Last March, the School Committee adopted a policy that set the tuition rate at the per pupil expenditure as set by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education each year. That policy doubled the town's tuition rate from $8,734 to more than $17,000.
But since then, the town voted to expand the district to be one with Mount Greylock Regional and Williamstown Elementary. A new Transition Committee has been smoothing out the policies and when it came to tuition, all three schools had different rates. Mount Greylock had a tuition agreement that slowly ramped up the price for students attending Mount Greylock; Williamstown Elementary per-pupil costs were some $4,000 different from Mount Greylock. and Lanesborough had just recently adopted its policy.
However, Hancock and New Ashford were taken back by the across the board increase. Hancock and New Ashford both reached out to Mount Greylock officials asking them to reconsider because the hike at both Lanesborough Elementary and Mount Greylock caused a sharp increase in costs. Mount Greylock is now reconsidering.
"I feel it is very important that we support the policy and request the School Committee to hold the line," Finance Committee member Ronald Tinkham said. "We have been subsidizing the cost of education for both of those communities for a long time."
Tinkham had been one of the loudest voices against the former tuition rate, and even the use of tuition and school choice at all. Tinkham feels the town is "subsidizing" the education of other towns by setting the tuition rate lower than that cost.
However, school officials in the past have said the program provides revenue to the schools that it wouldn't have at all if there was no tuition policy. The price was previously negotiated to get the maximum amount of students to attend.
Town officials want to know why those towns wouldn't pay the full cost for their students to attend a Level 1.
"I'm surprised there is all of the debate going on. This is the best thing for New Ashford to keep their kids going to this district. They've gotten a very good deal for a number of years," Town Manager Paul Sieloff said.
He added that comparing the tax rates between Lanesborough and those other towns shows that they have more capacity to take on the extra cost than Lanesborough does. The tax rates in Hancock and New Ashford are significantly lower than in Lanesborough.
However, Sieloff also understands and is personally open to easing it in over a couple of years. He thinks it has been made clear to those other towns that this is the policy the district is moving toward.
"It would be great to get it as soon as possible, but I don't think it is that substantial of a number," Sieloff said of the difference in revenue. "I think it is clear, everyone knows what path we are taking with this."
Selectman Henry "Hank" Sayers continues to push for the higher rate though.
"The Select Board has been pushing for it for years. I don't think it is a question," Sayers said.
But there is no clear consensus on the issue as of yet. While Tinkham and Sayers both continued to push for it — and Selectman John Goerlach and Finance Committee member Ray Jones have been aggressive in raising tuition rates in the past but were not present for Monday's joint meeting between the two bodies — there is no unanimity on either panel.
Selectman Robert Ericson was somewhat silent on the issue, saying the Selectmen should discuss it. While the other members of the Finance Committee said they didn't have enough information to weigh in at this point.
The Transition Committee is looking to further discuss the issue on Thursday and news had only reached Lanesborough this weekend that there was a reconsideration. The Finance Committee didn't put the item on the agenda for Monday, and that led to further debate on whether or not the issue could even be discussed per Open Meeting Law.
"A vote from this committee on an item that is not on the agenda is an Open Meeting Law violation," Finance Committee member Stephen Wentworth said.
Tinkham and Sayers, however, said the town wouldn't even have a chance to weigh in if it wasn't discussed Monday. Tinkham said the item could be considered under the agenda item "other business which could not have been reasonably foreseen within 48 hours of the meeting."
"If we don't take some sort of an action, they will take some action before our next meeting," Tinkham said.
Wentworth rejected that argument saying the school meeting was held 10 days ago so there was plenty of time for it to be added to the agenda.
Finance Committee member Jodi Szczepaniak-Locke said she didn't have enough information on the issue to discuss it Monday. She wanted some time to look into the issue more.
"I think it is unfair to have us make a decision on this. We don't have all of the facts," Szczepaniak-Locke said.
The Finance Committee asked Sieloff to attend the next Transition Committee meeting and voice the town's concerns. But, neither the Selectmen nor the Finance Committee took a formal vote on the matter.
REPORTER'S NOTE: At its Jan. 2 meeting, the Mount Greylock Transition Committee debated whether to negotiate a tuition figure with its sending towns before setting the rate, and right up until the vote, some members of the committee were leaving open the possibility of a "reconsideration." However, the 7-0 vote of the committee, as recorded in its minutes, was: "... to set the Tuition Rate for FY19 by averaging the per pupil rate of MGRSD and LES, which comes out to $17,843.16." While the committee did at one point discuss setting a preliminary tuition rate, that is not the action it took.
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