LEE -- The Lee Public Schools should consider some level of collaboration with other school systems -- including regionalization.
That was the message delivered by townspeople, parents, teachers and faculty via an online survey recently conducted by the Lee School Committee.
About two-thirds of 162 people felt strongly about collaborating or sharing services with one or more neighboring schools district; nearly half favored Lee becoming part of a regional school district.
Overall, 230 people took the survey, but dozens didn't answer all 13 questions, according to the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, which oversaw the survey.
Nevertheless, MASC Executive Director Glenn Koocher was impressed with the "open-mindedness" of the respondents.
"We now have a blueprint to move forward in a more focused way to talk to the community," he said.
Koocher on Tuesday night unveiled to the School Committee the questionnaire results, the seven member panel's first step in a self-assessment of the district that could determine its future structure. The committee hopes to complete its study by June, which includes seeking additional public input early next year.
The school board will host community-wide meetings Jan. 28, Feb. 25 and March 25; the time and place will be announced at a later date.
Committee Chairwoman Susan Harding emphasized that while survey wasn't a mandate from the town, she was pleased with the responses.
"People aren't opposed to having a conversation and addressing all options," Harding said after the meeting.
In September, the seven-member school board unanimously agreed to explore the options and benefits of sharing services with an area school system. The collaboration could range from a mutual agreement over a shared administrator or program to regionalization, according to the MASC, which is assisting with Lee's self-examination.
The survey sought input regarding the leadership structure, curriculum and financial management of the district. While the survey was primarily multiple choice questions, it had a pair of open-ended questions, with many commenting on the topics of collaboration and regionalization.
"Because of declining enrollment and rising budgets, I believe we should regionalize ... [it] only makes sense," wrote one survey taker.
About 15 percent were dead-set against the idea, according to the survey results.
"Please stop trying to sell this as a money-saving idea," one respondent wrote.
Committee Vice Chairman Robert Lohbauer also was encouraged by the range of 50 to 80 percent of those surveyed who placed a relatively high or high priority on the importance of English, math, science, technology and other core subjects.
"I was pleased academics had a focus in the survey," he said.
Lee's internal study coincides with the Lenox School Committee's ongoing examination of options for the Lenox school district, including a possible collaboration with Lee.
While Lee and Lenox are conducting separate self-assessments, town and school officials from both communities this spring met informally to discuss how the two school systems could work together, given their current status. Each kindergarten through Grade 12 district has seen its respective student population drop in the past decade to below 800, while their school budgets continue to increase. As of Oct. 1, Lee's enrollment was 722 students, Lenox 753. Municipal officials in Lee and Lenox have said it's hard to justify spending more on education with fewer students without looking at possible cost-saving measures -- the most radical being regionalization.
The committee views the study, in part, as a way to examine the future role of their school superintendent.
In late June, the committee hired retired schools Superintendent Al Skrocki as its part-time school leader until a permanent replacement is found for Jason "Jake" McCandless, who left Lee to become the superintendent of Pittsfield Public Schools.
The school board believes having an interim superintendent will give it time to consider whether to search for a new school boss for the short or long term, or develop some other leadership structure.
To reach Dick Lindsay:
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