Mount Greylock Sends Feasibility Study Request to Towns

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Chairwoman Carolyn Greene said the MSBA suggested speaking with Lanesborough officials about how enrollment figures were projected.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School Committee on Tuesday approved $850,000 for a feasibility study of the middle and high school.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority will reimburse 55 percent of the cost and the School Committee will reduce the balance by $150,000 set aside for the purpose.

The expected cost to the towns will be $93,000 for Lanesborough and $139,500 for Williamstown, both of which will have to be approved at town meetings this spring. The debt should be incurred no earlier than fiscal 2016, more likely later.

Chairwoman Carolyn Greene said she had not heard concerns from Williamstown regarding the figures but had gotten "mixed messages" from Lanesborough.

"They are very different financial situations and it will be a challenge for Lanesborough," she said.

Committee members discussed the need to continue outreach to ensure that voters understood the facts concerning the building project. Greene said affirmative votes were needed at both town meetings.

"They [MSBA] want to know that the towns are supporting this process," she said.

The funding could come from potential savings found should the three school district's decide to regionalize. School Committee member David Backus reported the task force exploring money issues related to regionalization found significant savings, at least initially, with a pre-K-through-Grade 12 district.

"The bottom line is that we're finding that there's much greater savings than anticipated, sort of on the order of $800,000 to $900,000," he told the committee. "How that gets divided between the two towns is something we're working on."

Business Director Lynn Bassett said the savings could be reduced to about $600,000 at the beginning because of one or two years of expenses in bringing all the contracts together.

The figures were calculated using actual fiscal 2013 numbers and teased out of expenses spread between town and school budgets. Debt loads and insurance are often on the town side of the ledger, said Backus.

Greene said she had been questioned about the pace of the regionalization study and whether it has been tabled.

"I think the message is we've taken another year to explore the finances," she said, as well as looking at the role school councils would play. The hope is that should the building feasibility study be approved, the regionalization question could be presented in the fall.

The study should return several renovation choices and one new building option, said Greene; what it won't recommend is a "superschool."

"Rumors of a 'superschool' has been making the rounds for quite some time," Greene said, including making it all the way to the MSBA in Boston. "I was able to allay their concerns."

The pursuit of a new middle and high school and the parallel exploration of regionalization has apparently been conflated, with worries that the elementary schools in the two towns would close, said Backus.

Rather, he said, the purpose is to reconfigure the financial structure. "We would be in a better position to incorporate other towns in the region more smoothly," said Backus.

"When we're taking about [Grades] pre-K to 12, we're talking about structure, not buildings," clarified Greene. "The bureaucratic structure that is so burdensome and so cumbersome."

Regionalization, however, could mean 3 to 6 percentage points toward the MSBA's reimbursement for the building project.

Business Director Lynn Bassett and committee member David Backus said up to $900,000 could be saved through regionalization.

The potential revolt by Lanesborough in Superintendency Union 71 is casting something of a pall on both projects, although Greene said it has also brought up a lot of good information about the educational benefits gained by further connecting the schools.

Greene said Lanesborough officials have been invited to a teleconference Wednesday with MSBA officials to review enrollment figures, at the suggestion of the MSBA. Lanesborough School Committee Chairman Robert Barton was given $4,000 by Selectmen to have a consultant look at enrollment.

The MSBA has set a total enrollment recommendation of 535, about 50 lower than Mount Greylock had been using.

"What we're trying to do is establish a sense of trust. There's a sense that the folks in Lanesborough are not trusting the numbers that are coming out of the MSBA," said Greene. "We want them to understand the methodology and trust that the numbers the MSBA are using for this project are valid.

"Everyone uses the same data ... there is no other data out there."

More information on the school building project, including enrollment, will be presented at the building subcommittee meeting on Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Mount Greylock meeting room.

Tags: enrollment,   MSBA,   regionalization,   school building,   school project,   school union,   

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