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Lanesborough residents Al Terranova and Chris Dodig participate in Tuesday's Transition Committee meeting.

Mount Greylock Committee Hikes Rate for Tuitioning Towns

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Transition Committee on Tuesday decided to raise the anticipated cost of tuitioning students to the middle-high school by 23 percent.
 
With the advent of a fully regionalized PreK-12 school district, the committee, which is responsible for all financial decisions affecting Mount Greylock after July 1, needed to set a new tuition rate for the towns of New Ashford and Hancock, and Stamford, Vt.
 
Back in 2014, the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee negotiated an agreement with the sending towns that looked to gradually raise the tuition rate to the level of the cost per student for Grades 7 through 12.
 
In fiscal 2019, that rate would have been $14,477 per student under the previously negotiated agreement.
 
On Tuesday, the Transition Committee, which includes members of the Mount Greylock, Williamstown and Lanesborough school committees, voted to set the FY19 tuition rate at $17,843 for all students from kindergarten through 12th grade.
 
The committee held a lengthy discussion about the right way to arrive at a fair tuition rate, considering a number of options, including weighted averages.
 
In the end, it decided to use a simple average of the most recent per-student cost published by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for Lanesborough Elementary and Mount Greylock, the two schools utilized by the tuitioning towns.
 
Mount Greylock's per student cost was $18,372.30, and Lanesborough's per-pupil cost was $17,314.01 in FY16, the most recent year with data available. At Mount Greylock Williamstown Elementary, the per-pupil cost is $14,763.45.
 
Hancock has its own elementary school but tuitions its middle and high school students into three different secondary schools: Mount Greylock, McCann Tech and New Lebanon, N.Y.
 
New Ashford, which has no elementary school, has a longstanding tuition agreement with Lanesborough.
 
Last year, under pressure from town officials, the Lanesborough School Committee notified New Ashford that it was raising the tuition rate for K-6 education to $17,314 per pupil.
 
The move to raise the tuition rate across the district is likely to please critics in both Mount Greylock's member towns, who have complained that the tuitioning towns were getting too good a deal to send their children to the Tri-District's Level 1 schools.
 
At Tuesday's meeting, Transition Committee member and Lanesborough Committee Chairwoman Regina DiLego noted that New Ashford already was anticipating a jump in tuition for FY19, implying that the raise approved Tuesday would be less of a shock.
 
It is unclear how the increase will be received in Hancock, where four years ago, a group of residents including the chairman of the Select Board, put an article on the annual town meeting warrant calling for the school committee to pull out of its tuition agreement with Mount Greylock, which then cost the town $11,910 per student.
 
Transition Committee member Carolyn Greene expressed concern about the sticker shock that might be felt to the west.
 
"With Hancock, we haven't in the past told them the rate," said Greene, who was chair of the Mount Greylock School Committee when the previous tuition agreement was negotiated.
 
"I don't know if it's fair to say to them, 'This is our rate. Take it or leave it.' "
 
The Transition Committee discussed the idea of voting a tentative number for the tuition rate, pending a discussion with the sending towns. But ultimately it decided to make a firm decision on the $17,843 figure.
 
"I'm willing to talk with them, but I don't understand what argument they could make to pay below that," Transition Committee member Chris Dodig said. "What would persuade you that we could be below the average rate? We're building a brand new high school here. It's going to be state of the art. I don't see the argument for paying below [$17,843] that I would understand."
 
An Wednesday email to the chairman of the Hancock School Committee was not returned at the time of publication.
 
In other business on Tuesday, the Transition Committee discussed whether and how the newly formed Mount Greylock district would participate in Berkshire County Education Task Force.
 
Three members of the Transition Committee, Greene, DiLego and Dan Caplinger, each served on the task force.
 
They were asked to serve because at the time the task force was formed, each was the chair of his or her respective school committee (WES in the case of Caplinger). But, as Greene explained — not for the first time — on Tuesday, they did not formally represent their committees or act in any official capacity on the ad hoc, non-governmental task force.
 
The BCETF's July report recommending the county aspire to a goal of a single school district has drawn a lot of fire, including from one member of the Transition Committee, Steven Miller, a member of the Mount Greylock School Committee.
 
With its initial study and recommendation of an aspirational goal completed, the task force is undergoing a transformation into what its members have dubbed the BCETF 2.0. Given that and the consolidation of the three school committees in Williamstown and Lanesborough, the local members of the task force asked for guidance from the Transition Committee about how it wanted to interact with the BCETF.
 
"My concern with 2.0 is not considering all the alternatives," Miller said. "They looked at the status quo or three regions or one region. They didn't consider regions like ours."
 
After asking whether the Transition Committee could formally request the BCETF to start looking at more alternatives, Miller said would like to participate in the task force meetings going forward.
 
Task force members have said that the spirit of its recommendation is to encourage cooperation and shared service agreements among school districts — whether or not such collaboration ultimately leads to a single district for the county.
 
Transition Committee Chairman Joe Bergeron said that he would like to see Mount Greylock have a seat at the table as the BCETF 2.0 continues its work. But he is concerned that the countywide district idea — and its many detractors — could prevent the kind of collaboration that district should be pursuing.
 
"When I read that North Adams is having trouble hiring a business manager right now, I'd love to be able to say in a meeting, 'Should we think about whether it makes sense to share business office functions,' " Bergeron said. "But I want to have that conversation without someone saying, 'That's just because you have this one district goal.' That's my fear as a committee member who wants to find ways to collaborate.
 
"I also don't want to close ourselves off to the task force."
 
The task force had scheduled a meeting for interested school committee members on Thursday, but the snowstorm forced it to reschedule to a date to be announced.

Tags: MGRSD,   tuition,   

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