Mount Greylock Enrollment Question Still at Issue

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The issue of Mount Greylock Regional School's enrollment projection is not dead yet.
Last week, a special meeting of the School Committee voted 4-2 to send what is called a "study enrollment" to the Massachusetts School Building Authority as the school prepares to begin a feasibility study on a new high school.
The reason for the special meeting was that the MSBA had an April 15 deadline for receiving the school's enrollment projection.
At Tuesday's regular School Committee meeting, Chairwoman Carolyn Greene told the committee the MSBA allowed the district to miss that deadline and may grant an extension to as late as early May so it can get more information.
At issue is whether Mount Greylock wants to plan for a future that includes choice and tuition students at the level it currently allows or whether the district wants to restrict enrollment to students from its two member towns, Williamstown and Lanesborough.
At the April 10 special meeting, the School Committee decided to go with option C: a study enrollment that sends both the higher enrollment figure of 535 (with tuition and choice) and the lower enrollment figure of 450 to MSBA and ultimately run a more expensive feasibility study that crunches the numbers at both enrollment levels.
Greene and School Committee Vice Chairman Chris Dodig consulted with an MSBA official on Tuesday and determined that the authority may be willing to give the district more time — perhaps until after a May 5 non-binding vote in one of its tuitioning towns that addresses whether that town wants to continue to paying tuition at Mount Greylock or choose a less expensive alternative in New York.
"There may be a possibility we could delay the certification of an enrollment number or the study enrollment until we see what happens in Hancock," Greene said in a meeting telecast on the town's community access television station, WilliNet. "I did clarify to [MSBA's] Diane Sullivan that this is a real issue with members on this committee.
"It's a reality that towns vote the budget. And if [Hancock] votes down the budget for the school, it's essentially voting down the tuition to Mount Greylock and McCann [Tech]. 
"That gives [MSBA] a reason to delay certifying. ... That gives us more time to study the issue."
That does not mean the committee is necessarily headed for another debate on the enrollment question.
Greene opened Tuesday's discussion by noting that Thursday's vote was binding on the committee.
"While I'm not saying we will necessarily revote this, we may have the option to revote this," she said. "I'm not lobbying for one thing or another. I'm simply trying to clarify what the reality may be."
One point she clarified on Tuesday that may have been unclear to members of district's Building Committee and the School Committee itself: once the enrollment figure — or study enrollment is certified — the district has no option other than 450 or 535.
In other words, there is no "negotiation" of enrollment during the feasibility stage, as MSBA has allowed in the past.
"The folks who were involved in the previous MSBA process ... Bob [Ericson] and Dave [Langston] and Thomas Bartels and maybe a couple of other folks ... may be under the assumption that in the next phase of this process, the feasibility phase, there will be more discussion about enrollment," Greene said. "The fact is that's not true.
"In 2012, MSBA decided to change its procedure and settle the enrollment first. Now is the time to settle the enrollment."
Greene and Dodig each were told separately by the MSBA's Sullivan that the district should have hashed out the choice and tuition questions before submitting its statement of interest to enter the authority's funding program, the committee members said.
"She said, 'You're late in talking about this,' " Dodig said. " 'You should have had this discussion before you submitted your SOI.'
"I pointed out that we had submitted seven SOIs [over the course of a decade], and this concept of who we are, while it may have been clear at any time in that process, became a bit muddied, and at least some of us thought we needed to talk about choice.
"Not to blame anyone except ourselves, for not talking about this sooner."
On a positive note, Dodig said a recent agreement between Mount Greylock and the school committees in Hancock and New Ashford was received by residents in Lanesborough.
Some residents in the member town had objected to the tuition rate paid by the tuitioning towns. But the Mount Greylock committee negotiated a five-year contract that will gradually bring tuition up to the the approximate per-pupil cost of tuition at the junior-senior high school.
That does not resolve the issue of choice students, who are funded at a state-controlled level of $5,000 per student, well below the approximately $16,000 per pupil cost of a Mount Greylock education.
Dodig lobbied on Tuesday for a compromise enrollment projection that keeps tuition students at the current level but anticipates a reduction in the number of school-choice slots at the school.
"I made the argument to [Sullivan], as I have to most anyone who will listen ... that we're better off if we're able to arrive at a number in between," Dodig said. "I say that both from an economic perspective ... and politically it makes sense, at least for me, to go to Lanesborough and say, look, we talked about choice ... and we compromised and came down off the highest number.
"People will appreciate that ... and be more likely to vote in favor of the feasibility study."
Hancock voters have one high-school related issue on their town meeting warrant. The voters in Williamstown (May 13 May 20) and Lanesborough (June 10) face their own, binding, vote: an authorization to allow Mount Greylock to bond $850,000 to fund a feasibility study.
While it awaits a final decision from MSBA about how long an extension it has on the enrollment question, the School Committee referred the issue of school choice and tuition students and how they fit into the district's long-range plan to its education subcommittee.
Dodig sits on that committee along with Langston and Sheila Hebert.
The full School Committee set a special meeting to revisit the enrollment projection issue on Tuesday, May 6, the night after Hancock's annual town meeting.
In other business on Tuesday night, the School Committee approved the calendar for the 2014-15 school year.
Students will report to Mount Greylock on Wednesday, Sept. 3 with an anticipated last day — barring snow days — of June 16.
The junior-senior high school calendar adopted on Tuesday is in line with the calendar adopted by Williamstown Elementary School but differs from Lanesborough's, where school will begin the last week of August, Mount Greylock Principal Mary MacDonald said.
Like WES, Mount Greylock next year will have a half day on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and be in session on Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 22 and 23.
This year, Mount Greylock anticipates the last day of classes will be June 26, a date altered considerably from the original calendar.
"We've had five [snow days] and one slippery floor day," MacDonald said. "And we may have more slippery floor days with the weather we're going to have."

Tags: enrollment,   MGRHS,   MSBA,   

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