WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School Committee on Tuesday decided to ask voters to approve the region's expansion to include Williamstown's and Lanesborough's elementary schools.
But there may be one more School Committee meeting to approve the final regional agreement language voters will see at Nov. 14 special town meetings in each community.
The junior-senior high school committee convened for its monthly meeting with hopes of reviewing a final draft of a plan that has been in the works for years. But the draft currently is under review by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in Boston, which has the final say on the language used in regional agreements.
"There's been a little bit of a hiccup," Williamstown Elementary School Committee Chairman Joe Bergeron told his counterparts at Mount Greylock. "DESE is short-staffed. They're working hard and trying to give us a conditionally approved document.
"Currently, the staff that really knows regional agreements is only in a couple of days a week. … We do not have a draft approved by the commissioner's office before you tonight."
However, Bergeron and the task group that has taken the lead on the regional expansion since last spring have been in constant communication with DESE as they draft agreement was constructed. He said he hopes that any changes at this point will be minor edits and not the kinds of substantive changes that would require major consideration by the Mount Greylock School Committee.
If that is the case, the School Committee will have no trouble meeting an Oct. 23 deadline to put a final draft in the hands of the Williamstown and Lanesborough Boards of Selectmen along with a request for a warrant article for Nov. 14, when both towns plan simultaneous special town meetings.
Interim Superintendent Kimberley Grady told the committee that DESE has indicated it will have final comments on the agreement language back to the district by Friday.
With that in mind, School Committee member Chris Dodig moved that the committee approve the draft amendment in its current form with the understanding that any of the committee's seven members can request reconsideration at a special meeting scheduled for Monday, Oct. 23, at 8 a.m., if any of the changes requested by DESE raise a red flag.
The committee agreed to post a meeting at that time with the intention of canceling it if none of the DESE revisions warrant further considering.
Williamstown Selectmen Chairman Hugh Daley addressed the committee from the floor and urged the panel to get a final, DESE-approved draft in front of his board as soon as possible.
"Come Monday, my board is going to be looking for the final, no changes any more, locked agreement … with the hopes of adding it to the warrant article and moving it forward," Daley said. "What was supposed to happen tonight was you were supposed to lock in an agreement. It sounds like we're not going to have that until possibly Friday afternoon … and then my board is going to have to absorb it and vote on Monday.
The Williamstown and Lanesborough selectmen have to warn the meeting two weeks before a special town meeting. Monday is the final scheduled Williamstown Board of Selectmen's meeting before the two-week window closes.
The Williamstown board does have a Nov. 13 regularly scheduled meeting and the possibility of any number of dates for a special meeting prior to the special town meeting at which Daley's board could make an advisory vote on the question voters will face on Nov. 14.
Prior to Tuesday's vote, Bergeron told the Mount Greylock committee that the draft before it is largely the same as one presented to the panel at its September meeting.
"The spirit of the agreement has remained identical to what we saw a month ago," he said. "The significant changes are a lot of rewording. … What you saw a month ago was the result of copying and pasting in approved language from agreements in other regions. … For example, the language around the transition committee, which now has been significantly reworked."
That transition committee would helm a new preK-12 Mount Greylock district from Jan. 1 until the next school committee election in November. The plan is to have the transition committee include four members from the current Mount Greylock School Committee, two members from the Williamstown committee and one member from the Lanesborough committee -- maintaining the same mix of residents on the current Mount Greylock School Committee, with four Williamstown residents and three Lanesborough residents.
On Tuesday, Williamstown School Committee member Dan Caplinger asked why the draft agreement calls for the three existing committee chairs to appoint the representatives to serve on the transition committee instead of, say, having the respective school committees vote on who to put on the temporary panel, which would have responsibility for the expanded district's fiscal 2019 budget.
Bergeron said the chair-appointed transition committee members model has been used in other districts, and the intent was to make the language mirror what DESE has approved in the past. But both Bergeron and Lanesborough Committee Chairwoman Regina DiLego, who attended the joint meeting of the three committees, agreed they would not appoint the transition committee representatives without consulting with their colleagues.
Mount Greylock School Committee Chairwoman Sheila Hebert did not attend Tuesday's meeting, but Vice Chairwoman Carolyn Greene, who ran the meeting in place of Hebert, said Mount Greylock's committee generally reaches consensus before the chair makes subcommittee assignments and would likely do the same in this instance.
Caplinger indicated he was satisfied with the chairs' commitment to dialogue on the issue and the idea that the public would have a chance to comment before appointments were made. And he agreed that it was not an issue to change and, potentially, slow down DESE's review of the draft agreement.
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