WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Board of Selectmen on Monday finalized the warrant for a long-planned Nov. 14 special town meeting but deferred making a recommendation on what promises to be the meeting's most contested question until the night before.
That is because school officials in the so-called Tri-District are still waiting for a final draft of an amended regional agreement for the Mount Greylock Regional School District to come back with the approval of the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The Mount Greylock, Williamstown Elementary and Lanesborough Elementary school committees' hoped to have DESE's final approval by last Friday of a proposal to expand the regional junior-senior high school district to include its two feeder elementary schools.
On Monday, Tri-District interim Superintendent Kimberley Grady and Williamstown School Committee Chairman Joe Bergeron told the board that because of unforeseen circumstances, DESE was not able to give its final blessing. The issue is the proposal to apportion operating costs at each elementary school to its respective town rather than sharing the cost of preK-6 education between the towns based on student enrollment — as is done now and would continue to be done at Mount Greylock if the amendment passes.
The funding mechanism appeared to be a significant breakthrough in the Tri-District's years-long effort to achieve full regionalization. Allowing each town to pay for operations at its own elementary school was seen as a way to allay fears that decisions in either town could "drive" the budget in the other town's building.
The single Mount Greylock Regional School Committee — with all seven seats up for election in November 2018 — would own the budget for all three buildings and recommend a single number to each town's town meeting in the spring. But, in theory, there could be differences at the margin of each elementary school's budget without impacting the assessment to the other school's town.
This summer, Bergeron said preliminary talks with DESE were supportive of the funding mechanism proposed. And he said there were other districts in the commonwealth that used similar funding schemes..
Selectman Andrew Hogeland asked Bergeron about those other districts, implying that the state should be able to follow precedent.
Bergeron explained that it is not so cut and dried.
"[The districts funding this way] were grandfathered in prior to the Education Reform Act," Bergeron said. "Which leads to DESE saying, what are our updated standards for how we want to approach this? We also have a [regional agreement] document that DESE approved in 2013 that did not get approved by the towns in that region.
"They know it makes sense. The question is whether they're willing to say, 'Yes, and we expect many to follow in your footsteps.' That's the question."
Grady said she would not go so far as to say the clause, Section VIIIE in the current draft of the proposal, is under "scrutiny" in Boston.
"It's different, and they know we have to change, and we're the first out there with this change in front of them," Grady said.
Grady, Bergeron and other school committee members have been in frequent conversation with officials at DESE. Grady on Monday indicated confidence that the regional agreement amendment will be able to move forward. She said DESE has a meeting Tuesday on the topic and the Mount Greylock School Committee has a meeting scheduled for Wednesday to discuss any potential changes.
The Lanesborough Board of Selectmen is scheduled to set the warrant for its Nov. 14 special town meeting at its Monday, Oct. 30 meeting. The Williamstown board decided Monday to vote its recommendation on the question at its Nov. 13 meeting.
The Nov. 13 meeting also will see the selectmen vote their recommendations on five zoning bylaw amendments proposed by the Planning Board.
Planning Board Chairman Chris Kapiloff appeared Monday to explain the proposals. But since the Planning Board still has to present them in a public hearing on Nov. 8 and could make amendments, the Selectmen thought it prudent to wait until after any amendments to make its final recommendation.
The special town meeting warrant has nine articles in all.
Besides school regionalization and the five Planning Board bylaw proposals, the town will be asked to decide three other matters: the acquisition of a Simonds Road lot for a new police station, the receipt of donated land on the south side of Main Street (Route 2) that will facilitate the linkage of a bike trail between Williamstown and North Adams and an easement to allow relocation of a Berkshire Gas regulator station.
The board also briefly discussed Tuesday's special fire district meeting to decide on the purchase of a Main Street parcel where fire officials hope to one day build a new station. Although the district is outside town government and the selectmen have no official role in its governance, Selectmen Andrew Hogeland, Hugh Daley and Jeffrey Thomas each expressed their support for the acquisition.
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