WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School Committee on Thursday approved a three-year contract with the district's teachers union.
By a 6-0 vote, the committee voted to accept the terms of the contract that previously had been approved by the union, bringing to a close months of negotiation that included a brief work action by teachers at the start of the 2018-19 academic year.
"I want to quickly say thank you to the members of the negotiating committee who are here, to [former Mount Greylock School Committee member] Chris Dodig, who was here for many months prior and to the union who worked through the not the simplest negotiation in the history of negotiations for the last year and a bit," School Committee Chairman Joe Bergeron said at the end of the committee's 2 1/2-hour monthly meeting.
The protracted negotiations were necessitated by the decision of Mount Greylock's two member towns, Williamstown and Lanesborough, to fully regionalize in the fall of 2017. That vote forced the district to align the contracts in what previously had been three independent schools.
The work of bringing the contracts for teachers and other bargaining units into alignment began in January 2018 with the formation of the Transition Committee, which oversaw the three schools during the period before a newly constituted school committee was elected last November.
According to the motion that the committee voted to approve the contract on Thursday, the new salaries will be paid retroactively to July 1, 2018.
The vote was conducted after a brief executive session for the committee members to review the terms of the new deal.
The bulk of Thursday's meeting dealt with other issues, including a discussion of the fiscal 2020 budget the district will present to the towns' finance committees in March, the question of whether the district will open new School Choice slots in the fall, a realignment of several administrative positions — including the need to fill a long-dormant curriculum coordinator spot — and an initial conversation about the 2019-20 school calendar.
The last issue promises to generate discussion and, perhaps public comment at future committee meetings. Specifically, the committee Thursday began a serious conversation about whether to collapse the traditional February and April vacation weeks into a single March vacation.
Since the school calendar is dependent on the start date, and that date is a subject of collective bargaining, Superintendent Kimberley Grady at first indicated that she wanted to defer the calendar discussion until a future meeting, after the contract was in place.
But committee member Dan Caplinger pressed to raise the issue Thursday night.
"We could have a discussion of other controversial parts of the calendar without touching the start of the school year," Caplinger said.
The district — and all Berkshire County districts — have had significant issues in recent years with snow days forcing school-year ends well into the month of June. Further complicating the issue this year, Grady noted, is that Christmas falls on Wednesday, which means the school's winter break likely will run from Saturday, Dec. 21, through Thursday, Jan. 2, a loss of eight school days.
"We've talked about in our administrative meetings the idea of long weekends in April, long weekends in February and a one-week break the third week in March to coincide with the local colleges," Grady said.
Bergeron noted that the Transition Committee had broached the issue last year and had even considered announcing a 2018-19 schedule that would have a "tentative" April vacation week that could be retracted during the year if the district used enough snow days by a certain date.
Grady said the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has raised concerns about the impact of snow days on the school calendar, which, by law, has to end by June 30.
"They're asking for schools to consider alternatives," Grady said of the state regulators. "One alternative is 'blizzard bags.' Another is modified extended weekends in February and April."
The blizzard bag model involves sending students home with assignments for each subject that they can complete at home on a snow day. If enough students at a given school turn in the completed assignment, the school can count that day as a school day.
The committee, which ultimately sets the academic calendar, will revisit the topic in the weeks ahead, but Caplinger said he was happy the issue at least was raised on Thursday evening.
"It's valuable to introduce the topic," he said. "I remember how passionately people felt with opinions across the spectrum last year. The earlier we bring this up, the sooner people can think about it.
"Fourteen months out from April vacation 2020, it might be a good idea to let people know this is on the radar."
Steven Miller agreed.
"Something that weighed heavily on me last year [during the calendar discussion] was knowing people were already making plans [for the 2019 vacation weeks]," Miller said.
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