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Berkshire County School District Will Begin Study To Determine Future Path

Lenox Public Schools

A Berkshire school district will begin a planning initiative this summer to find new solutions to common problems including declining government funding and student population.

The school committee for Lenox public schools recently voted to begin work on a strategy that will look for ways the district can plan for current and future issues.

Superintendent Dr. Edward Costa will serve as project manager of the study that will involve the Boston-based Public Consulting Group, as well as public input from community taxpayers, parents of students, local businesses and others this summer through the school year beginning this fall.

The study could identify ways the district might be able to consolidate or collaborate with neighboring districts. Or, it could recommend that the district should stick to its present course. Dr. Costa said all options are on the table.

"There's lots of ways we could end up with a discussion and we are not predestined to any of those," said Costa.

But Dr. Costa also said that the rising costs of education warrant the school committee’s desire to conduct the study.

“It seems that state funding goes down, federal funding goes down, and of course the requesite taxation at the local level goes up to replace those dollars," said Costa.

Dr. Costa also said school enrollment at Lenox Public School is another concern among committee members. Currently, 25 percent of students enrolled at Lenox are from neighboring Pittsfield and attend through the state’s school choice program.

"When you look at something that's 25 percent of anything, that's a substantial portion," said Costa. "What happens if school choice takes a dip?"

The state caps school choice funding to districts at $5,000 per student.

Dr. Costa also said that like many other schools in the state and across New England, Lenox is experiencing a loss in school-age population. Costa said that there were nine fewer students enrolled during the 2012-2013 school year than the year before.

But the trend is more dramatic when looking at Berkshire County’s school enrollment over the past decade, according to Mark Maloy, GIS coordinator for the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.

"Back in 2003 the enrollment was almost 20,200. Currently public school enrollment in the county is [around 17,300] so we've lost almost 3,000 students over the past ten years," said Maloy.

Cindy Brown, Vice President of Academic Affairs at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, said that collaboration among school districts and other stakeholders is not uncommon in Berkshire County.

She mentioned the success of the Berkshire Compact for Education, a group with more than 90 members from across the county that since 2005 has been working to find solutions to regional problems including declining enrollment and rising costs, while also increasing college and career readiness among students.

“I think there's been a lot of leadership shown - certainly the leadership of the two colleges, the leadership of the Superintendent's Roundtable, the business sector, and the non-profit sector, the cultural sectors - everyone is a  partner through the Compact and broader goals for the region," said Brown. "That will only help these kinds of conversations..."

Public Consulting Group’s planning initiative to help the community determine a future path for Lenox Public Schools will be completed by the end of the 2013-2014 school year.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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