Collins Center Initial Findings Say Adams-Cheshire Has to Change
CHESHIRE, Mass. — Initial findings of the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District study are clear: Something has to change.
The University of Massachusetts' Edward J. Collins Jr. Center for Public Management was commissioned to study the state of the school district and supply recommendations for its future.
This may include closing an elementary school.
Interim Superintendent Robert Putnam said the Collins Center's findings will inform the fiscal 2018 budget, which he assumes will already have a $370,000 increase in fixed costs.
This amount will be needed just to maintain the district's current operations.
"Change has to happen and [the Collins Center] have made reference to the cuts that have been made over the past three years, all of which have put students at a disadvantage," Putnam said. "So the changes are going to occur."
Collins' four representatives presented the first two parts of their report to the School Committee on Monday night and went over some of the trends they found in the communities and information they gathered from community conversations.
Although options for new educational models and cost-saving measures will not be unveiled until the end of the month, senior associate Monica Lamboy said things will have to change.
"Something needs to change because the trend line of the district's budget is probably not a good direction," Lamboy said. "Change is scary, change is difficult and people don't like it but we are going to say up front something is going to have to change."
Putnam said while he and the administration await the final report they have been developing "tabletop scenarios" if the district has to close a school to shift students around to balance the budget. He said for the entire year they have studies the costs of closing each school and the pros and cons.
Chairman Paul Butler explained during the well-attended meeting that although the decision will be made by the committee, there is no intention to make it without public input along with the Collins Center's report.
"It is not going to be one vote and we want to hear from the community because this is going to be a long process and a lot of important decisions will have to be made," Butler said. "We want to improve education while making it affordable, whether that includes closing a building or not we don't know we have to see the final report."
Collins Center representative Michael Johnson said their own recommendations will be influenced by the community and guided by the information gathered at the three community input sessions held in November.
"By identifying values and metrics associated with particular recommendations we can keep ourselves honest," he said. "We can challenge ourselves not to make recommendations that have no obvious support in the community or that do not clearly express community values."
He added that some of the findings the Collins Center will take into consideration are strengthening the community, improving the in-school experience, improving educational outcomes, improving district operations and making the district financially stable.
Lamboy shared some of the Collins Center's values that will also inform their recommendations, which include maximizing funding in the classroom, use the best spaces efficiently, place students in the middle of all decisions, show transparency and accountability in all decisions and consider the concept of "small town" collaboration instead of autonomy.
"This district has been in place since 1965; that is 51 years," Lamboy said. "The two communities have to work in a collaborative way and move forward instead of in a divisive way."
Johnson said an implementation strategy with recommendations informed by these values will be created and presented at a meeting at the end of January or early February.
As for the trends, the Collins Center discovered, much of what they reported was already known by the school community, such as the decrease in population throughout the county which has led to an increase in the elderly population and a decrease in younger people and young families.
The center's Bill Lupini said this trend means that there are fewer students enrolled in the district that is further reduced by local students who choice out to McCann Technical, Berkshire Arts & Technology Public Charter School or other districts.
Rick Kingsley, also of the Collins Center, said this drop in enrollment leads to less state funding putting more pressure on the district communities to fund a budget that has increased $2.2 million over a 10-year period.
He said this comes out to a general $220,000 increase every year over a nine-year period.
"When the state contribution is going down, the towns' contribution has to go up at a greater rate to sustain the relatively modest increase in your year-to-year spending," Kingsley said.
He said over a five-year period Adams had increased their school spending by 38 percent and Cheshire 24 percent, although the High School renovation is factored into this increase.
Lamboy also shared some state spending averages and said that ACRSD per pupil spending lower than the state average and in 2015 were $1,200 lower than the average.
She said the district spends 39 percent less than the state average on professional development, 41 percent less on instructional material and 49 percent less on guidance counseling and testing.
It is 25.5 percent higher on benefits and fixed charges that benefit current employees and retirees.
Lamboy said ways to combat this increased percentage this will be addressed in the final report.
Spending on teachers is lower than the state average and spending on specialty teachers is 86 percent lower than the state average.
Lamboy touched on the facilities and noted by Massachusetts School Building Authority standards all the schools are operating under capacity — Cheshire at almost 50 percent less.
"Overall, based on the square footage, the three buildings have enough space for 1,655 students," Lamboy said. "We are at 1,300 right now."
Class sizes are also under the average and both elementary schools have maintenance issues.
Cheshire needs to replace a lift for handicapped accessibility at a cost of $68,000 and a section of the roof; Plunkett also needs to replace a lift at a cost of $38,000 as well as roof repairs to the tune of $300,000.
Lamboy added that other repairs need to be made to Plunkett but they have yet to price out the projects.
She said both schools could benefit from a renovation and it may be an option to work with the state and renovate one of the buildings.
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