Mount Greylock's Enrollment Projection Debated in Subcommittee
Mount Greylock officials are still struggling with how to determine enrollment figures for a new school project.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School Committee on Wednesday once again tackled the question of how big the junior-senior high school should be.
This time, the venue was a meeting of the body's Education Policy Subcommittee, but the afternoon session drew six of the seven members of the full School Committee.
At its April 14 meeting, the committee tasked the subcommittee with further study of an issue that has split the full committee this spring: whether the district wants to continue allowing school choice and tuition students, limit itself to students from its two member towns, keep tuition students but cut school choice, or find some middle ground that cuts back on the number of choice students.
The question needs to be answered before the district certifies its enrollment projection to the Massachusetts School Building Authority. The state agency already has allowed Mount Greylock to miss an April 15 deadline for certification, and school officials are waiting to find out how long that extension may last.
If the committee decides to keep accepting students on the model it currently uses — i.e. choice and tuition at current levels — it will certify an enrollment projection of 535 that would be used during the MSBA's feasibility study to determine whether to renovate or replace the failing school building.
If the committee goes the other way and limits enrollment to students from Williamstown and Lanesborough, the MSBA recommends certifying a projected enrollment of 450 students.
The School Committee has voted a "study enrollment,"
which essentially sends both the 450 and 535 number to MSBA and runs parallel feasibility studies. But it has not certified that number with the authority, and MSBA officials have indicated they prefer to have the enrollment question settled before the study begins, School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Greene said.
Half of the school choice/tuition question appears to have been decided. No one on the committee is arguing against keeping tuition agreements in place with the towns of Hancock and New Ashford — not in light of a recent agreement between the district and the two towns to gradually raise the amount of tuition paid to a level commensurate with the per-student cost of education at the school.
School choice slots are a thornier issue. The commonwealth sets the rate of compensation for students who cross district lines under the school choice model, and that dollar figure has not changed from the $5,000 instituted in 1993; today, Mount Greylock spends about $16,000 per student.
Nothing was resolved on Wednesday afternoon — not even the question of whether the district has the option to substantially limit the number of school choice students who enroll in the seventh grade at Mount Greylock.
That is because most of the school choice spots at Mount Greylock are occupied by students who originally entered the choice program at Williamstown and Lanesborough elementary schools.
Education Policy Subcommittee Chairman David Langston said he asked the Massachusetts Association of School Committees whether high schools in Mount Greylock's position were compelled to accept school choice students from its "feeder" schools, and he was told the high schools are.
"[The MASC representative] called the legal staff at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and they sent a legal opinion from 1995," Langston said. "The opinion is if a student comes from a feeder school to a regional high school, the high school is obligated to take them.
"Those students are not 'choice.' They're an obligation. We call them choice because that's the funding stream."
Chris Dodig — one of three School Committee members not on the subcommittee who attended Wednesday's meeting — asked whether that legal opinion had ever been challenged in court.
"There has to be some interpretation by the courts in the last 20 years," said Dodig, an attorney by trade. "If a court doesn't agree with it ... the opinion was wrong all along.
"Logically, it doesn't make sense to me that a regional school can be independent of the feeder schools but obliged to take their choice students."
Dodig, one of three Lanesborough residents on the committee, has argued for a reduction in the number of school choice students at Mount Greylock. Several members of the Lanesborough community and town officials have argued that the member towns cannot "subsidize" the education of students who come from non-member towns and do not pay tuition.
Dodig said he does not want to see Mount Greylock target an enrollment as low as 450, but he thinks the 535 number is too high, and he would like to see the district certify something in the middle.
Even if the school choice slots were reduced, it would be a small victory for tax-burdened constituents in Lanesborough, he said.
"To me, building for 500 or 535 is not a heck of a lot different," Dodig said. "But it gives us the ability to say we cut choice in half to the people who are against choice."
The opinions of those people are very much on the minds of School Committee members in light of annual town meetings (May 20 in Williamstown, June 10 in Lanesborough). In addition to passing the budget for Mount Greylock, voters in each town will be asked to authorize a bond to pay for the MSBA feasibility study — the first money local taxpayers will be asked to spend on the long road to a new or renovated school.
Tags: enrollment, feasibility study, MGRHS, MSBA, school choice, tuition,