Rich Cohen presented an array of research showing that the town is better served with the union than without it.
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Superintendent Rose Ellis and residents defended the Superintendency Union 71 agreement Monday, countering arguments that the town would be better served by another district.
Ellis outlined a series of benefits the town has received because of the union and said the cost is lower than other districts.
She said the three key positions — that of the superintendent, business administrator and special education director — saves the town some $250,000.
For example, Lanesborough pays just $33,733 for her position compared to $54,615 for Williamstown Elementary and $72,285 for Mount Greylock Regional School. Comparatively, Adams-Cheshire $117,300; Berkshire Hills pays $140,689; Central Berkshire $152,250; Lee pays $115,000; Lenox $115,000; North Adams $121,321; Pittsfield $157,000 and Southern Berkshire Regional $123,000.
In total, for the three positions plus the assistant to the superintendent, the entire tri-district pays $433,666 for administrative salaries and benefits with Lanesborough paying $91,070 of that.
"Lanesborough pays the least for the three key administrative positions," Ellis said.
Comparatively, Lee has the lowest overall administrative costs at $259,687, she said.
When divided by the number of students, the town pays $444 per pupil for those positions. Which is third highest compared to the other Berkshire districts and slightly more than the state average. Ellis says that is because of the number of students, not because of the agreement. Lanesborough only has 205 students whereas the other districts (outside of Williamstown and Mount Greylock) serve between 751 to 5,987 students.
Lanesborough School Committee Chairman Robert Barton previously claimed that the district spends $809 per student. Barton had called the Lanesborough School Committee to vote an intent to leave the union to explore joining or forming a larger district. The vote, he believed, would give the town legal recourse to get out of long-term contracts voted on by the union if they decide not to stay.
"I would hope that the way this will come out is that Lanesborough will look at alternatives," Barton, who sits on the SU71 committee as well, said of his proposal on Monday.
Ellis says Barton's number includes positions other districts don't have, are contracted out or have classified in other departments instead of with administration.
Those positions such as a curriculum director, assistant special education director, behavioral specialist, school committee clerk and office assistant. They are classified under the administration of SU71 because they are shared among the three schools, Ellis said.
Ellis pointed to per-pupil costs for the entire budget, a number derived from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which shows Lanesborough pays a per-pupil cost of $14,498, which is directly in the middle of the pack with five Berkshire schools paying more and five paying less.
"Basically the per pupil cost for Lanesborough is right in the middle in the county," Ellis said.
Meanwhile, Ellis says the benefits Lanesborough has reaped from the shared purchases and services include a long-range planning process, additional professional development, a math coach, aligned mathematics curriculum, additional teaching assistance, upgraded technology and software, expanded music and Shakespeare programs, more parent events, interns, the winning of a Race to the Top grant, additional tuition revenue and reduced supplies cost. All additions that have helped propel Lanesborough Elementary to becoming classified a Level 1 school by the state.
Resident Rich Cohen cited the music program as an example of positives. Cohen told the committee that Lanesborough students were being left behind before joining the union because they weren't taking music and therefore, not participating in high school programs either. The same goes for other curriculum alignments the union paved the way for.
"Most Lanesborough students weren't taking music, they needed to be scheduled into different classes with Williamstown students. Not just in music but in all other subjects as well," Cohen said. "Now since the establishment of SU71, the music teachers in the three schools work closely together, mentoring and supporting each other and ensuring that students from both towns are prepared for success."
Resident Claudia Coplan agreed that the aligning the academic programs have led to significant student achievement while Ellis says the departments have tremendous "synergy."
"I have grave concerns about that. For the life of me, I can't understand the benefits," Coplan said.
SU71 is represented by six members with three from Lanesborough and three from Williamstown.
According to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Mount Greylock students ranked second in the county in MCAS; second in advanced placement tests, third in SAT scores; fourth in graduation rates — all above state averages. Meanwhile, Mount Greylock students top the list for number of graduates attending higher education institutions.
Cohen cited statistics showing that in the state, Lanesborough has the fifth lowest administrative cost among 49 districts with fewer than 500 students. Cohen said that changing districts to one with worst academic results would result in significant lose to property values, costing the Lanesborough tax payer even more.
Cohen, citing various sources, said property values would decrease by 10 to 15 percent if the union dissolved and joined with another. His researched was based on a 2.1 percent reduction in values for every 5 percent decrease in test scores.
Lanesborough resident Michelle Johnson said the district achieves higher educational scores in the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests and the SATs than all of the other districts the town could reach an agreement with instead.
"I'm not sure what the benefits are. I can't see them," she said. "Leaving the union, in my opinion, is not the best way to save costs to the town."
Additionally she added that joining a larger district would dilute the town's voice in that district's operations. The larger populated municipalities would dictate operations and Lanesborough would "get lost."
Ellis said the schools do lack efficiency because of multiple school committees, budgets and collective bargaining unions, which has led the district to consider streamlining those by making all three schools one K-12 region, which is currently being studied.
"Those are our inefficiencies and we've been very, very willing to handle them," she said.