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SU71 Questions Lanesborough's Withdrawal Process

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff
02:46PM / Tuesday, February 25, 2014
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Dan Caplinger questioned Lanesborough's exploration of leaving the union without discussing it with the union first.

LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — The Williamstown members of Superintendency Union 71 are questioning why the Lanesborough School Committee began exploring the disbanding of the union without presenting concerns to them first.

"If a member school had a concern, they should bring that concern to the union and the union would explore it," said Dan Caplinger. "I kind of feel like we skipped a step."

Lanesborough School Committee Chairman Robert Barton has been calling on his committee to vote an intent to withdraw from the agreement made with Williamstown to share administration, including the superintendent.

The goal would be to give the town legal recourse to get out of long-term contracts the union enters should Lanesborough opt to join another district instead.

Barton has called for Lanesborough to research all options to help reduce administrative costs. Those options could include staying with the union but would also consider creating a larger union, such as with North Adams, or having the town join on with another district.

"Those things have to be considered by all of us as we move forward," Barton said Monday at a meeting of SU71's board. "I think the individual elementary schools should do that and bring the results together."

The issue stems from a meeting months ago when Barton said Lanesborough's concerns over a particular contract was ignored. Barton said Lanesborough was underrepresented at that meeting — each town has three members on the board but one member was absent.

"I came away from this meeting feeling as though we were singing a different song," Barton said, adding that the rest of the committee wasn't working effectively with Lanesborough's concerns. "I think it raises a red flag."

Next week, the Lanesborough School Committee will further discuss options, Barton said, and he encouraged Williamstown to do the same.

"Why wouldn't we consider alternatives together?" Caplinger countered.

Lanesborough School Committee member Jim Moriarty says he doesn't see a problem with his committee doing its own research into the issue. The intent to leave the union is a vote to formalize the investigation, said Barton, adding the union will still be considered as an option.

"I would like our committee to look at the alternatives, explore and share with you. I'd hope you would do the same," Barton said.

But Williamstown representative Valerie Hall, chairman of the Williamstown School Committee, says it does have an effect on SU71 because it makes it more difficult to reach consensus with contracts. If the officials in one district believes they are committed for the long-term while the others are keeping their options open, the members are going in different directions.

"I'd like to think we would exhaust the possibilities of working together before considering that," Caplinger said.

Lanesborough representative Regina DiLego agrees with the Williamstown representatives, saying the union has worked well together in the past.

Valerie Hall says different views of the future could lead to problems reaching consensus on contracts.

"It should have originated here with a discussion with Union 71 and together we should have decided if we were going to form a committee to look at other options," she said. "Overall we have worked very well as a committee."

SU71 isn't the only group concerned with Lanesborough's request. The Mount Greylock Regional School Committee recently sent a letter to Lanesborough complaining that its requests for information has been bogging down the district clerk. Some 80 percent of her time over the last month has been used completing tasks asked by Barton, according to officials.

On Monday, Superintendent Rose Ellis and Barton agreed to work together to prioritize the requests so as not to overwhelm administrative staff.

"I am pushing hard to solve some important issues for Lanesborough School," Barton said, adding that some of that was related researching a financial question he had regarding $400,000 he believes the town may have been unjustly charged in recent years.


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