LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — School officials behind the regionalization vote have been around town answering questions about it. But they still don't have a final draft of the proposal.
The long talked about full regionalization of Williamstown Elementary School, Lanesborough Elementary School, and Mount Greylock Regional School goes to voters on Nov. 14. The move is seen as a natural progression after sharing administration for nearly a decade.
"This is a regional agreement that tries to follow what we have been doing, but making it easier to do it," Williamstown School Committee Chairman Joe Bergeron told the Board of Selectmen on Monday.
Bergeron was joined by Lanesborough School Committee Chairwoman Regina DiLego and Superintendent Kimberly Grady. The three had already met with the Finance Committee last week, held a coffee hour on Tuesday, and held a public presentation just before meeting with the board on Monday.
But even while they make that outreach effort, they still don't have a final draft of the proposed district agreement.
Grady said the multi-page agreement is complicated and needs state approval. She said she is in constant communication with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education trying to get the final sign off. Grady said the intent of the document isn't changing, it is just getting the legal wording the way DESE officials would like to see it.
"We are calling. We are emailing. We are trying. It is not like we are trying to keep some magical secret," Grady said.
Grady had hoped to have a final draft on Monday but hadn't gotten the approval. She said the moment she gets the OK from the state, she will deliver copies to town officials.
The vote is less than a month away, and there won't be much time for town officials to comb through it themselves before them. Further, the warrant needs to go to the printer ahead of time for public notice.
"We have deadlines and it is really only a couple weeks away," Town Manager Paul Sieloff said.
While there may not be a final draft for town officials to see, the Selectmen had been able to see other drafts.
The schools have already seen the majority of the estimated savings with the formation of Superintendency Union 71 in 2008 and its shared administrative structure with Mount Greylock Regional but haven't seen much of an operational efficiency. Now the administration oversees three separate schools, with their own contracts, own school committees, and own set of legal filings to make with the state. The hope is to rid the three schools of the administrative red tape and streamline the process.
The majority of the concern in Lanesborough has centered on local control. Town officials are worried that they'll lack the ability to have a say over what happens at their elementary school.
Bergeron specifically addressed the closing of a school, which recently happened in the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District. Bergeron said the agreement reads that in order for a school to close, there needs to not only be a two-thirds vote from the School Committee but also votes from both individual towns. Only if the majority in both towns and two-thirds of the new school committee agree will a school be shuttered.
The same level of burden also comes with building a new school.
With the agreement, the town will still own and be responsible for the school building. The district would lease each individual school from the towns. But there will also be an allowance for the district to spend up to $5,000 on building repairs.
Selectman Henry "Hank" Sayers worried that the way the language is written, it would allow multiple projects of less than $5,000 on Williamstown Elementary School while using districtwide dollars to pay for it.
"I don't want Lanesborough paying for repairs at Williamstown Elementary," he said.
The question took Grady a second to figure out, because she interpreted the language differently. She felt it read that there was cap on repairs for $5,000 in total, not $5,000 that can be tapped into multiple times.
"I'm looking at a full number of $5,000. I'm not sure if we are looking at the $5,000 the same way," she said.
Either way, Bergeron took that note down and said he'll consult with DESE and the lawyers to see if that can be cleared up.
Meanwhile, Selectman Robert Ericson raised concern about the town's ability to make improvements to the school on its own. He has headed the town's Green Communities and focused a lot of effort on energy efficiency projects there. He asked if he would now need to go to the regional school committee for approval to do those things, or if it can still be local.
Grady responded that he would not need approval from the district.
Ericson also questioned what the consolidation of union contracts will do for negotiations. Each school currently negotiates its own contracts with the local unions. He said with only one set of negotiations, the union becomes more powerful.
"The power of the union is going to be pretty substantial because they'll be all of our schools now," Ericson said. "Right now we negotiate with a lot of teachers that also live in Lanesborough, they teach our kids, and they know what position we are in."
DiLego responded that he hasn't been involved in the most recent negotiations with Lanesborough. Ericson, however, has sat on the Mount Greylock School Committee and negotiated there.
"We, the School Committee, were the weaker side of the equation," he said.
Grady doesn't believe the union will have more or less power. And she praised her negotiating team after testy bargaining last year, which ultimately did come to an agreement.
"I feel like everybody came out fair. We were at a semi work to rule at Mount Greylock because there were negotiations," Grady said.
The Selectmen also asked about the transition committee, which will be comprised of representatives from both elementary school committees. The Selectmen wanted to make sure that those who serve there are able to run for a seat on the newly created regional committee. The move will dissolve three separate governing boards and condense it to one, seven-member committee.
DiLego said she will likely be on the transition committee and will run for the regional seat. No one from Lanesborough will be excluded from running for the regional school committee. The town's membership on that committee will be voted every two years, but not every seat will be up for election. The first election will feature both four-year terms and two-year terms. Those two-year terms will be replaced with four-year terms after that.
"They will all be four-year seats," Bergeron said.
The Selectmen are considering putting the regionalization question as the third item for discussion at the special town meeting.
"That would give people a chance to sit down and the people who haven't read it will have a chance to read it," Ericson said.
DiLego, however, doesn't like it being so late. The hope was to have the votes in each town at the same time so how the other town votes would have no impact on the outcome. DiLego said Williamstown only has the regionalization vote on the warrant and there is a chance social media and the news from that vote will influence Lanesborough's vote.
"The fear is that if you have it as the third item, [Williamstown] will have already voted and gone home," DiLego said.
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