LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Children from Cheshire Elementary School won't be making their way to Lanesborough instead.
The closure of Cheshire Elementary School has led many to suggest Lanesborough could be a home for some, if not all, of those students. The Lanesborough Board of Selectmen even suggested looking to craft a tuition agreement to attract some of those children.
But School Committee Chairwoman Regina DiLego asked the school's attorney about it and no dice.
"The town of Cheshire cannot enter into a tuition agreement. It would have to be the regional school that would make a tuition agreement with us and why on earth would they agree to pay us $17,000 to send children to our school that they could educate in their own building?" DiLego said.
The Board of Selectmen made the suggestion after the School Committee said it would be upping the tuition cost — a policy that was formally approved on Thursday. At the higher rate, the Selectmen saw an opportunity to fill excess space in the building and increase revenues. Without a tuition agreement, the only other option would be school choice, which the Selectmen have adamantly opposed because the state only provides $5,000 per student, more than a third of the per pupil cost.
"We have the physical capacity to take more students into our building. The building was built for 315 students and we currently have about 200. But we have scaled back staffing so much over the years that to take in all of the students they want us to take, we'd have to hire additional staff," DiLego said.
The Selectmen have disliked school choice because they feel that by accepting more students from out of town, it forces the school to hire additional staff at higher costs. That could then trigger additional staff at the high school level as well. The board had even considered closing out school choice altogether.
The School Committee, however, uses choice as a way to fill undersized classes. It sees the program as a way to bring in a small amount of revenue to chip away at overhead costs the town is paying anyway.
Nonetheless, the School Committee responded to the Selectmen's concern with an increased frugality when it comes to accepting students. The committee is keeping aware of the number of choice students at Williamstown Elementary School to track how many students per class will attend Mount Greylock — this is particularly important with the construction and renovation of a new middle and high school.
For this upcoming year, the School Committee opened just three choice spots. Principal Marty McEvoy said the school received 59 applications for choice and that most were for grades that had no choice spots.
Another thing DiLego looked into in response to questions she's received about the closure of Cheshire is what happens if the parents rent an apartment in town or have their child stay with a grandparent.
"If that were the case and we uncovered it, we would be billing parents $17,000 to send their children here," DiLego said.
She said state law says if a child is only temporarily residing in a town for the purpose of going to the school, then the parents or guardians would be paying the tuition bill. At $17,000 per year, DiLego doesn't think the parents would continue to send their children to Lanesborough.
The Cheshire School saga is ongoing and some parents still have hope to keep it open. But for others who started to look elsewhere, Lanesborough isn't much of an option.
"The situation is unfortunate and I empathize with them totally. But it is not something we can solve," DiLego said.
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