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Royalston most unhappy with town meeting rebuff.

Byline: George Barnes

ROYALSTON - Votes at Monday night's town meeting in Athol rejecting changes to the regional school district's agreement may spill over into tonight's Athol-Royalston School Committee meeting.

Chet Hall, a Royalston representative on the committee, said Royalston residents are extremely unhappy with two votes. One rejected designating Royalston Community School as a prekindergarten through Grade 6 school. The other rejected requiring support from eight of 10 committee members before moving elementary school students from one community to schools in another community in the district.

"We're not happy with it at all," Mr. Hall said. "It may be time we take more drastic action."

The drastic action, he said, could call for the town to create its own prekindergarten through Grade 6 district, paying as a town to educate its younger students but remaining part of the Athol-Royalston district for high school and middle school. He said it would be similar to how Petersham educates its elementary schoolchildren.

At present, only Athol sixth-graders attend the middle school, but Royalston students in Grades 7 and 8 are part of the middle school.

Mr. Hall said Royalston is adamant about not changing the Royalston Community School from its current six grades plus kindergarten and prekindergarten.

"It will not happen," he said.

Mr. Hall said that whatever steps the town has to take, it will insist on keeping the school the way it is. He said the town might consider pulling out of the Athol-Royalston district entirely.

"Our cards are still being dealt and assessed," he said.

Mr. Hall said he was extremely unhappy with comments made at the Athol town meeting by School Committee members Mary Forristall and Karen McNiff and former committee member Pamela Caranfa. All three spoke strongly against the articles, although Athol representatives Susan Gatautis and Joseph Maga supported the articles.

He said he was particularly unhappy with Mrs. Caranfa saying it would cost Athol up to $1 million for additional teachers at the school.

"This is foolish," he said. "We're not looking for more teachers."

Mr. Hall said the residents of Royalston are so defensive about their school because they are a close-knit community and their younger students are better off being taught in town.

Superintendent of Schools Anthony T. Polito said the relationship between Athol and Royalston is of critical importance to the district.

"We have to learn to work through our district," he said.

Mr. Polito said the issues could be worked out better if there were greater trust between the two towns and greater trust between the towns and the school district administration. He said the votes by Athol point to a greater need for the towns to work together.

The superintendent said the district has made major steps forward in recent years, partly as the result of the two towns working together. It was the willingness by both towns to cooperate that may have helped keep the district from being deemed underperforming by the state, he said.

He said the district is going to need new elementary schools, and the School Committee and town officials need to talk more about what is best for the district.

Mr. Polito said the latest round of results on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests shows a marked improvement in the district. He said the district can continue to improve, but it needs the towns to work together.

"There's a lot of angst below the surface," he said.

The School Committee meeting is at 7 p.m. at the middle school.

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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Oct 17, 2007
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