Despite power outages and impassable roads in both towns, a record number of Acton and Boxborough residents attended the Regional School District Study Committee’s most recent community forum, held at Acton Town Hall the night of Oct. 30.
The 50 attendees represented almost ten times the usual number, according to Joanne Berry, who helped publicize the event.
Sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the meeting featured a presentation by committee members Mary Brolin and Xuan Kong and an hour-long question-and-answer session.
The proposal to add Blanchard to the regional school district is the result of a year’s worth of discussion, drafts, and revisions, and is available on the study commission’s website .
Last spring, at their respective town meetings, both Acton and Boxborough residents approved the continuation of the planning process with the goal of taking a final vote in April of 2013. If approved in both communities, the agreement would take effect on July 1, 2014.
Currently, the Acton and Boxborough schools are regionalized for grades 7-12. Because the group of five Acton elementary schools and the sole Boxborough elementary school are governed separately, there exist three distinct districts: Acton Public Schools, Boxborough Public Schools, and Acton-Boxborough Regional School District.
Two trends—declining enrollment and increasing per-pupil expenditures—at Blanchard must be addressed by the town’s school officials.
Brolin and Kong outlined the key changes that would occur should a Pre-K to Grade 12 region be created as recommended by the committee:
- Boxborough would share existing Acton Public Schools and Acton-Boxborough Regional School District central office staff.
- Additional classroom facilities would allow flexibility in managing class sizes and facilitate students moving across programs.
- Transportation costs would decrease because the town of Acton owns its school buses and the town of Boxborough pays an outside contractor to transport students.
The committee recommends that the proposed new region purchase all six elementary schools for a nominal $1 fee in order to retain control and responsibility for their maintenance and use. (This is the manner in which ownership of the junior high and high school buildings is structured.)
The financial impact of full regionalization, a projected annual savings of $600,000, would be shared by the two towns, with Acton receiving 65% and Boxborough 35%.
“That’s not a lot of money across all the school budgets,” said Brolin. "We’re looking to increase the educational benefits.”
Regarding the impact on school choice at the elementary level, Brolin stated that the current proposal includes a 5-year guarantee that students will attend schools in their hometowns if that is their parents' desire. To ensure that this is possible, the agreement will include a stipulation that at least one school will remain open in each of the two towns during that time period.
The existing sibling preference assurance would remain in effect indefinitely.
Transportation costs would be allocated region-wide based on percentages of a three-year rolling average of the student population. Construction and renovation costs would be similarly assigned.
Service on existing debt would be assumed by the newly created region.
The audience, which included elementary school parents, Acton seniors and school officials, posed a myriad of questions after the formal presentation.
Several Boxborough parents were worried about their school losing its uniqueness and the possibility that their children could be placed in Acton elementary schools in the future.
An Acton parent voiced concern around the impact on enrollment at RJ Grey and ABRHS should the initiative fail and Blanchard begin accepting out-of-district students to raise revenue. These students would, by law, be permitted to attend ABRSD schools and could increase class sizes as a result.
Others voiced support for the plan but were looking for clarification of points made.
Brolin and Kong pointed to the successful integration of the junior and senior high populations as a predictor of success at the elementary level.
“Boxborough cannot do nothing,” said Brolin. “There is a Plan B that will be enacted if this doesn’t go through.”
Kong explained that further outreach efforts will be made to inform residents of both towns about the proposal, which is by no means finalized.
“We want to bring the best revised agreement forward to Town Meeting,” said Kong.