HOPKINTON — About 15 people came to the final education forum conducted by Barry Ricci, superintendent of the Chariho Regional School District. It was a slight improvement over previous years, but most of the people who showed up at Town Hall Wednesday night were either members of the Town Council or the School Committee, and only three parents attended.
Attendance at the Charlestown forum on Oct. 28 and the Richmond forum on Oct. 29 were marginally better, with 18 and 20 people, respectively.
Hopkinton Councilor Scott Bill Hirst said he wanted to know how Ricci felt about the need for two elementary schools in the town. Richmond School Committee member Robert Cardozo and others have suggested that consolidating the Hope Valley and Ashaway schools would result in considerable savings. Ricci said it was an idea worth exploring.
“I think Hopkinton would be better served if there was one,” he said. “I think it would be more efficient, it would be much less expensive to run. Hope Valley School is a very difficult school to run. It’s an old building, it’s not accessible to the handicapped. ...I know there’s a big love for that school in the community, but the reality is that a single school in Hopkinton would be much less expensive, and I think overall, it would be better.”
Hopkinton School Committee member Georgia Ure disagreed, arguing that it was important to have a school in each of the town’s two village centers.
“Those schools are where they belong. They’re in the villages. The transportation’s there, if you need the fire companies, they’re there in the village. ...I think you’ve really got to think about what you’re busting up, and what you’re messing up,” she said.
Ricci said it was up to Hopkinton residents to decide whether they wanted to keep both schools. “I’m a very firm believer that the community will determine the quality and scope of its school,” he said. “If Hopkinton wants two elementary schools, then Hopkinton should keep two elementary schools.”
Councilor Barbara Capalbo asked how the program to equip all Chariho High School students with computers was progressing. The discussion of the “1:1” initiative, as it is known, ended up dominating the forum.
“I believe you’re getting laptops, not iPads,” she said. “Can you just give us an update?”
Ricci explained that a committee set up to study the issue had recommended that the district buy the MacBook Air.
“They set up the criteria and brought in vendors and made the recommendation to me that it would be an Apple laptop,” he said.
Ricci said committee members thought the laptop was of a higher quality, and that Apple offered more educational support for it. Teachers were issued MacBooks in August and students will receive theirs when the next term begins.
The high school’s wireless infrastructure will have to undergo a significant upgrade to handle the additional traffic. Ricci explained that he was expecting to hear soon about a $360,000 state grant that would pay for the improvements.
“What they’ve told us most recently, last week, is that the money will start being distributed in late November,” he said.
Ricci also fielded a series of questions about the electronic textbooks that would be loaded into the devices, how much they would cost, and whether they could be used by other students in ensuing years. The textbook business is in a state of flux, he said, and the only certainty was that paper textbooks would soon become obsolete.
Elaine Morgan, whose son attends Chariho Middle School, wanted to know what would happen to the laptops at the end of the year.
“Do you hand in your computers at the end of the year and then it gets passed down?” she asked.
Ricci replied that the computers would be rotated among the students.
Council President Sylvia Thompson then shifted the discussion to financial matters. She wanted to know why the town was no longer receiving monthly surplus-deficit reports from the district.
“Ever since I’ve been a councilor, since 2006, Chariho sends over to finance every month a surplus-deficit report and you could track how Chariho was doing and what was spent,” she said. “They’re not being done. So that’s very important.”
Ricci said he would ask Finance Director Brian Stanley about sending the reports to the towns.
Councilor David Husband expressed his frustration with what he felt were excessive budget surpluses. The last budget showed a surplus of $1.4 million, $390,000 of which was appropriated in order to achieve a level-funded budget in the hope that it would pass at a referendum. Voters still rejected it for a third and final time.
“There’s a lot of fat there someplace, and every time you come in with a monster surplus, it just supports that belief,” he said.
With people eager to get home to watch the World Series, the forum ended after an hour and a half. Ricci said the questions at this Hopkinton event had differed only slightly from those asked at the forums in Charlestown and Richmond.
“I think there were similarities, definitely, about the budget and about surplus and those kinds of things. Charlestown, there were more questions about the Common Core standards, and Richmond, pretty similar, I think,” he said.