WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School District Committee on Tuesday voted to send a memo to the two elementary districts in Superintendancy Union 71 complaining about the demands one of those districts is placing on the administrative staff shared by the three districts.
The memo, read aloud by School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Greene, singles out the chairman of the Lanesborough School Committee, and its passage Tuesday followed a lengthy discussion about that official's efforts to dissolve SU-71.
Greene prefaced her reading of the memo by saying it was drafted to express the Mount Greylock committee's dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs and the amount of stress it is creating for administrative staff.
Greene read the memo (which was edited during the meeting) into the record and for the benefit of the audience watching on the town's community access television station, WilliNet:
We write presently to open a discussion about the demands placed by each of the Tri-District school committees on central administration. Presently we are informed that the highest demand is coming from the school committee at Lanesborough Elementary School, and this is the first time in the history of Union 71 that our shared administrative staff has complained about the level of the demands. Our administrative assistant has recently expressed that she cannot continue to work under the present circumstances. She has informed us that she has spent over 80 percent of her time over the last several months dealing with the demands of the chair of the Lanesborough Elementary School Committee. The superintendent estimates 75 to 80 percent of her time as well.
We each pay a certain percentage of central administration and believe the time devoted to each of our schools should approximately reflect those percentages. We recognize that there will be times when pressing issues make this impossible on a week-to-week basis.
But over the course of each month and certainly each school year, this should be the case or our paid percentages should change. We have asked Dr. Ellis and other shared staff members to keep a daily log of the matters on which they are spending time. Once they have reached the allocated percentage, we are persuaded they should within reason prioritize all multi-school demands; all non-urgent work will be put off until it can be addressed.
We are disappointed it has come to this for the first time in the six-year history of collaboration within Union 71 and, later, within the shared administration within Mount Greylock. We hope that by setting limits we can fall back into a pattern of fair and appropriate demands on central administration. We very much prefer to work in harmony, rather than by any defined set of rules. Sometimes, however, rules and limits are necessary and even helpful.
We, as a school committee, believe in the benefit of the collaboration allowed by the agreement between Mount Greylock and School Union 71 and the improvements in education it has fostered. We intend to do the very best we can to preserve this arrangement because we believe it is in the best interest of the students from both Lanesborough and Williamstown. Signed, Carrie Greene, MGRSD Committee Chair
Little time at the meeting was left to discuss the other item on the agenda: the town meeting warrant article concerning funding for the school building project's feasibility study. Greene said the committee would take up the warrant article at a future meeting.
Greene began with a brief update of last week's meeting in Lanesborough and directly refuted one of key assertions Chairman Robert Barton made at the meeting.
"Mr. Barton stated at the meeting that by voting the intent to dissolve [the union], it would absolve the Lanesborough Elementary School Committee from any obligation for multiyear contracts after the vote," Greene said. "I spoke to legal counsel yesterday, and the shared legal counsel confirmed that that is not true. The intent to dissolve has no legal standing whatsoever. ... And any contracts voted between now and June 2015, should the union continue to exist, would be a shared financial obligation of Union-71.
"Mr. Barton also stated our legal counsel suggested they have a vote of an intent to dissolve, and that is not true. So I'm really puzzled as to what is going on."
Greene also shared for the first time publicly an email she received from Barton in December last year that hints at Barton's motives for pushing to dissolve the union. Although dissolving the union (an agreement between school districts) would do nothing to the status of the Mount Greylock Regional School District (an agreement between towns), it does appear to be part of a broader agenda.
"Mr. Barton said in the meeting on Friday that all of this talk about leaving the union was precipitated by the contract discussion in December, but I'd like to read the email I received on Dec. 4 from Mr. Barton," Greene said.
I write to share what I believe are emerging political realities in Lanesborough: readiness to entirely withdraw from the high school region with Williamstown, rather than expand to two-town K-12 and corresponding unwillingness to do a two-town, $50-70 million high school project. I see, however, a possible win-win solution in a new region that includes North Adams.
I suggest the feasibility and regionalization studies be expanded and refocused to consider Williamstown and Lanesborough collaborating with North Adams to establish a three- or 10-town region and to build a new high school located between North Adams and Williamstown with Greylock and Drury closing or adapting to other uses.
If this kind of multi-community collaboration doesn't begin coming together in the next six months,' and this was dated Dec. 4, 2013," Greene reminded her audience before continuing to read Barton's words. " 'I think there is a real chance Lanesborough will decide to withdraw from the Mount Greylock region on some planned basis — tuitioning or choicing its kids to various schools while seeking a multi-town arrangement.
Mount Greylock School Committee member David Langston dismissed the notion that there is a groundswell of support in Lanesborough for breaking up the Mount Greylock district.
"I think there's no chance in hell this district is going to be dissolved," Langston said. "The [Massachusetts] Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and, I think, the Legislature has to be involved, and they're only interested in bigger districts, not smaller.
"I've been on this committee for almost 10 years, and I've never heard a single person come up to me and say they want a larger district with 10 towns in Northern Berkshire or with North Adams. That is utter fantasy."
Greene said although the Lanesborough Committee does not have any say in the Mount Greylock district, she was troubled by the discordant note struck by Barton at a time when the district is trying to move forward with its building project.
"If there is dissolution of [Union 71], how does that reflect on the region?" Greene asked rhetorically. "How does it affect the ability to come together as a two-town community to support the region and the building project.
"[Barton's] is not the voice of collaboration or cooperation. That concerns me very much."