Lenox reaches out to Richmond to discuss shared-services potential


LENOX — With the blessing of the town's School Committee, schools Superintendent Timothy Lee has asked the Richmond School Committee to consider beginning discussions with Lenox on potential shared services.

In a letter to Jim Biancolo, chairman of the Richmond committee, Lee noted that the two districts "have a history of sharing resources and personnel to maintain high-quality educational outcomes."

The primary collaboration already in place is a long-standing tuition agreement between the two towns for Richmond ninth-graders to attend Lenox Memorial High School.

The highly regarded Richmond Consolidated School serves 177 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, up from 150 in 2014 and 158 last year. More than half of the students this year are non-residents, primarily from Hancock and Pittsfield.

The state's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education rates Richmond Consolidated as a top-performing, level 1 school.

Currently, eight of the town's high school pupils are enrolled at Lenox Memorial through the tuition agreement, "an exceptionally high number," Lee said. He also pointed out that the two districts have also shared staff and professional development.

In his letter, Lee noted that, in common with many other districts in the county, the Lenox Public Schools face challenges in the very near future such as declining student enrollment and flat funding from the state.

He pointed out that the preliminary district budget for the 2016-17 school year contemplates a reduction in kindergarten sections from three to two because of low enrollment so far — about 26 students. No final decision has been made.

Another issue facing the Lenox schools is the steadily increasing number of non-resident students — projected at a new high of 39 percent for the district's Morris Elementary and Lenox Memorial next year.

"While we face these economic and demographic challenges," Lee wrote, "we remain focused on providing ample educational opportunities during a time of changing educational expectations."

Asked to comment on Lee's letter, Biancolo said: "Shared services are certainly something we're looking at. I'm always game for discussions, definitely interested, although whether anything would come of it remains to be seen."

The Lenox district already has a formal agreement to explore shared services with the town of Lee. Already in place is a shared food services director, but consideration of a potential shared-superintendent collaboration has been put on hold for another year.

In his letter to the Richmond School Committee, Lee explained that "our interest is to open a discussion of how our two districts can collaborate to ensure that we can continue to offer effective programs."

He listed a wide range of potential collaboration scenarios — district administrative leadership, curriculum leadership and the potential of expanded tuition agreements for lower grades in Richmond, below ninth. Lee also suggested looking at cooperation between the two districts on professional development and possible technology planning.

Lee suggested that Biancolo share the letter with the Richmond School Committee "to see if any exploratory discussion may be appropriate for the future."

"We hope that further discussion will lead to productive collaboration between our two school districts," Lee wrote.

Biancolo said he plans to present the letter to the Richmond School Committee at its next meeting on Tuesday.

"I believe there's a lot we could discuss with Richmond," said Lenox School Committee Vice Chairwoman Veronica Fenton at this week's committee meeting. "We need to think proactively. It may not be something next year or the year after, but if we don't start having discussions about what's happening in the years to come with them, we may miss an opportunity. I'm excited and pleased that we're seeing this."

The Richmond Consolidated School is part of Shaker Mountain School Union 70, which includes Hancock and New Ashford, and is led by interim Superintendent William Cameron through July.

The nine-member Shaker Union Committee, consisting of three school board members from each community, has formed a planning group with the Berkshire Hills Regional School Committee, with a possible shared superintendent among the items for discussion. Berkshire Hills serves students from Great Barrington, Stockbridge and West Stockbridge, among others.

Biancolo cited technology support for the Richmond school as a top priority for a collaboration, and he pointed out that the school already is sharing the services of a school psychologist with the Berkshire Hills district this year.

He said that Shaker Union's search committee will consider traditional applicants for the part-time superintendent's post, as well as proposals for a shared-services arrangement.

All six southern Berkshire school districts are part of a shared services compact within state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli's legislative district, eligible for state funding to explore various forms of potential collaborations.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.


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