Mount Greylock Officials React to Lanesborough Meeting

By Stephen DravisWilliamstown Correspondent
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Mount Greylock Regional School officials Tuesday responded to suggestions that the district might stop accepting tuition students and that it could "slow down" the state building authority's process.
The message from the district was twofold: Contraction would hurt programming at the school, and talking about contraction at this time could derail efforts to address the failing building that is home to the junior-senior high school.
School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Greene at Tuesday's meeting read aloud a memo she drafted in response to comments made at Monday's Lanesborough Board of Selectmen meeting.
Some officials in Lanesborough, Mount Greylock's member town along with Williamstown, are suggesting the district find out whether the smaller towns of New Ashford, Hancock and Richmond want to formally join the district before going forward with a feasibility study mandated by the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
The concern over the three towns, which tuition in their students, is that tuition-paying towns are not assessed any of the cost related to potential renovation or rebuilding under the MSBA program.
Greene said a member of the Lanesborough School Committee said Monday the district could "slow down" the MSBA process by voting down funding for a feasibility study this spring.
(Robert Barton, chairman of the Lanesborough School Committee, had suggested the negative vote as one of three options the town could take.)
In 2013, Mount Greylock was one of 16 school districts from among hundreds of applicants invited to enter the school building authority's "eligibility" phase after trying for the better part of a decade to reach that step. School officials fear that saying "no" to the feasibility study will send Mount Greylock to the back of the line.
"While the discussions taking place right now over issues of [supervisory union] affiliation, regional configuration, enrollment, grade shifting, quality of education, cost savings, etc. are all valid conversations, it is important to remain focused on the schedule set forth by the MSBA," Greene wrote. "We have had many years of [Statement of Interest] submissions to address these issues — and we have been addressing them.
"The issues currently being discussed are not new, and for any one of them to become a deal-breaker at this time would be highly unfortunate. We need to plan for how best to address the needs of this building in the most educationally beneficial and cost-effective way possible. Our children, our teachers and our communities deserve this."
Echoing comments made at Monday's Williamstown Selectmen's meeting, the chairman of Mount Greylock's Finance Committee said the towns would be penny wise but pound foolish to lose a chance to proceed with the state's building program, which would reimburse the district at least 55 percent of the cost of either a renovation or new structure.
"It will cost the towns an incredible amount of money ... when the school begins to fail in the next couple of years," David Backus said.
Committee member Chris Dodig said he thinks that argument will be persuasive.
"I'm optimistic and hopeful that we'll be able to get the towns to see the logic," Dodig said.
Committee Vice Chairwoman Sheila Hebert, a resident of Lanesborough, was less optimistic.
"It seems to me [the Lanesborough Selectmen] has a lot of information that's not correct," Hebert said. "We need to make them understand the consequences of what's to come.
"It almost sounds like the selectmen don't know what we're doing from all these articles and everything going on. I'm a little disheartened there hasn't been outreach from their side or our side to move forward. Do you think they're not understanding what we're saying?"
"It's hard to know," Greene answered.
Greene noted that Mount Greylock officials were not informed of or invited to participate in the enrollment discussion at Lanesborough's Monday meeting. She and Lanesborough resident Mark Schiek, the chairman of the district's Building Committee, attended the Williamstown Selectmen's meeting the same night for an enrollment discussion that was posted on that meeting's agenda.
If Mount Greylock chose to limit enrollment to students from the member towns only, Greene said a ballpark estimate for enrollment would be 425 students -- rather than the 535-student figure suggested by the MSBA based on the current enrollment pattern.
The smaller enrollment could result in a building with four fewer classrooms, fewer lockers and a smaller cafeteria, but school officials say the negative impacts to Mount Greylock's program would be more noticeable.
At Greene's request, Superintendent Rose Ellis prepared a memo on the potential effects of decreased enrollment.
It would mean cutting about eight to 10 teachers and reducing current course offerings, including, perhaps, science and history electives, accelerated math, remedial math and "independent and experiential learning options," according to Ellis' memo.
"A smaller school will result in more homogenous academic programming," the memo reads. "It can also limit diversity in core offerings, impact interest-based learning and, of course, alter the quality of staffing, as more part-time teachers are required.
"Alternative academic choices would be limited for high performing, low performing and differently performing students — a goal Mount Greylock has successfully addressed in recent years."

Tags: enrollment,   feasibility study,   MSBA,   

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