Mount Greylock School Committee Chairman Joe Bergeron, left, and committee members Regina DiLego and Dan Caplinger participate in Thursday's meeting.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock School Committee on Thursday voted to preserve the district's February and April vacations for the 2019-20 academic year but signaled that the option of a single week in March remains a possibility in the future.
By a unanimous vote, the five committee members present at the special meeting approved a calendar that has the students returning on Sept. 3 with a last day of school — barring any snow days — of Tuesday, June 16.
The calendar also adds a day off on Nov. 27, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. On the other hand, unlike some districts, students in the three-school district will return for classes on Thursday, Jan. 2, after the holiday break.
Superintendent Kimberley Grady presented the committee with two draft calendars to consider — one with the traditional February and April vacations and one that gave a week in March. Plan B also included days off on the Friday before Presidents Day (Feb. 14) and the Friday before Patriots Day (April 17), creating a pair of four-day weekends instead of the usual full weeks off in the second and fourth months of the calendar year.
The net change would have moved the projected last day of school by one day, to June 15 (without snow days).
This is the second year in a row that the School Committee has considered altering the winter/spring vacation weeks, in part to address a trend of more and more snow days that push the academic year later into June.
However, in 2019-20, the district has an earlier start date after the negotiation of a new contract that allows the teachers to return for professional development days on Aug. 28 and 29.
Committee member Steven Miller said he is less concerned going into 2020 about the prospect of pushing classes into the last week of June than he was last year at this time.
"Last year, or the year before, we were talking about the calendar and keeping April vacation, and one of the reasons I voted to keep it was that parents were expecting to have it," Miller said. "Given the way the days align for 2019-20, I think it makes sense [to keep February and April vacations], but it may not always make sense."
A school year that drags into late June is just one reason the district has contemplated shifting to a single week off in March. Another consideration: high rates of absenteeism during the March spring break weeks at local colleges.
School officials long have speculated that aligning the district's calendar with those breaks could accommodate families employed by the local colleges with children in the district.
Before Thursday's meeting, Lanesborough parent Michelle Johnson addressed the committee to complain about the impacts of doing away with the February and April breaks.
Johnson cited her own child, who worked at his job at Jiminy Peak during February vacation, and asked whether the local employer would be able to maintain staff during its busiest month of the year without Mount Greylock students. She also asked whether the committee and administration had considered the potential impact on extracurricular activities, like athletics, that count on the weeks off during periods when other schools in the county are off.
She also made the case that some families would be inconvenienced by a shift in schedule.
"The other thing is the impact of the school calendar change on teachers who are here with students in other districts or teachers, like myself, who work in another district and have children here," Johnson said. "I think this is going to make your attendance problem worse, frankly, not better.
"I resent the fact, a little bit, that we'll be the first and only district with a different calendar, and I will lose three weeks with my children."
Johnson also complained that the committee was weighing the change "at the last minute" and without consulting families and staff.
School Committee Chairman Joe Bergeron noted that the March vacation idea — which grew out of discussions last spring — was discussed by the School Committee again earlier this winter. But the committee had to wait until it finalized its union contract before it could finalize the calendar; the teachers' start date is an item subject to collective bargaining.
"We discussed this throughout the calendar season last year," committee member Dan Caplinger said. "We followed up in June to elicit comment. We then raised the issue in February, even though we couldn't decide the entire calendar.
"My question is what can the administration tell us as far as feedback from parents, staff and faculty, having been on notice from June forward that we were thinking about it."
Grady and Principals Mary MacDonald (Mount Greylock), Martha Wiley (Lanesborough Elementary) and Joelle Brookner (Williamstown Elementary) told the committee that they haven't heard anything in the way of discussion from constituent groups.
"Nothing in either direction," MacDonald said.
After the vote to approve the more traditional calendar with weeks off in February and April, Grady told the committee the district would get a survey out regarding potential changes.
"We should still have the discussion," Caplinger said. "Even mid-June is late compared to other parts of the country. Let's have a discussion and let everyone weigh in."
"Anything beyond the third week in June, we lose kids to camps, programs they paid for a year in advance," Grady said.
In other business on Thursday, the School Committee approved the district's tuition rates for the 2019-20 school year.
It set the pre-kindergarten tuition rates at $18 per day at Lanesborough Elementary and $23.17 per day at Williamstown Elementary.
It signed off on a previously negotiated rate of $14,442 per year for New Ashford children attending Lanesborough Elementary. And it set a rate of $15,882.53 for students in New Ashford, Hancock and Stamford, Vt., who are attending the middle-high school.
The last number, the Mount Greylock tuition, is in line with an agreement reached last year with the sending towns that pegs the tuition rate to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's per-pupil cost for district students, less the cost of transportation and special education (which are paid separately by the sending towns). The total cost per Mount Greylock Regional School District student — including busing and special education — is $18,548 per year, according to the most recent DESE numbers.
In FY21 (the 2020-21 academic year), New Ashford will pay the DESE-published per pupil rate at LES, as it does at Mount Greylock.
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