ADAMS – Representatives from the Edward J. Collins, Jr. Center for Public Management have made 13 policy recommendations and eight building use recommendations regarding the Adams-Cheshire School District – changes that they say could greatly improve the district’s future.
The 21 total changes were presented Feb. 8 at C.T. Plunkett Elementary School to an auditorium full of Adams and Cheshire residents, town officials and school committee members.
Three members of the Collins Center – Monica Lamboy, Rick Kingsley and Bill Lupini – detailed their study’s findings with a serious tone and a seemingly hopeful outlook.
“You have to place students at the center of all discussions,” Kingsley said. “That should really be the focus.”
The towns of Adams and Cheshire hired the Collins Center in 2016 as the district battles declining enrollment and faced funding issues. The Collins Center promised to study the ACRSD and recommend solutions that would improve the district’s finances, academic standing, education quality and overall stability. A report on district demographics, socio-economic status and education was given to the ACRSD school committee – the first step in the long-term process – in January.
The report on Feb. 8, though, offered actionable suggestions and not just baseline information.
Thirteen policy recommendations come in the form of “best practice” changes – as described by the three Collins Center representatives – and comprised possible changes to staff and the student body, among other things.
But of the 13 best practices recommended, one promised to save the district upwards of $750,000. Kingsley read off of a PowerPoint presentation as he described how switching health benefits from Berkshire Health Group to the Massachusetts Insurance Commission could save the district a lot of money.
According to Kingsley, almost 20 percent of the ACRSD operating budget is currently allotted for health benefits.
Reducing special education enrollment to match the state average was recommended, too. Recommendation 3, as it was colloquially referenced, would save the district a projected $125,000 “over time,” according to the presentation.
The ACRSD has seen exponential growth in students with disabilities since 2007. In 2011, it exceeded the Massachusetts average. As of 2016, the ACRSD has approximately 4 percent more students with disabilities compared to the average district in the state, according to Collins Center numbers.
Kingsley admitted some of the recommendations would be hard to swallow, but are more or less necessary.
“You have to acknowledge that change needs to occur,” Kingsley said.
The eight building alternatives include possible changes in grade arrangement for each school and considered any building renovations.
The building recommendations, though, come at a time when tension is palpable between the two towns: discussion of closing an elementary school in either town has caused some resident and government tempers to flare.
Four suggestions were presented for the district’s elementary schools. Each recommendation either involves closing CTPES or CES. Despite this being a major point of contention between the towns – as was seen last week between the two towns’ Board of Selectmen – the building alternatives were received quietly and without outburst.
Two recommendations for Hoosac Valley High School were offered and consisted of moving eighth grade to HVHS and relocating the fourth and fifth grade to the middle school portion of the building.
Another alternative moves kindergarten and first grade to the middle school area and moves pre-K to an early childhood room already available.
Moving pre-K through seventh grade to HVHS and moving eighth through 12th grade students to CTPES was also given as an option.
A “worst case scenario,” as Lamboy described it, was also provided. It called for three separate districts with a superintendency union that would provide oversight.
The presentation on Feb. 8, though, is not the end of the process.
“Clearly it’s not a decision point,” Lamboy said, speaking to the fact that the Collins Center recommendations were only recommendations – they do not have the final say. “There will be plenty more dialogue.”
Tours of the district’s two elementary schools are schedule from Feb. 14 to Feb. 16, according to Putnam. He said tours would help inform the public.
This story first ran in the Berkshire Courier.