Chairman Joe Bergeron and interim Superintendent Kimberley Grady at Tuesday's meeting.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Williamstown School Committee on Tuesday made a special appeal to parents completing the recently distributed town census: Make sure you include preschool-aged children.
The town this week mailed out the annual Street Listing Form. The data collected from that survey helps inform the elementary school about how many children to expect in each year's incoming kindergarten class.
In the past, it has proven to be a not quite precise tool.
"Last year on the first day of registration, we had 15 kids walk in who weren't on the census," Principal Joelle Brookner reminded the committee.
Part of that is attributable to families who move to the college town between the time of the winter census and school registration in the summer. But part of it also is attributable to a census form Brookner characterized as "ambiguous" on how to deal with minors in a household.
"Whoever is watching, we urge you strongly to include children on the census," Brookner said, directing her comment to the cameras from the town's community access television station, WilliNet. "After looking at the form this year, it doesn't seem to emphasize: Make sure you include your children."
It's a state form, Brookner told the committee, and there is not much that Town Hall can do about any ambiguity.
But given recent history, the school can do something about a potential late influx of pupils, and Brookner is recommending that the school again have four kindergarten sections in fall 2018, even though its own preliminary census data only has 41 children for certain.
The subject came up as the School Committee took its first look at preliminary enrollment numbers schoolwide and Brookner's recommendations for school choice slots and the number of sections per grade -- an important factor in budgeting.
Ultimately, those decisions will rest with the Transition Committee that, as of Jan. 1, governs the newly expanded Mount Greylock Regional School District. But the Transition Committee has agreed to take recommendations from the three "legacy" committees that govern Williamstown and Lanesborough elementary schools and Mount Greylock middle and high school.
"All the available advice and thoughts the WES Committee can give will be valuable," said Joe Bergeron, who chairs both that Committee and the Transition Committee. "That's a practice we're trying at the Transition Committee level: leaning heavily on the people who are already committee members at the three schools."
Interim Superintendent Kimberley Grady told the elementary school committee she will bring the school choice recommendations for all three schools to the Transition Committee in March, which gives the WES Committee one more meeting, in February, to weigh in with its recommendations.
Brookner Tuesday came to the group with a recommendation to open 12 new school choice slots, the bulk in the lower grades and five in the upper grades -- two in next year's fourth grade and three in next year's sixth grade.
The principal told the committee she did not necessarily expect to see all of the upper grade slots filled, but the school historically has no trouble filling choice slots in the primary grades.
Grady said she would be reluctant to go as high as three school choice slots in Williamstown's sixth grade, a jump that would potentially create 10 school choice seats in a class of 55. While the elementary school would have that capacity, it would mean a class of 87 between WES and LES heading to Mount Greylock in the fall of 2019.
Grady told the committee that the ideal class size for the renovated Mount Greylock is between 90 and 94, and the 87 figure did not take into account tuitioning students from Hancock.
"That's fine," Brookner said. "I'm not overly wed to any of these numbers."
In other business on Tuesday, the committee learned that the fiscal 2018 budget -- the last for which the committee is responsible before its dissolution on July 1 -- is tracking according to schedule.
Mark Chapulis from The Management Solution in Auburn, the district's business manager, also told the committee that preliminary numbers on the FY19 budget show the school will have an increased cost of 2.2 percent for salaries based on level staffing.
Like so many other things, the FY19 budget will be the domain of the Transition Committee, which on Thursday began its negotiations with the three school's collective bargaining units to bring their contracts into alignment, Grady told the committee.
"[District counsel is] working closely with us," Grady said. "They've compiled a hundred-page document of similarities and and differences between the contracts."
Grady and Bergeron also reported that work is progressing with the lease agreement with the town, which will now lease the WES building to the regional school district, and the new policy manual that will govern the PreK-12 district.
Because of all the conversations she had with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in the runup to November's vote on regionalization, Grady had a good feel for the issues that needed to be addressed once that regional expansion took effect on Jan. 1.
"I think the big ticket items have all been at least touched on," she said. "Now, it's just bringing them across the finish line."
Tuesday evening also marked the annual public recognition of the sixth-graders chosen as winners of the school's Renzi Citizenship Award, named for former teacher, principal and superintendent Helen Renzi.
Noelle Dravis, Julia Goh, Caleb Low and Judge Martin were elected by a vote of the fifth- and sixth-grade teachers, specialists, administrators and selected paraprofessionals and recognized for their "kindness, enthusiasm and helping others," during their time at WES.
"I know I say this every year, but it's true: It's a very difficult decision every year," Brookner said. "There are always revotes and tie-breaker type things.
"One of the things we value most about the school is that we're nurturing good citizens."
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