Mount Greylock Committee Moves Toward Complaint Resolution

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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The School Committee on Tuesday dealt with an Open Meeting complaint and gave Superintendent Rose Ellis her evaluation.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Mount Greylock Regional School Committee on Tuesday voted to approve a resolution to a the Open Meeting Law complaint that resulted from an email sent by one of its members.
By a vote of 5-0-1 with the member in question, Robert Ericson, abstaining, the committee OK'd language negotiated by the district's legal counsel and the complainant, Lanesborough resident Richard Cohen.
The letter explains that Ericson "did not intend to violate any provision of the Open Meeting Law" and, in fact, only communicated with three other members of the committee — the other two Lanesborough representatives and the chairman — because Ericson knew that to communicate with a quorum would constitute a breach of the Open Meeting Law.
"I also did not intend to email a quorum (4) of the School Committee," the letter reads. "I did this inadvertently in that I only sent it to the maximum of three persons, but failed to count myself as the sender."
The letter goes on to promise that Ericson will in the future not share an opinion with a quorum of the School Committee about "business over which the Committee has supervision, control or jurisdiction."
District counsel Fred Dupere told the committee on Tuesday that if Cohen is satisfied with the letter, the incident will be concluded.
"If Rich Cohen agrees, it never goes to the attorney general's office," Dupere said.
The committee tied up a couple of other loose ends from its last meeting and took a significant step toward allowing the district to participate in the Massachusetts School Building Authority's feasibility study process.
The School Committee voted unanimously to authorize the district's School Building Committee to spend the up to $850,000 authorized this spring at the annual town meetings of two member towns, Williamstown and Lanesborough.
Building Committee Chairman Mark Schiek appeared before the School Committee to discuss his group's role going forward.
School Committee member Colleen Taylor expressed some misgivings about ceding so much authority over to the Building Committee but was persuaded to join the majority.
Ericson encouraged Schiek to make sure his committee maintain a contingency fund.
Citing his experience in the business world, Ericson said vendors frequently come back looking for additional funds during a project, and the Building Committee needs to be prepared. Schiek agreed.
Mount Greylock Regional School Committee member Robert Ericson, left, and counsel Fred Dupere.
"A reserve is a good idea," he said. "There is an 'other' [category in the budget], but we should also make sure we pay attention to that because there are always, as you say, things that come up.
"Let's keep that reserve budget as high as we're comfortable keeping it."
The school building or renovation project also came up in the context of third-party grants to the district.
Williams College's vice president for public affairs appeared before the committee to talk about how the school could play a role in defraying the cost of a building project.
"The college of course is very interested in the school in many, many ways," James Kolesar said. "We want the first goal to be the best possible education for students. And want to be as helpful as possible to the two member towns.
"How that works in this project, we don't know."
The college helped fund the cost of the 10-year-old Williamstown Elementary School and offered to contribute toward the feasibility study. But the MSBA told the district that a third-party contribution would reduce the district's state reimbursement toward the study, School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Greene said.
"But when you talk about a building project, we know there will be costs the MSBA won't reimburse," she said. "For example, they don't pay for the central district offices. And their cap on site work is very low."
Committee member David Langston recommended that a subcommittee of the School Building Committee be formed to maintain a dialogue with the college.
Meanwhile, Williamstown resident Wendy Penner urged the School Committee — and Schiek — to look at opportunities for energy efficiency and other "green" initiatives if the school decides to go forward with a renovation or rebuild.
"In the case of the [Williamstown] Elementary School, there was a $500,000 grant to support solar panels on the school," Penner said. "And of that $500,000, there was $30,000 for curricular initiatives to support the green school."
Schiek said the School Building Committee already was planning a green committee, among other subgroups, that would enlist the aid of other community members to look at specific needs and opportunities.
Greene used the special meeting to note last week's death of Lanesborough resident William Stevens, 74, a longtime public servant who most recently served on the Building Committee. She has reached out to the Lanesborough Finance Committee, on which Stevens also served, about finding a replacement for him.
In other business on Tuesday, the School Committee voted to take part in the commonwealth's trial of the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers for standardized test in grades 9 and 11 in the 2014-15 academic year.
Superintendent Rose Ellis told the committee that while the administration was against the idea of replacing the MCAS test in Grades 7 and 8, it had no strong feelings about using the new test for high school freshmen and juniors, who are not scheduled to take the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests..
Both Taylor and committee member Chris Dodig voted against the idea.
"I'd be mad if you were going to subject my kid to a test just to be a guinea pig," Dodig said.
Taylor said the added stress of an unnecessary standardized test was not worth the benefit of gathering more data for the state's study.
Ellis said the administration did recommend waiting to follow the outcome of PARCC's trial in other districts, but she did not mount an argument against giving the test a try. The commonwealth has said that no results from the PARCC test during the trial period will be held against districts that volunteer to give the test.
The committee also announced the results of its members' evaluations of Ellis, who received marks of "exemplary" from three committee members (Greene, Taylor, and David Backus of Williamstown, who has left the committee because he is moving to North Carolina). Ellis' received an overall grade of "proficient" from the other four committee members.

Tags: feasibility study,   MSBA,   PARCC,   school building committee,   school committee,   school project,   

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