LEE -- Faced with declining student enrollment and rising education costs, Lee Public Schools plans a yearlong self-assessment to determine its future that could include collaboration with a neighboring school district.

The Lee School Committee has formed a strategic long-range planning subcommittee to guide the seven-member panel's thorough examination of the Lee-Tyringham Union 29 school district.

"This gives us a year to consider where we are and how to move forward," said committee chairwoman Susan Harding. "We have to decide what we want to keep and what we want to change."

The Lee school board announced its internal study this week, which comes a month after the Lenox School Committee hired a consulting firm to examine several options for the Lenox school district, including a possible collaboration with Lee. The nearly $40,000 study is expected to be completed by next June.

In Lee, the school committee asked the Massachusetts Association of School Committees to assist with the review of the town's school system. MASC Executive Director Glenn Koocher is tentatively scheduled to meet with the committee during its August meeting.

Three months ago, Lee and Lenox town and school officials met informally to discuss how the two school systems could work together, given their current status. Each kindergarten through Grade 12 school district has seen its respective student population drop in the past decade to below 800, while their school budgets kept increasing.

Since 2003, Lee Public Schools' enrollment has declined from about 900 to 791 as of March 1, as school spending rose $1.81 million -- a 29 percent jump to the current $8.14 million budget for fiscal 2014.

"Our current [situation] requires us to make some serious decisions about our future," said Robert Lohbauer, vice chairman of the Lee School Committee.

While collaboration -- even the "r" word, regionalization -- between the neighboring school systems has been broached in both towns, Lohbauer said the Lee study is being conducted without a specific end result in mind.

"Our goal is to understand where we are and where we're going, not to come up with any sort of relationship [with another district]," he said.

The Lee School Committee says a key aspect of the study is the future role of the school superintendent in Lee.

Last month, the committee hired Alfred Skrocki as its part-time school leader, until a permanent replacement can be found for Jason "Jake" McCandless. After an 8-year stint in Lee, McCandless on July 1 became the new superintendent for Pittsfield Public Schools.

Lee School Committee Chairwoman Susan Harding says having an interim superintendent in Lee allows the school board time to consider whether to search for a new school leader for the short term, long term, or devise some other leadership structure.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233