Longfellow School — 1966

Reorganizing the Region

Second in a series as I examine the proposed changes to the BMR School Agreement

In part one I explained at a rather high level how and why the region was formed, as well as the initial impact the new school and school district had on the communities. I closed with a quick overview of the factors that lead to the expansion of the district to include Pre-K to Grade 6 in July of 1982.

This story may sound quite impressive. Like all things, the devil is in the details.

In the early 20th Century, Millville had had enough of their eastern neighbor. Much of the industrial tax base was located in the Village of Millville. At that time however, Blackstone Selectmen and the Town Meeting tended to favor projects that benefited other villages within the town. — Waterford, High Rocks, etc. Millville provided the money for new sidewalks along Main St. Blackstone, and Millville residents were forced to walk along muddied paths along their roads and lanes. In 1906 Millville first approached the Massachusetts Legislature for permission to incorporate as a separate town. That petition was not granted, but 10 years later Millville was incorporated on May 1, 1916.

Make no mistake, the original formation of the Regional District was a union of convenience. In the 60’s it was apparent that Blackstone needed to build a new High School. However they could only afford to build a very basic school, without much opportunity for electives, or expanded curriculum offerings. They realized that Regionalization may hold the key to building an appropriate facility with the added opportunities of expanded offerings. Millville, while never having a High School of it’s own, saw this as an opportunity to also improve the experiences and opportunities of its’ students.

Fast forward about 15 years, and now both towns are faced with the realization that not only will their local schools be negatively impacted by Proposition 2 1/2, but the pride of the two towns — the Regional Jr. Sr. High School would be at risk. In early 1981, Tom Cullen proposed stark changes and cuts to the regional budget as well as the two local school budgets — Blackstone and Millville. He instituted an austerity plan to close schools during parts of weeks in January and February to reduce costs. Furthermore he embarked on a plan to institute a 4 day school week for School Year 1981–82. For the fiscal year 1982 budget the District cut 25 positions. Each town was also forced to make cuts — Millville losing 5 positions in the same year.

While Cullen held out hope that Proposition 2 1/2 would be repealed, he knew without an influx of aid to the district the schools would be left a tattered mess. In order to convince the towns to move in this direction, the schools suffered all of the cuts due to Proposition 2 1/2. So while the schools went ‘all in’ for the proposal, the action saved many of the limited municipal services and jobs in both communities. (Other towns did not fare as well, with many layoffs and curtailment of services during this time.)

So in order for this all to work, the “arrangement” became more involved, with several conditions that were mandated by Blackstone.

While Millville voiced overwhelming support for the plan, it was not the same in Blackstone. Several of the town officials had issues with the plan. In order to gain Blackstone’s approval, there needed to be a clause in the agreement that each town was responsible for its own elementary students.

Blackstone also insisted in a review clause where the K-6 region could be reviewed every 5 years, starting in 1987. If the parties deemed that the full region was not in the best interest of one or both of the communities, or that the increased state funding was not realized, the towns could revert back to K-6 locally and 7–12 still regionalized.

I mention K-6. Up until the construction of the Frederick W. Hartnett Middle School in 2003, the region was divided along that grade 6 / 7 boundary. Action by both towns around 2000 moved the boundary to grade 5.

In separate Special Town Meetings On April 24, 1982 (Blackstone) and on April 27, 1982 (Millville), voters approved the modifications necessary to establish the K-12 Regional School District. This was all dependent upon approval by the Massachusetts Legislature.

On July 1, 1982 the new region began operating. On that day the Millville and Blackstone School Committee’s ceased to exist. Now the governing of the schools was left up to the 8 member BMR District School Committee — 4 members from each town, elected by both towns.

Next: New challenges and opportunities.