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Lanesborough Would Face Challenging Path to 'Tuition' Its Students

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — The "different school" alternative being bandied about by Lanesborough officials does not appear to be as easy as some may think.

At its March 7 meeting, the board fielded questions about what happens if Lanesborough residents reject the Mount Greylock Regional School addition/renovation project on March 15.

Mount Greylock officials have argued that if a "no" vote drives the district out of the Massachusetts School Building Authority process, the two member towns, Williamstown and Lanesborough, would be on the hook for repairs and modifications to bring the current junior-senior high school up to contemporary building codes.

Those repairs and modifications are estimated to cost about $58 million — all paid by the member towns.

"What if we choose to go to a different school?" Lanesborough Selectmen Chairman John Goerlach suggested at Monday's meeting.

For several years, some Lanesborough residents, including current and former town officials, have talked about finding a new option for the town's post-elementary school students. The Central Berkshire Regional School District and, more recently, the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District have been mentioned as possible alternatives.

This summer, the Adams-Cheshire School Committee went so far as to draft a tuition agreement proposal that appeared to be driven by Adams Town Hall. The idea went by the wayside when Lanesborough's Board of Selectmen acknowledged that the authority to enter such agreements rests with the Lanesborough Elementary School Committee, which has shown no interest in doing so.

But the Adams-Cheshire "solution" continues to be floated by those, like Goerlach and Selectman Henry Sayers, who advocate a no vote on March 15.

The problem is that state law makes a tuition agreement with Adams-Cheshire seem unlikely.

One road to Hoosac Valley would go through the Lanesborough School Committee, which would have to sign off on the idea of siphoning off students from Mount Greylock while the town is still part of the two-town regional district.

The other route, of course, would be to dissolve the Mount Greylock district. But there are two problems there.

First, dissolving a regional district involves the approval of Williamstown's town meeting and the blessing of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in Boston.

Second, even if Lanesborough clears that hurdle, it does not qualify — like neighboring Hancock and New Ashford — to enter into tuition agreements.

Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 71, Section 4 reads, in part: "Every town containing, according to the latest federal Census, five hundred families or householders, shall, unless specifically exempted by the board of education and under conditions defined by it, maintain a high school."

That means if the Mount Greylock district was dissolved tomorrow, Lanesborough would have to either build its own high school or, more realistically, join another regional district, unless DESE gives the town a special exemption.

In a newly formed Adams-Cheshire-Lanesborough Regional School District, Lanesborough would be on the hook for paying the remaining debt on the now 4-year-old renovation of Hoosac Valley — the very kind of bond that Mount Greylock building project opponents are trying to avoid.

All of which brings Lanesborough back to the problem that both Mount Greylock towns would face if the building project is defeated on March 15: how to pay for needed improvements to the outdated Cold Spring Road facility.

"We would have to spend millions of dollars that we currently do not have in our budget. Nor do we have it in next year's budget nor the year after's budget.," said Lanesborough Selectman Robert Ericson, who serves on the Mount Greylock School Building Committee and is the only member of the three-person board to support a yes vote on March 15.

"It's millions that we would have to cough up. Once you hit the 30 percent of assessed valuation, then a whole bunch of code compliance issues descend on you, and you have to fix all of those."


Tags: MGRHS school project,   

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