LENOX -- As the school year winds up, a study to explore potential collaboration between the Lenox and Lee districts is now on a faster track.

The Lenox School Committee has voted unanimously to hire PCG (Public Consulting Group) for an intensive examination of the options, including the future of school choice in the Lenox district, with an emphasis on community involvement. The study, costing $39,500, is expected to be completed by the end of the 2013-14 school year.

The two communities have seen declining student enrollment in recent years. Each district has just under 800 students. In Lenox, 25 percent of the enrollment consists of school-choice students from neighboring areas, primarily Pittsfield. This has prompted some to call for exploring collaborations between the two school systems.

PCG was selected out of six firms evaluated by the subcommittee because of its track record evaluating other school districts and its emphasis on community focus groups and other forms of public committee.

Lenox schools Superintendent Edward W. Costa will be the project manager, working with the district's strategic study subcommittee.

"I'm excited to work with these people," said Costa, adding that he has been impressed by PCG's "can't do enough" commitment to "great service."

Lenox School Committee member Michael Moran led the exploration of potential consultants, noting that the town has not had a strategic study of its district since 1983.

At the committee's most recent meeting, member Frances Sorrentino observed that several townspeople had approached her to voice concern that "we would be getting another ‘Lenoxology' by hiring an outside firm."

The term had been coined by Bodden Hamilton Partners, the New York marketing concern hired by the town in 2011 to boost tourism.

"I'm certainly not going to put my name to something that's going to fail," Moran responded. "We've stressed so much with PCG how they'll engage the community, where ‘Lenoxlogy' failed. I don't make it a habit to embarrass myself or any organization I work with."

He asserted that the entire School Committee will be actively involved in the study.

Veronica Fenton, an attorney and longtime committee member, stated that the final contract negotiated with PCG should include appropriate oversight "so we can stop at certain points to express our dissatisfaction, if we have any."

"It's extremely important for us to be involved in the management of it," School Committee Chairman Don Fitzgerald said. "We don't want as a community to be involved with something that's a lame duck. If we're going to be involved, we're going to do it as hard, as thorough, to the best of our abilities to make it come to fruition."

Public Consulting Group, based in Boston with 44 offices in the U.S., Canada and Europe -- including one in Albany, N.Y. -- was founded in 1986. The firm provides management consulting and technology for public sector education, health, human services and other government clients.

State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, and state education officials have promised to assist Lenox and Lee on possible school-system collaborations. But Pignatelli has said that the towns must "drive the agenda" on any form of cooperation.

The soon-to-depart superintendent of the Lee-Tyringham Union 29 system, Jason "Jake" McCandless, who is moving to the Pittsfield districts in the same role as of July 1, has advocated some form of regionalization to contain rising school spending and maintain or improve educational quality. Lee school officials have not yet undertaken a formal study of their district.

To contact Clarence Fanto:
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