The School Committee voted 2-1 in favor of exploring alternatives for sharing administrative costs.
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — The school district may not be withdrawing from Superintendency Union 71 right now, but it will investigate other options.
The School Committee voted 2-1 on Wednesday in favor of exploring alternative affiliations and stated that it will start by working with Union 71 to see if it can work better.
"We're not voting to leave SU71. I am not voting to leave SU71," said Committee member James Moriarity. "I would have to be very compelled to leave SU71."
He pointed out the the union showed a willingness to work through issues that he hadn't seen before, giving him optimism for future dealings with Williamstown.
But, voting in favor of looking into alternatives, he said there is no downside to looking around.
The School Committee has been steeped in controversy after Chairman Robert Barton proposed withdrawing from the union, then scaled it back to stating an "intent to withdraw" to, finally, on Wednesday, opening up an investigation into alternatives. At the time, he felt the district was up against a clock because of long-term contracts that were to be signed.
Barton agreed that a more "diplomatic" way of handling the situation would have been to discuss it with Union 71 board first.
"I think the place we start is with SU71 and talk about what's not working and what could be better?" Barton said of his intentions of the most recent motion.
The investigation will be done alongside the district's look at creating a full K-12 regional district with Mount Greylock Regional and Williamstown. Barton hopes the School Committee will take a stand on regionalization in the fall and its recommendation could include adding more towns into the district. Or, the committee can oppose the move and consider alternative administrative agreements.
"The biggest dark cloud is enrollment," Barton said, which is one concern that triggered the issue.
The town's enrollment has been decreasing, so Barton is proposing joining or creating a larger district to lower the per-pupil administrative costs.
Member Regina DiLego voted against Barton's motion to explore alternatives because she felt the first option should be to work on the issues as a Union and not as individual school boards. She added that the regionalization study will be put to voters, so their say could end up being voided.
"I don't understand why we didn't have this motion about exploring options and cost saving measures with Union 71, at the Union 71 meeting," DiLego said.
The committee hadn't decided how it will go about the investigation yet and will decide that at future meetings.
The issue has triggered a lot of outrage from citizens and again, Wednesday's meeting was attended by many people opposing the move. Residents cited recent improvement in education, that Lanesborough attracts new residents because of the school system, and that a larger district would dilute the town's voice.
Chairman Robert Barton led the effort to consider looking at ending the union.
"The education has been wonderful but so much better since SU71," said resident Cheryl Sacks.
Resident Rich Cohen said the school is topping the state in English and third in math according to student growth percentiles.
He credited the administration's shared services and professional development for improving the school's education.
"Why would we change something that is going so well?" questioned Christine Galib. "I am concerned about costs. But money is not everything. Our children are doing very well, they are progressing."
Others express concern with the whole process of the withdrawal debate.
"We are fracturing the relationships we have with Williamstown," said Michelle Johnson, later adding that all in attendance "do not want us to split off from SU71."