LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — The Lanesborough Elementary School Committee on Friday formally began the process of raising the tuition it charges New Ashford.
In response to longtime criticism from town officials about the difference between the negotiated salary tuition rate and the actual per-pupil cost of a Lanesborough education, the district has developed a policy that will peg that tuition to that average cost.
"Any tuition agreement entered into by the Committee to accept non-resident students will be set at the rate of the most recent [Department of Elementary and Secondary Education] published per-pupil rate for Lanesborough Public Schools," the policy reads in part. "In addition to this base rate, Towns who tuition students into the Lanesborough Elementary School as part of a tuition agreement will be required to pay 100 percent of Special Education costs for students on [individualized education plans], or 100 percent of the disability accommodation costs for 504 Plans. The sending town will be responsible for transportation of their students."
Currently, New Ashford, which does not have an elementary school of its own, is the only town tuitioning its pupils into Lanesborough.
The neighboring town pays $8,734 per pupil this year and is scheduled to pay $8,996 in fiscal 2018, the last year of the current two-year contract. The most recent figure on the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website shows that the per-pupil cost at Lanesborough in 2014-15 was $16,615.
In the past, tuition contracts have been negotiated between the towns' school committees. If the Lanesborough School Committee adopts the proposed policy at its April meeting, New Ashford would have a "take it or leave it" option going forward: accept the rate as reported by DESE or find another option for its elementary school-aged population.
"Based on the meeting we had with the [Board of Selectmen] and prior years' discussion — it's not a new subject — [interim Superintendent Kim Grady] and I said, instead of doing separate agreements with separate towns, can't we have a policy that says: This is what our rate is, and if you want to come, great," School Committee Chairwoman Regina DiLego said.
"This gives [New Ashford] time to figure out if they want to continue to do it or if they want to explore other options and to make sure they have the money in their town budgets. ... It's a fair price for the education they receive here."
Lanesborough is part of a two-town regional junior-senior high school at Mount Greylock Regional School, which several years ago renegotiated its tuition agreements with New Ashford and Hancock in response to criticism from Lanesborough about the per-student rate. Mount Greylock moved to gradually bring the rate in line with the average cost of an education at the school.
In other business on Friday afternoon, the two members of the three-person committee in attendance authorized four line-item budget transfers for the fiscal 2018 budget to address needs at the school. The changes, which totaled $26,600, come from the district's contingency fund and do not change the bottom line on the $2.8 million spending plan presented to the town earlier this month.
Grady sought and received permission to use $7,800 from the contingency fund to pay for new Chromebooks to help move the school toward a 1:1 computing model; $2,300 to account for a teacher's advancement that the district learned about after the budget was set; $1,500 for a stipend for the caller who coordinates substitute teachers, and $15,000 to create a subsidy for financially eligible families to send their children to the school's tuition-based pre-kindergarten program.
The small stipend for the substitute caller was something that had been in the budget previously but was dropped for an unknown reason, Grady said.
"In FY14, that item was there," DiLego said. "In FY15, it kind of disappeared. She didn't stop doing the work, to her credit."
The creation of a pre-K subsidy will allow Lanesborough to offer early childhood education to more children in the community. Families in the district will apply for a subsidy by completing the free- and reduced-lunch application, Grady said. Based on their income eligibility, subsidies would be available for the full annual tuition cost ($3,150) or half the tuition.
The $15,000 would allow Grady to offer up to four full tuition slots.
"We have received recent phone calls from families with the pre-K mailings having gone out," she said. "People have been inquiring about what we have to offer. We don't have vouchers here at LES. We lost them years ago because of how the program operated.
"There are surrounding towns that have a charge [for pre-K] and surrounding towns where, because they're bigger, the program is free. They have more opportunities for grants. Because we're a single-school district, we receive very little funding from the state, and it's basically enough to meet the needs of the special ed students in the program."
In other business on Friday, the School Committee approved a 2017-18 school calendar that has classes beginning on Sept. 5 and ending — barring snow days — on June 15. Pupils can look forward to a short week next November, when the school will have a half-day on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving for parent-teacher conferences and be closed on the Wednesday before the Thanksgiving weekend.
Grady also informed the committee that the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee requested a volunteer from the elementary school panel to help on an ad hoc committee looking at expanding the Mount Greylock district to include Lanesborough and Williamstown Elementary School.
The three schools already share a central administration, but each is its own school district, an arrangement that Mount Greylock began studying in earnest in 2013. The idea of K-12 regionalization gained momentum, but Mount Greylock School Committee put the effort on hold in order to address its building project.
Grady, who serves as superintendent for all three school districts, is scheduled to give a presentation on regionalization to the Williamstown Board of Selectmen on Monday. She noted on Friday that much of the work on amending the regional agreement, which includes a provision that neither town's elementary school can be closed without the consent of voters in the affected town.
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