Lanesborough resident and Transition Committee member Al Terranova is critical of the chairman of his town's Finance Committee.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School Transition Committee on Thursday decided to take its case to the floor of Lanesborough's town meeting in order to secure the funding it requested from the town.
At issue is about $112,000, the figure that Lanesborough's Finance Committee decided to unilaterally cut from the assessment the regional school district made to the town.
The committee, which governs the recently expanded PreK-12 district until a new school committee is elected in November, reacted to the decision of the Finance Committee and the tone of that board's most recent meeting.
Town officials decided to send a lower assessment figure to Tuesday's town meeting because they factored in the $112,000 the district is in line to receive from the Town of New Ashford for the nine pupils anticipated to attend Lanesborough Elementary under the town's tuition agreement with the district.
The Transition Committee, when it formulated its budget, did not know if New Ashford voters were going to support an increase in tuition — an increase that the same Lanesborough town officials advocated for strongly.
"We had had a discussion about whether to factor that tuition money into our revenue and chose to err on the side of caution," Transition Committee Chairman Joe Bergeron reminded his colleagues.
Bergeron also noted that an "apples-to-apples" comparison of Lanesborough's appropriated budget for education between FY18, the current year, and the FY19 budget proposed by the school district has the town's outlay falling by .86 percent.
"After all our analysis, all the time we spent on this, I feel confident we're bringing a less-than-zero percent budget once you do the apples-to-apples analysis," Bergeron said
The "apples-to-apples" analysis refers to the exercise of factoring in revenues and expenses that experience a one-time shift in the FY19 budget as the school transitions from a town department to a part of the regional school district.
While voters in Williamstown and Lanesborough approve a bottom line budget for the newly expanded region, the funding formula breaks out the expenses for each town's elementary school when factoring how the district's funding is split between the member towns.
In addition to noting the negative change in the town's total education cost, Bergeron pointed out that there are specific issues in the Lanesborough Elementary budget that cause concern for the district.
"The [district's] Finance Subcommittee had a whole series of discussions about the precarious use of School Choice revenue at Lanesborough," Bergeron said. "The spending is not sustainable."
Bergeron said the district expects to receive $85,000 in School Choice revenue for Lanesborough in FY19, but it is spending $155,000 from the elementary school's School Choice account.
"By the end of 2019, we'd have about $100,000 remaining with no unforeseen expenses," he said, pointing out that School Choice funds are the only account that districts have in reserve to pay for unforeseen expenses short of calling a special town meeting during the academic year.
The five Transition Committee members in attendance agreed that one of the Lanesborough residents on the seven-person committee should immediately make a motion on the floor of town meeting to amend the appropriation to the district upward by the $112,000 figure.
"The school community in the Town of Lanesborough is well informed and passionate about supporting education," Transition Committee member Carolyn Greene, a resident of Williamstown, noted.
Lanesborough resident and Transition Committee member Al Terranova used Thursday's meeting to address the tone of the most recent Lanesborough Finance Committee meeting.
"A charge was made by [Fin Comm Chairman] Ray Jones," Terranova said. "He singled out two people, [LES Committee Chairwoman and Transition Committee member] Regina DiLego and our superintendent [Kimberley Grady]," Terranova said. "He implied they misled or lied to the Finance Committee by saying that if New Ashford agreed to come that we would give $112,000 back to Lanesborough.
"We have many times explained to the Finance Committee that the tuition contract is between the regional school district and New Ashford. Lanesborough is not a party to that contract. … The chair of the Finance Committee keeps believing it's his authority to determine what to do with that money.
"This is not an issue to be renegotiated. We determine the school budget. We present the school budget, and the town votes on it."
Lanesborough Elementary School came up in a completely different context on Thursday evening as Superintendent Grady asked the committee's blessing for the successful candidate of the school's principal search.
Michelle Pete was offered a three-year contract after being selected by a search committee that included members of the Lanesborough School Council, faculty and administration.
"She has been an assistant principal in Chicopee in two of their elementary schools," Grady said. "She came with great recommendations for the work she's done."
In other business on Thursday, the Transition Committee discussed a potential new location for the regional district's central office. After recently hearing an estimate for the cost of building a new office on the Mount Greylock grounds, officials took one more try to find existing space it can convert to offices for Grady and her staff, who will need to vacate Mount Greylock on June 25.
Bergeron reported that the district is in the beginning stages of evaluating space in the west wing of Williamstown's David and Joyce Milne Public Library. The space in question currently is occupied by the Friends of the Library, who use it stage its annual spring used book sale, and part of the space (formerly the Williamstown Historical Museum) has been planned to be used by Goodwill of the Berkshires.
Bergeron said the district does not know for sure how much it would cost to renovate the museum space and turn it into the office spaces the district office would need. And it is unknown at this point whether there would be enough cost savings versus building the offices at Mount Greylock as part of a larger structure that would include storage space, a wax room for the school's cross country ski team and a concession stand for the athletic fields.
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