Lee, Berkshire Hills set agenda for potential shared school district services
LEE — Lee Public Schools and Berkshire Hills Regional School District have hit the ground running to explore ways to mutually improve the upkeep, course offerings and teacher training within both neighboring school systems.
The two districts' school committees wasted no time formally adopting a legal memorandum outlining how they go about sharing costs of educating their students. The agreement was approved during the committees joint meeting Thursday night to initiate talks on shared services and is based on a similar one Lee and Lenox school boards adopted last fall as a foundation for specific arrangements. The Lee-Lenox pact has already paid dividends, leading to a shared food service director on a trial run from Feb. 1 to June 30.
"Our view of the agreement ... it's a loose structure with the details captured down the road in individual contracts," said Lee School Committee Vice Chairman Robert Lohbauer.
Several Berkshire Hills committee members were impressed with how the blueprint for potential shared services.
"It seems open-ended enough to be flexible," noted Frederick Clark of Great Barrington.
Berkshire Hills also represents Stockbridge and West Stockbridge, with Lee serving Tyringham students as well.
The two school committees will likely form a four-member advisory panel — two from each district — to discuss possible collaboration on cost-shared positions including, but not limited to, business director, special education director, technology director and school psychologist.
For now, superintendent was left off the list as the Lee-Tyringham Union 29 Committee charged within hiring the Lee school boss are already exploring the potential of a shared superintendent with Berkshire Hills, Lenox, or neither school district.
Following approval of the memorandum on Thursday, the lee and Berkshire Hills school committees immediately agreed to delve into the possibility of working together on facilities management, curriculum and teacher development.
Berkshire Hills Superintendent Peter Dillon said director of operations, Steven Soule and his staff are "highly competent and effective" and could work well with Lee's facilities personnel.
"I think we have a deep bench and on one hand how can we share Steve in some way ... and are there opportunities for your maintenance people to work with ours and vice versa," he said.
Interim Lee Superintendent Al Skrocki suggested both districts facilities directors sit down to discuss the specifics.
"If they can get an overview of an assessment of what needs to be done ... and see if there are some places where we can combine things to get done," he said.
Skrocki indicated Lee could also share Berkshire Hills director of learning and teaching, or curriculum director, believing Lee doesn't need a full-timer to help guide their teaching staff.
"I think we need to support our teachers to the nth degree and give them what they need," said Lee School Committee Chairwoman Andrea Wadsworth.
Lee and Berkshire Hills also agreed to vet the idea of joint professional development, with Daniel Weston from Stockbridge citing a "we thought out path" to ongoing teacher training in Berkshire Hills.
Great Barrington's William Fields said sharing special education services and transportation costs must also be explored as they are among the most expensive line items of any district's school budget.
The Lee-Berkshire Hills collaborative effort highlights the need for others throughout the county, according to Berkshire Hills Chairman Steven Bannon.
"At the end of the day, whether the kids are in Southern Berkshire, Central Berkshire or Northern Berkshire, we all want our kids to have to have a good education," he said.
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