WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Board of Selectmen on Monday voted to recommend the town approve the expansion of the Mount Greylock Regional School District to include its two feeder elementary schools.
In concurrent Tuesday special town meetings in Lanesborough and Williamstown, voters in the two towns will be asked to approve the current junior-senior high school district to include the elementary schools in each town.
Lanesborough voters will gather at 6 p.m. at Lanesborough Elementary School while Williamstown voters will meet at 7 at their elementary school.
The Selectmen have been discussing the proposed expansion for months but held off its final recommendation until Monday because at the time of its last meeting, school officials were waiting for final sign-off from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on language of the proposed regional agreement voters will be asked to approve.
On Monday, the board voted 4-1 to recommend approval, a vote that will be reported to the voters at Tuesday's meeting. Selectman Andrew Hogeland, who previously said that he was concerned about the potential loss of local control of the elementary school, cast the dissenting vote.
Hogeland did not speak on the issue at Monday's meeting.
The session was attended by elementary school committee members from both towns, three members of the Mount Greylock School Committee, including its chairwoman, and the interim superintendent of the Tri-District, an existing shared service arrangement between Mount Greylock and the elementaries that shares central administration as Superintendency Union 71.
WES Committee Chairman Joe Bergeron, who along with his counterpart at Lanesborough, Regina DiLego, took the lead on crafting the final language in the proposal, spoke for the school officials at Monday night's meeting.
"We have, since we last saw you, four to six additional public meetings posted in both towns," Bergeron said. "We've had a number of people come out, though not as much volume as any of us would have guessed. We've been out there in every way we can."
Selectman Jeffrey Thomas posed the only question Bergeron faced on Monday night.
"For folks in the community who have not had time to follow it or waited until it was more final to study this, it may feel rushed, even though you've done a good job of keeping us up to date," Thomas said. "Why the urgency? Why is it important we approve this now for this special town meeting?"
Bergeron and DiLego took the reins of the project in the spring, after the Mount Greylock School Committee — which launched its first formal study of regional expansion in 2013 and produced a report favorable to the concept at that time — decided the elementary schools should take the lead. In August, they shared with their fellow school committee members the most significant change to a proposed regional agreement that issued from the 2013 Regional District Amendment Committee but which was shelved so that Mount Greylock could concentrate on its addition/renovation project.
"The spirit of this agreement, down to every detail that's bulleted in overviews the last few months, has been rock solid for many months with 30 to 40 public meetings and adequate time for input from the public," Bergeron said. "I don't think it's been rushed at all."
If the region is not expanded Dec. 31, the three separate school districts either will go their separate ways or continue under the current convoluted governance structure at least through the end of fiscal year 2019.
Earlier this year, the school committees agreed to hold off on a search for a permanent superintendent — or, if they split, two or three different permanent superintendents — until after the regionalization question is settled.
"As to the question of 'Why now?' it's because currently we have a structure in terms of governance that is, to a person, across the 17 or so committees that govern [the districts], nobody thinks is a great juggling act to perform and sustain a top school system through," Bergeron said.
"Our top administrators all have 'interim' in front of their names. Attempting to continue that interim nature … would do a disservice to us all in terms of maintaining a school system that is as strong as we can make it."
And, recent experience has demonstrated to the Tri-District's school committees that the "one CEO/three boards of directors" model is a deterrent to attracting quality superintendent applicants if the schools were to attempt a continuation of the status quo.
"To move forward and focus on the education of our schoolchildren, there will be no better time than now," Bergeron said. "Six more months won't change the proposal."
In other business on Monday, the Board of Selectmen also voted to recommend town meeting approve a series of zoning bylaw amendments proposed by the Planning Board. As of the last board meeting, the Planning Board had yet to hold its public hearing on the bylaw changes, leaving open the door that the wording could have been changed before the proposals reached the floor of town meeting. At the hearing last week, which generated no public comment, the Planning Board advanced the proposals "as is."
The Board of Selectmen on Monday also approved a request from Water Street exercise studio BeFit to hold a 5-kilometer race on Saturday, Nov. 25.
Physical therapist Nicole Armbrust told the board that the event, dubbed "Run Your Pie Off," is geared to runners of all ages and will take place mostly on private property, utilizing the grounds of Taconic Golf Club. Runners will use a short stretch of the sidewalk along Water Street to get from the BeFit location to the golf course, and volunteers will line the route to assist the runners. The event will benefit the Mass General Hospital Emergency Response Boston Marathon team, she said.
The board also heard about a plan to join North Adams, Pittsfield, Great Barrington, Lenox and Lee on an Efficiency and Regionalization Grant application to study the feasibility of expanding broadband connectivity in the six communities, which together account for 64 percent of Berkshire County's population.
At May's annual town meeting, the town approved an expenditure for $25,000 to look at broadband in the Village Beautiful. But Town Manager Jason Hoch reported that the proposals received from the town's RFP came in with price tags well above that figure.
"Rather than pay more than we want to for a feasibility study just for us, we can seek a state grant to help pay for a study for us and five other towns," Hogeland said.
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