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Mount Greylock Committee Backs Superintendency Union

By Stephen Dravis
Williamstown Correspondent
11:07PM / Tuesday, January 21, 2014
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Mount Greylock Superintendent Rose Ellis, left, and School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Greene at Tuesday's meeting.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Members of the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee on Tuesday voiced their support for Superintendency Union 71.
 
In a marathon meeting that stretched to more than two hours and included two executive sessions, the committee also heard  reports from its auditors, the district's digital media learning specialist and the School Building Committee.
 
The longest discussion took place behind closed doors, for the purpose of "discussing the Mount Greylock Agreement with SU-71 and corresponding personnel contracts."
 
The Mount Greylock district entered into an agreement for shared administrative services with Superintendency Union 71, made up of the regional district's sending schools, Williamstown and Lanesborough.
 
Last week, the chairman of the Lanesborough Elementary School Committee, acting on his own, asked for and received funds from the Lanesborough Board of Selectman to survey town residents about whether it should withdraw from the union.
 
Greene at Tuesday's meeting explained that the superintendency union is different than the Mount Greylock Regional School District, which is an agreement between towns. Either of the two elementary districts could, in theory, withdraw from SU 71 or from the shared-service agreement with the regional district. Withdrawing from the regional district could be more complicated.
 
Several of the Mount Greylock School Committee members advocated for preserving the union.
 
"As I sit here today, I will continue to listen to all voices, but I think further collaboration rather than separation is the direction Williamstown and Lanesborough should be taking, and I hope we go in that direction," said Dodig, a resident of Lanesborough.
 
"The superintendency union was created ... to more fully integrate students from Williamstown and Lanesborough when they arrive at Mount Greylock," committee member David Backus said. "It also allowed us to share administrative service. When SU 71 joined with Mount Greylock, once again there was a sharing of administrative staff. The cost per pupil drops each time you do this.
 
"It allows schools to share professional development costs. It allows us to share bus contracts, buy supplies together. The bigger quantities you buy, the more you save.
 
"More importantly than that, there were separations in curricula at the elementary schools before the union took place. ... Students didn't have the same experiences coming in[to the high school]. I think that's the real benefit of the cooperation of the SU-71 and Mount Greylock Regional School District. ... There's a more seamless integration of students."
 
Committee member David Langston noted that SU-71 was created as a way to save taxpayers money.

"The central question everyone looked at when SU-71 began was saving money," Langston said. "There was a lot of redundancy in the three schools."

Some of the cost savings that officials cite from the tri-district union were on display Tuesday night when the district's business manager updated the committee on the bidding process for the transportation contract.

The three districts together currently pay about $1 million per year for buses, said David Backus, the chairman of the committee's Finance Subcommittee. The districts are attempting to negotiate a five-year contract.

Business Director Lynn Bassett said only one bidder responded to the district's call for proposals, but she anticipates the next contract – while reflecting increases associated with higher fuel costs – will have some advantages for the district.

Namely, Bassett said the next contract will be more flexible than that currently in effect, which charges the district for wheelchair van use whether it is needed or not and does not allow the district to cut back on the number of late buses it needs.

School officials have discussed in the past and again on Tuesday utilizing Berkshire Regional Transit Authority buses to transport students from the high school in the late afternoon.

The meeting was extended not only by the executive sessions – one on SU 71, a second to consider renewal of Bassett's contract – but by business leftover from a December meeting canceled because of weather. Highlights from Tuesday night included:

A good "report card" from audtior Thomas Scanlon Jr. of South Deerfield's Scanlon and Associates. Scanlon walked the committee through a written audit report he submitted and explained that the district is moving in the right direction in terms of getting its books in order. "I think you're a very well managed district," Scanlon said. "You address your problems head on."

The announcement that Aaron Ziemer is the recipient of the Superintendent's Academic Achievement Award for "his tenacious pursuit of excellence in his high school career, leadership qualities, strong school spirit and consideration for his classmates," Ellis said.

A discussion of a policy being developed to govern booster club fund-raising at the school. "There's a need for greater transparency in fund-raising," Backus said. "We want to have the elmination of fund-raising events that don't benefit all team members. We want to gain knowledge about the extent of fund-raising."

Backus said his Finance Subcommittee is working with Athletic Director Lindsay von Holtz on developing new policies.

On a related note, there was a discussion about funding for the school's boys and girls lacrosse programs, which were started three years ago with the agreement the district would cover half the cost and the teams would cover the rest. Ellis said her recollection was that the district agreed it would fully fund the teams after a three-year interim period.

Staying with sports, Langston argued vehemently that the school move toward eliminating user fees for athletics.

"It was instituted when we had the financial crisis because if we didn't do it, we were going to lose sports," he said. "Basically, it's a tax on families that are involved in sports teams. It's bad policy, and we only did it out of necessity."

The committee voted to recommend a 6 percent increase in the cost of tuition for out-of-district students, raising the price tag to $12,024 per year.

Bassett's current one-year contract was extended to a three-year contract.
 
Note: An earlier version of this article included a piece on the school's auditorium. That has been moved here.
 

Tags: MGRHS,   school building,   school union,   

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