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School regionalization is progressing but public participation is always needed!

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The Ayer-Lunenburg-Shirley School Regionalization Planning Board is working hard to bring a regional agreement for a pre-K to grade 12 school region before town meeting. With the support of the superintendents and staff of our schools, we have made progress!

A school region is a body politic, like a town or city, which exists to provide education services to its members. The regional agreement is like a town’s charter. Its terms govern who belongs and the privileges and obligations of membership. The board has made most of its necessary decisions, and they are ready for legal drafting.

We are spending November and December, however, on the most challenging decisions of all: Assessments.

Assessments are charged to each town for costs left over after accounting for the towns’ minimum local contributions (required by the state), Chapter 70 aid, and funds like grants, fees and tuitions. The agreement sets out the terms for how the towns will share these costs.

Making this fair is complicated. We have hired a school-municipal finance consultant to help with our analysis and option development. We want to value our assets as well as our costs, and make them part of a fair assessment for all, that will be sustainable by all, and — we hope — will be predictable.

We have also been planning for the safe and effective transition of the operation from three districts to one, and have opened discussions with the Legislature and Patrick administration about state partnership to promote local success.

We are asking for funding for the short-term costs of the transition. We also need a legal way to allow a transitional school committee and superintendent to co-exist with the local districts, to execute the transition. We have received $50,000 in grants from the state, and are applying for more funds to complete our work. These grants may allow us to complete planning and negotiation by only investing our time, not local funds.

Regionalization offers solutions for some local issues we can’t easily manage on our own. The board is sensitive to the pressures on all of our communities. We continue to look — hard — for a way to make this work, because we all want the same thing for our towns’ children: An excellent education in a caring community.

We know that every dollar we spend on schools does more when it goes to the classroom, to the child. A region offers opportunities to share costs of buildings; to bring best instructional and administrative practices to scale for better results for all; and, despite some regions’ examples, to work with the member towns instead of against them. We are hopeful stay tuned. Come to meetings. Call. Look for our almost-ready-for-release Web site!

We rotate meetings; when in Lunenburg, we’re in the LHS library; in Shirley, at the MS library; and in Ayer, at the Page-Hilltop Professional Development Room. Join us!

MILREE KEELING, Chairman

A-L-S School Regionalization Planning Board