By Amanda Burke
ASHBURNHAM — Fewer school-choice students will be admitted to Ashburnham-Westminster regional schools, School Committee Chairman David Christianson Jr. said Monday, as the district starts to see their effect on growing class sizes.
“We believe we need to be able to step back the level of school-choice, take care of our own students first because it’s beginning to affect student-teacher ratios,” Christianson said at special meeting of the Ashburnham Board of Selectmen on Monday.
As recently as last year, the regional school committee scrapped a plan to raise $235,000 by increasing the number of school-choice students it accepts. The district receives $5,000 dollars annually for each of those students.
The reason for putting the kibosh on that revenue source? Some School Committee members feared adding more school-choice pupils would jack up class sizes, and the board decided not to raise the school-choice cap above 200.
Even though the cap stayed flat, students who live in towns and cities other than Ashburnham or Westminster are contributing to large class sizes, Christianson said, in a district where some elementary school classrooms have over 30 students and high school students sometimes struggle to find open sections.
“(We) made the decision to begin to step the school-choice number back, because we’re seeing a capacity problem, particularly in the elementary schools,” he said.
Several school-choice students have left the district since there were 198 in 2016. Currently 186 out-of-district students studying at Ash-West schools.
The district will cap the number of school-choice students at 186 for the 2017-2018 school year, Christianson said. In other words, those school-choice students who graduated this June will be replaced with new entrants, but no more beyond that.
Ashburnham-Westminster Regional Schools remain well-regarded for their academics as the regional district struggles with a significant funding gulf for next fiscal year, Christianson said.
“For all of our problems we’re a high-performing district and folks want to be here,” he said.
The School Committee will vote on a fiscal 2018 budget Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in the library of Overlook Middle School.
Last week, a Proposition 2 1/2 override to increase schools funding failed because of a split vote between the two towns in the regional district, with Ashburnham rejecting the measure by 24 votes.
The 10-person regional school committee needs a super-majority of 7 members to sign off on the fiscal 2018 budget. Christianson said just 7 members will be present at the meeting Tuesday, because three are out of town.