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Mount Greylock School Committee members Robert Ericson and Chris Dodig.

Williamstown-Lanesborough Tri-District Back on Track

By Stephen Dravis
iBerkshires Staff
02:08PM / Wednesday, July 16, 2014
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Mount Greylock School Committee members, from left, David Langston and Gary Fuls and district counsel Fred Dupere.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School Committee on Tuesday decided to move forward with a search for a Tri-District superintendent after learning that the Lanesborough Elementary School Committee has decided to maintain the current structure.

Lanesborough is part of a superintendency union with Williamstown Elementary; that union, Union 71, in turn, shares a superintendent with the regional junior-senor high school.
 
But the LES Committee's commitment to the shared services arrangement was in doubt throughout the winter and spring after then-LES Committee Chairman Robert Barton discussed openly the possibility of dissolving SU-71, even going so far as to secure town funds to study whether Lanesborough should seek another affiliation.
 
On Tuesday, Mount Greylock SC Chairwoman Carolyn Greene read from an e-mail she received from current LES Committee Chairwoman Regina DiLego. In it, DiLego reports that Barton and the third member of the committee, James Moriarity have agreed to "cease discussions about alternative affiliations" and instead focus on expanded regionalization.
 
Mount Greylock two years ago initiated study of expanding the 7-12 regional school district into a full preK-12 district that includes both sending elementary schools (Lanesborough and Williamstown). The MGRS Committee decided to put the regionalization process on hold last year in order to focus on Mount Greylock's efforts in the Massachusetts School Building Authority process.
 
Barton, while suggesting the dissolution of SU-71, has also said that if the two elementaries do stay together, they need to regionalize with Mount Greylock and invite other towns in order to create a larger regional school district for economies of scale.
 
The talk of breaking up SU-71 may have been halted in light of a June 30 e-mail from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's governance and facilities programs manager.
 
Writing in response to an e-mail from Lanesborough resident Rich Cohen, DESE's Christine Lynch explained that the process for dissolving a superintendency union involves state approval.
 
"It is important to realize that Union 71 was established to allow Williamstown and Lanesborough to jointly hire central administrative staff," Lynch wrote. " ... Should the Lanesborough school committee wish to join with another district for this purpose, they would need to dissolve the existing Union following the procedure noted above.  In taking such action, they would need to provide assurance that the dissolution will not impact the educational opportunities of students and ensure that all contractual obligations among the three districts have been met. "
 
Lynch's e-mail confirmed the discussion at a June 16 joint meeting of SU-71 and Mount Greylock, a meeting that Barton and Moriarity left still determined to explore new options for Lanesborough Elementary.
 
Now, it appears they have been convinced to work together with Williamstown -- and by extension Mount Greylock -- to move forward in the Tri-District and look for a replacement for Superintendent Rose Ellis, who is beginning the last year of what she has announced will be her final contract with the schools.
 
Members of the Mount Greylock School Committee on Tuesday reacted with relief to the news that dissolution talk has subsided.
 
"I'm pleased that Union 71 seems to be stabilizing," said Chris Dodig, one of three Lanesborough residents on the seven-member regional school committee. "And I think that's what most of us were hoping for. I'm happy to hear the news."
 
Williamstown's David Langston noted that Barton and Moriarity seemed to be in a minority of Lanesborough residents, and, in fact, most of the town's residents were happy to see the cooperation between the towns.
 
"To predicate our behavior on the possibility of separation is an impossibility," Langston said. "We should go ahead with the assumption we're going to go ahead with a search in the current arrangement."
 
On that note, the Mount Greylock SC Chairwoman sought and received her committee's approval to begin discussions between herself, DiLego, Williamstown Elementary School Committee Chairwoman Valerie Hall and MGRS Vice Chairwoman Sheila Hebert about the search process for a Tri-District superintendent.
 
The Mount Greylock SC plans to hear a presentation from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees about the process at the committee's Aug. 19, 2 p.m. "retreat" meeting.
 
In other business on Tuesday night, the MGRSC:
 
♦ Heard a report from the district's business manager that the district's revenue picture for fiscal year 2015 is slightly brighter than expected in light of increased regional transportation subsidies from the commonwealth.
 
♦ Voted to rescind more than $500,000 in borrowing power the committee authorized to repair the 2009 locker room ceiling collapse and boiler replacement project. The committee authorized more debt than was needed, but the borrowing authorization was still on the books and needed to be removed.
 
♦ Renewed the district's agreement with legal counsel Dupere Law Offices. Dupere sought and received $1,600 per month as a retainer, an increase from $1,150 and the first increase the district has paid in at least six years.
 
♦ Appointed replacements to the district's Building Committee. Williamstown Selectmen Hugh Daley is taking over that board's seat for Ronald Turbin, and  Christine Galib of the Lanesborough Finance Committee will step in for the recently deceased William Stevens.
 
♦ Discussed a possible conflict of interest of one member of the Building Committee, John Benzinger, who is an employee of Consigli Construction, a possible bidder on a future building project. Benzinger brought the potential conflict to the committee's attention while expressing a strong desire to continue volunteering. Counsel Fred Dupere told the School Committee he had discussed the issue with the Massachusetts Ethics Commission and was confident Benzinger could continue on the Building Committee as long as he files disclosure statements and recuses himself when appropriate.
 
♦ Decided not to renew discussions with Florida Tower Partners, who approached the district in hopes of revisiting the possibility of putting a cell tower on Mount Greylock's property. In 2012, the Williamstown Zoning Board of Appeals nixed the proposal. The School Committee discussed possibly entertaining a proposal if and when the campus is reconfigured through the MSBA process, but with the district just beginning that process, such talks were considered premature.
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