Lanesborough Official Pressed to Commit to SU-71

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Lanesborough Elementary School Committee members Regina DiLego and Robert Barton participate in Monday's meeting of Superintendency Union 71.

LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — School officials from Mount Greylock Regional School and Williamstown Elementary School on Monday evening again pressed their partners from Lanesborough for a decision about continuing the shared services agreement that binds the three districts.

But Lanesborough Elementary School Committee Chairman Robert Barton said his committeee needs to study the question further and consider other affiliations outside the existing "Tri-District" arrangement.
Barton and fellow LES Committee member Regina DiLego attended Monday's meeting of  Superintendency Union 71, a joint agreement between LES and WES which shares administrative services with the high school.
DiLego indicated on a number of occasions that she favors continuing the arrangment as it stands. The third member of the three-person LES Committee, James Moriarty, did not attend Monday's meeting; in the past he voted with Barton to explore other alignments.
The issue is coming to a head right now because the Tri-District is on the verge of a search for a new superintendent. Rose Ellis, who has served the Tri-District and SU-71 since their inceptions, has told the committees that she will not seek a renewal of her current contract.
In a more than two-and-a-half hour joint meeting between the Mount Greylock and SU-71 officials, several expressed frustration at the pace of the Lanesborough committee's deliberations. And a number of times it was noted that the longer the Tri-District takes to decide the scope of the superintendent search, the harder it will be to find qualified applicants.
Barton said he was willing to accelerate the Lanesborough decision to conform with the superintendent search process and at one point said he could have a decision about whether Lanesborough would stay in SU-71 by the fall.
But the issue may be moot.
Late in the meeting, the chairwoman of the Williamstown Elementary School Committee made the point that the LES Committee alone cannot dissolve the superintendency union.
"Dissolving Union 71 requires state approval," Valerie Hall said. "And our lawyers are not certain whether a single school committee can make the decision or whether both school committees have to agree [to dissolve]."
Barton indicated that Monday was the first time he had heard that assertion.
Mount Greylock committee member David Langston said that if state approval is required, "it's a done deal," that SU-71 would continue because of the state's preference for cooperation among schools, shared services and economies of scale.
But SU-71 was created out of the remains of a superintendency union that was dissolved: SU-69, which Lanesborough shared with Richmond, Hancock and New Ashford until 2008.
MGRS Committee member Sheila Hebert of Lanesborough pointed out that the process of dissolving SU-69 did require state approval, but that approval came because Lanesborough was entering a new superintendency union with Williamstown, and the two towns already were part of the existing grade 7-12 Mount Greylock Regional School District.
The close cooperation of the two feeder schools and the junior-senior high school benefits education throughout all grade levels by allowing the Tri-District to address "the whole child," school officials say. Through the Tri-District agreement, LES, WES and Mount Greylock have been able to align their curricula, initiate joint programs at the elementary level and share professional development opportunities for teachers.
Lanesborough resident Richard Cohen, who was involved in the effort to dissolve SU-69 and form SU-71, said that initiative required 10 public meetings, and the local school committee votes were subject to review by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's governance and facilities programs manager, Christine Lynch.
MGRS Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Greene suggested Barton contact Lynch before the next LES Committee meeting to see what the town committee's options are.
"We need compelling reasons [to dissolve the union]," Ellis advised the school committee members. "I know Christine Lynch. The first thing she's going to ask is, 'What's the problem?' "
The consensus around the table on Monday night was that the problem has been Barton's relationship with the administration.
The evening began with an SU-71 discussion of the latest in a series of Open Meeting Law violation complaints filed against Barton by Cohen.
DiLego, who chairs the SU-71 committee, said the body was working to comply with information requests from the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office and reported that Barton had completed OML training, which was ordered by the committee following a previous complaint.
Before and after SU-71 was joined by members of the MGRS Committee for a joint meeting, the topic was how to deal with conflicts that have arisen from Barton's interaction with Ellis and the administrative staff of the Tri-District.
Barton suggested a possible solution.
"Looking back at the minutes [from a past SU-71 meeting], there was a question about whether some change might be made to facilitate the working relationship between myself and Dr. Ellis," he said. "My thought was ... there might be someone on Dr. Ellis' staff who could act as the primary contact for Lanesborough Elementary School. I'm not sure who that would be. That might focus our contact with the office in a way that would be helpful."
Ellis responded that there were a number of people in the office that school committee members from any of the three districts could contact. The problem, she said, was the volume of requests coming from the Lanesborough committee in the last year.
The discussion spilled over to the joint committee meeting, where members of the other two elected school committees discussed how they could help resolve a conflict between the administration and a third governing body.
"I think part of the problem is the formative documents for the superintendency union didn't foresee dispute resolution as an issue," WES Committee member Dan Caplinger said. "This is growing pains in my opinion."
The SU-71 and Mount Greylock representatives agreed to refer the matter to the Administrative Review Subcommittee, a joint body of the high school and elementary school committees, to explore possible conflict resolution mechanisms.
Hall was blunt in her assessment of the conflicts that have arisen this year.
"The [Tri-District] model relies on the goodwill of the participants, and we don't have it this year," she said.
Ellis described her frustration with the lack of collaboration and support from the LES Committee chairman. She said she routinely meets with the chairs of committees from all three schools in the Tri-District to discuss issues in between committee meetings, but her offers to meet with Barton have been declined.
"For the school to move forward, the school committee and the superintendent need to have a good working relationship, and that hasn't gotten off the ground," Ellis said. "Bob said he felt he doesn't talk to me. He talks to the public and not me personally.
"I've said this before. I'm willing to back up and start over again. It's not about my big ego. It's about working together for the benefit of our district."


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