Nashoba Trims School Choice Program

By Ann Needle

After weeks of debate, the Nashoba School Committee voted last night to nix the school choice program in kindergarten through grade 8. The amount of debate over the topic throughout several meetings easily outpaced discussion devoted to the approved 2013/14 budget, which was the subject of an annual public hearing that started the meeting.

Once again this year, the Committee took up its annual option to review the standing school choice policy, which regulates how many out-of-district students can come to school here in different grades. The Committee finally voted to keep the program only at Nashoba Regional High School.

Most of the often-heated discussion in recent weeks has centered on whether leaving school choice as is would lead to overcrowding in Bolton and Lancaster schools. Because Stow schools are considered at or near capacity, there are very few spaces open in Center and Hale Middle schools.

Some members countered that the $5,000 an incoming choice student’s district pays to Nashoba means precious dollars that can’t be refused in tough economic times.

Before the decision, Committee Chair Nancy Federspiel of Bolton pointed out that the correspondence received from district parents showed 15 against the program, and one parent in favor.

In defending school choice, Stow Rep. Maureen Busch asserted, “We have to go back and say that we are raising your taxes so that Bolton and Lancaster can have smaller class sizes.”

Rep. Lynn Colletti made the motion to leave school choice only at the high school, preserving much of the program’s short-term revenue. She also reminded the Committee that it can choose to re-consider the program each year.

The Committee voted 5-3 to approve. Opposing votes to Colletti’s proposal came from Busch, Stow Rep. Jeff Odell, and Rep. Kathy Owen of Lancaster.

Concerning the budget hearing, Wood said that the last-minute changes the Committee voted in earlier this month trimmed the hike in next year’s budget from 3.9% to about 3.1%. The less than 10 residents in attendance did not comment on the package.

Nashoba Students and Risk
In a presentation to the Committee, Nashoba Coordinator of Health, Guidance & Wellness Pat Trahman reviewed the results of the 2012 Emerson Hospital Youth Risk Survey, designed to gauge how students may be putting their health and lives at risk.

Covering 13 communities surrounding Emerson, the survey was answered by all students in grades 6, 8, and 9 through 12, in the participating school districts (unless exempted per a parent’s request, absent from school, or choosing not to participate). Trahman said that the survey was based on a model from the US Centers for Disease Control, and 2012 was the first year Nashoba participated in the annually scheduled survey.

Among the areas of interest Trahman underscored was that risky behavior (including attempted suicides) tends to spike in junior year.  She observed that the survey was taken in mid-March, “A very stressful time for juniors.” Among the four types of stress students were questioned about, academic work load rated the highest, with females more likely to report stress in that area, she said.

Trahman suggested this information could be used in the curriculum to help head off some of these risky behaviors. For a look at complete survey results, visit the Nashoba website at www.nrsd.net

The Committee voted 5-2, with one abstention, to accept a policy regarding the hiring of a part-time school resource officer for NRHS. Discussed at the previous Committee meeting, the officer will be a member of the Bolton Police, and will begin his/her duties next school year. The SRO will act as a liaison between the school and law enforcement in handling any student safety issues at the school.

Stow Reps. Maureen Busch and Lynn Colletti voted against the measure, while Nancy Federspeil abstained. Busch commented that she felt uncomfortable voting in favor when other items needed to be trimmed from the budget. Colletti questioned why the job could not be shared with Stow and Lancaster. Federspiel said she abstained because the SRO would ordinarily be carrying a gun within NRHS.

The district will draw up a memorandum of agreement on the position, and the document will be shared with the Stow and Lancaster police.

The Committee also voted unanimously to accept the new mission statement of NRHS, which was presented to the Committee last month.

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