Lee School Committee holds forums to solicit residents' views
LEE -- The Lee School Committee wants to personally hear from parents, teachers, students and residents on the future of Lee Public Schools.
The committee will host community-wide meetings Jan. 28, Feb. 25 and March 25, respectively, covering the topics of school operations and budget, athletics and extra curricular activities and academics.
All gatherings are scheduled for 7 p.m. at Lee Middle and High School, with a second session at 3 p.m. Jan. 25 at the Lee Library.
The need for two meetings to discuss the local school system's budget and operations was apparent, according to the school board.
"A lot of people have expressed, over the years, concern for school spending and this gives people an opportunity to attend a day or night meeting," said Chairwoman Susan Harding. "But we've been very clear from the beginning, this is an opportunity to talk about spending money more wisely, not a big budget cutting process."
With a steady decline in enrollment and increase in school budgets the past decade, Lee town and school officials have said it's hard to justify spending more on local public education with fewer students without looking at possible cost-saving measures -- the most radical being regionalization.
The upcoming focus groups are the next phase of the school district's on-going self-evaluation that could determine its future financial, academic and governance structure. The committee hopes to complete its study by June, which includes seeking additional public input early next year.
A recent online survey conducted by the committee found 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.
The school board noted the survey wasn't a mandate from the town, but it was important toward reaching a consensus on how to reshape the district. Harding says the committee will present a "fair amount" of information to the focus groups to facilitate discussion of the topics and potential ways to improve the district. She noted any proposals from the School Committee will be based heavily on public input.
"We want them to be tailored to what people want," she said.
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, possibly with Lenox.
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 last spring met informally to discuss how the two school systems could work together, since both are spending more money to educate fewer students than 10 years ago.
The Lee School Committee also views its study, in part, as a way to examine the future role of the 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, possibly for up to two years, 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.
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