Higher enrollment assures bright future for Richmond School

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RICHMOND — Thanks to a spike in resident student enrollment, the long-term future of the top-rated Richmond Consolidated School has been assured.

That's the result of a study by the town's 17-member Long Range Sustainability Committee, formed by the Select Board about four years ago as an advisory group to discuss and evaluate future plans for the town, including the school as well as other local issues such as affordable housing.

"The future of the school is no longer uncertain," said Selectman Neal Pilson, a member of the group which recently adopted a motion to support the preK-8th grade school in its current format, maintaining the stratus quo and discontinuing any further review of other possible alternatives.

"In other words, for the foreseeable future, the school should continue as is," Pilson said. "Given the uncertainty five years ago regarding the school's future, this is a major step forward for our community."

The options that had been discussed by the group included eliminating the middle school, regionalization, or closure.

"Those options are now off the table with regard to any further committee discussion," Pilson said.

A decline in resident student enrollment in past years had prompted a review of the school's future. Three years ago, only 62 students from Richmond attended, about 40 percent of total enrollment.

For the upcoming school year, 86 local children are signed up, outnumbering choice students for the first time in many years. The school was closed to nonresident school choice from first through eighth grade.

Pilson noted that 15 local students have enrolled in preschool and 16 in kindergarten this fall. He cited an influx of young families to the town as sales of homes under $300,000 doubled from 10 in 2015 to 20 in 2016.

The birth rate in Richmond also doubled last year, from an average of four to five over the past decade to eight in 2016.

The school is designated by the state Department of Education as Level 1, the top designation based on high standardized test scores as well as prime academic and arts programs.

"Because of these factors, there is no reason to consider any option to close the school or eliminate the middle school, and further discussion of these options would be counterproductive in that it might discourage young families from moving to Richmond," the motion adopted by the Long Range Sustainability Committee stated.

Resident enrollment numbers at the school will continue to be monitored by the committee, which is chaired by Thomas Matuszko, assistant director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.

The committee members were chosen by the Select Board to represent a cross-section of Richmond, including some older residents, several young parents with children in the school, a resident from the Richmond Pond neighborhood, a second-home owner, and representatives of several town boards.

"We have had quite a few public meetings basically to discuss and examine the future of Richmond," Pilson said, "how we can maintain the quality of life here and, at the same time, accommodate the forces we know are affecting Berkshire County such as loss of population, young people moving away, lack of affordable housing, changing job market, impact of second homeowners and other factors."

"Our resolution to end any further discussion on the future of the school was intended as a strong statement, after much study, that the best option for the town was to continue to support the school as it currently exists," he said.

More information, including a six-minute video, "Richmond, a Better Place," is available at www.richmondma.gov by clicking on "Why choose Richmond."

It includes comments by former Gov. Deval Patrick and his wife, Diane, who have had a home in the town for 15 years.

Reach correspondent Clarence Fanto at cfanto@yahoo.com or 413-637-2551.

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