LENOX -- The Select Board has voiced enthusiasm for the School Com mittee's strategic study on potential regionalization and its decision to look at whether school choice remains financially viable over the long haul.
Town Manager Gregory Federspiel also told the board that a $34,151 funding gap between the town's proposal for fiscal 2014 school funding and the amount the School Depart ment has requested is being narrowed. The School Department has asked for more funding than the town has proposed to maintain current programs.
Federspiel said the difference between the two figures amounts to a minuscule percentage of the proposed $11.1 million in spending that the town has requested to provide fiscal 2014 school services at the same level it currently does.
"I think we're very close to an agreement there," Federspiel said. "The numbers are close to original projections."
Some minor tweaks in School Department benefits would free the dollars to reduce that gap, he added.
Selectman David Roche suggested the gap could be eliminated through benefits the town would save from three prospective retirees. Federspiel said other savings could come from savings in funds the town budgets for vocational education, which is included in the town's overall fiscal 2014 spending plan.
Roche and Selectman John Mc Ninch cheered the formation of a strategic planning group to examine the school system's business model, described as "unsustainable" by School
"It's a real good move in the right direction," said Roche. The committee is expected to include representatives from other town boards.
"It's a great model for us to use in every department, from Town Hall to fire, police and DPW," Selectman Edward Lane said. "Go through everything, look at it and find a better way to do the business."
The Select Board also discussed the School Committee's long-range examination of school choice on Wednesday night.
"We're almost becoming an under-funded regional-type school here when we're bringing in as many (students) as we are and putting that on the back of the taxpayers," board chair Kenneth Fowler said.
One out of every four students that attend the Lenox Public Schools lives in another community.
"If I can buy a house in a different town for less money and send my kids to the Lenox school district, then why would I buy a house in Lenox?" Fitzgerald asked rhetorically. "Our thought is that potentially if there's no choice, does that make people want to buy a house in Lenox if they want their kids to go to school here?"
On Thursday, School Super in tendent Edward W. Costa III said school choice is a policy issue and that the state requires the School Com mittee to vote on participation on an annual basis.
"I have prepared financial information for our School Committee, and they will be discussing this issue in the very near future," Costa stated in an e-mail message.
"Currently, school choice revenues add money to our budget that funds choice and regular students alike."
The School Department pro jects receiving $1.16 million in tuition revenue from students who live outside the district next year.
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