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Mount Greylock to Ask Towns to Allow Stabilization Fund

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School Committee is set to ask its member towns to allow the regional school district to establish a stabilization fund.
The committee's Finance Subcommittee last week approved the language for a warrant article that will be sent to Lanesborough and Williamstown for their annual town meetings.
If passed by the towns, the stabilization fund, an idea previously approved by the full School Committee, would help the district save money for future capital expenses at the middle-high school.
Future School Committees could appropriate funds from the stabilization account by a two-thirds vote "for any purpose for which regional school districts can borrow money, or for emergency purposes," according to the language voted out of committee.
"You would only fund this if you found you had extra funds that weren't spent in the appropriated budget," Mount Greylock Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance Andrea Wadsworth said. "But this would help if you had any big repairs coming up.
"Let's say in the next five to 10 years you wanted to save and plan for repairs at Mount Greylock. The boilers and tanks … that will cost you a fortune, right? Those things will kill a budget. So if you had a stabilization fund, that would help."
Wadsworth said the district could not, by law, hold more than 5 percent of its operating budget in the stabilization fund. For the $22.8 million operating budget the committee is sending to the towns for fiscal 2021, that would be a cap of about $1.1 million.
Wadsworth said she doubted the district's stabilization fund could reach that level.
"You could put a cap saying it would never hold more than $500,000 … about 2 percent of your overall budget," she said. "I don't recommend doing that unless someone asks you to."
No one in the finance subcommittee suggested making such an amendment, and the three members agreed to send it on to the towns.
They also during Wednesday's meeting discussed the procedure for signing warrants to pay the district's bills. In years past, the warrants needed a majority of School Committee members' signatures, but the Municipal Modernization Act of 2016 allowed multi-person bodies to designate a single member for the task.
"They realized that a lot of [committees] were having this problem," Wadsworth said. "People weren't coming in, warrants weren't getting signed."
After weighing a couple of different options, subcommittee Chairman Jamie Art said he felt the consensus of the three-person group was to designate one member of the panel to be the physical signer but have the full subcommittee meet every other week to review the warrants — either in a virtual meeting format or, when it becomes possible again, in person.
Superintendent Kimberley Grady asked that whatever procedure is followed the subcommittee regularly review the bills, in part so that School Committee members can become more familiar with Mount Greylock's budget.
"We became a region, we brought in a bunch of new School Committee members, and all of you are new to regional finance," Grady said. "We've had business managers who are no longer with us. Then we have Andrea, but we'll have a new business manager in July.
"It's one added meeting, but even if we do one [review] virtually and one person signs … it gets everyone involved when they rotate through the Finance Subcommittee. Come November, I could potentially have four new School Committee members. There's going to have to be some education there."
Art said that because the School Committee has ultimate control over the warrant signing process, he would put the question to the full body to approve the subcommittee's recommendation.
In other business on Wednesday, the subcommittee discussed the process for hiring a new business manager for Wadsworth, who is taking a position in higher education this summer.
Grady said the district had received seven applications, though just three so far have met the requirements of the job description. She asked the subcommittee for its advice on a search committee to screen the applicants and eventually bring names forward to the School Committee, which has hiring authority for the position.
The subcommittee members recommended that the search committee include current employees in the district's business office and representatives from each member town — perhaps from their Finance Committees.
Grady said the panel could be smaller than the current search committees looking to hire principals for Williamstown Elementary and Mount Greylock.
"There's not parent involvement at this [business manager] level, there's not student involvement," she said. "We could have a committee of six people … where my other committees are 15 and 19. I need someone from the School Committee and one person from each town would be helpful."
Wadsworth told the subcommittee that while she needs to move on to her new job by Aug. 1 at the latest, she is willing to stay on as long as she can to help the district with the transition. She also said that this is not the best time of year to be looking to fill the position, but she indicated the district should not be overly pessimistic.
"They're a hot commodity," she said of business administrators in education. "But they will change if the job is right. My recommendation to all students is to get a business administrator's license.
"There's no way you will be left hanging. We'll keep you going. We'll close out your [FY20] books and get you set."

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Williamstown Planning Board to Look at Impact of Land Regulations on Equity

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Planning Board wants to make a concerted effort to assess potential bylaw changes with an eye toward increasing equity.
Picking up on a conversation that has dominated discussions in the town's Select Board in recent weeks, the Planning Board last Thursday began talking about how it can advance social justice through its work.
"I think this is really essential work for us to be doing," said Peter Beck, who participated in his first meeting since his election to the board in June. "Issues of racial equity are not tangential to planning and land use but deeply wrapped up in it."
Chair Stephanie Boyd raised the issue toward the end of a meeting dominated by discussion about bylaw amendments the board plans to bring to next month's annual town meeting.
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