESE and the administration have really become open to and understand that this is going to happen.”

“They’re taking us very seriously, that was a huge development; that the realization that Warwick has it together and they know what they’re doing,” Holloway continued. “That wasn’t 100% before February of this year.”

If approved, Warwick’s district would educate students in the elementary grades and the town would have a tuition agreement with Pioneer, enabling middle and high school students to attend Pioneer Valley Regional School.

In the past three months, discussions between the town, school administration and the School Committee have been revitalized as the agreement’s financial, legal and programmatic details are ironed out.

“The departure of a town from a regional district is not a frequent occurrence,” Kinsella said. “While this has happened, there isn’t a well-used playbook or template we can be following here. We’re reaching out to places that have gone through this process.”

Most recently, Warwick residents voted at March 28’s special Town Meeting to pay the town’s $27,826.67 share of Pioneer’s debt before the end of the fiscal year, which satisfies one of DESE’s requirements for Warwick’s withdrawal from the district, according to the Warwick Education Committee’s May newsletter.

Upcoming discussions, Holloway said, will continue to work on the draft transition agreement and iron out further details, including post-employment (OPEB) and pension benefits. A March 22 letter from DESE states the town must “take the lead in drafting the agreement.” 

“Warwick and Pioneer School Committee will draft a contract for DESE review that defines how Warwick will meet its proportional share of these expenses of what is expected to be its former regional school district, each year,” DESE Regional Governance Coordinator Michelle Griffin wrote in the email. “The Department will consider any agreement reached by Warwick and Pioneer concerning outstanding OPEB and pension obligations as part of its review of the town’s proposal to withdraw from the district.”

As discussions progress, Holloway and Kinsella said Warwick is aiming for a Fall 2023 start date. Any final transition agreement will need to be approved by Pioneer’s School Committee.

The Pioneer Valley School District’s website has a page dedicated to the Warwick transition with information regarding progress, communications with DESE and the draft transition agreement, which can be accessed online at https://bit.ly/3EUxady.

Holloway said the renewed collaboration with the school district and DESE has been conducive to transition efforts and he specifically thanked Kinsella for her professionalism in keeping things moving.

“I want to emphasize again, how wonderful our partnership with DESE and the district has become over the past six months,” Holloway said, adding he appreciates “how much of a professional (Kinsella) is, and how much she’s willing to work with us.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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