Pending its blessings, the articles will then move to annual town meeting for final approval. The board passed on all 28 articles unamended but some came under brief scrutiny, mostly for clarification purposes.
Superintendents Aaron Dean of the Hoosac Valley Regional School District and James Brosnan of the Northern Berkshire Vocational Regional School District were participating remotely and Selectman John Duval took the opportunity to ask them about the possibility of getting a portion of transportation costs either reduced or returned given the hybrid nature of physical attendance to start the school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Both replied with a solid maybe.
"The answer is potentially. As we get into the year the busing is going to increase. Athletics ... it doesn't look like those are going to happen in the fall, so there are potential savings there. But it's kind of one of those cases where we have to get through a month or two and have discussions with the bus company about how we can renegotiate the pieces," Dean told the board.
"I'd say it's similar to what we did in the spring when things came up. We didn't know how long things were going to go ... so we kind of waited that out and negotiated an agreement to reflect the savings. For the services we didn't utilize."
Although the number of kids being bused will be less, the health and safety guidelines instituted by the state required the district to add additional buses to allow them to split up certain grades between in person morning and afternoon classes.
Brosnan and McCann have a different challenge with half their students' time taken up by hands-on vocational learning. Brosnan said his students' in-school sessions will be vocational only and all academic sessions, for the foreseeable future, will be remote.
"The slight difference with McCann is we are going to open on [September] 16th. Our bus routes will be running. Similar to what we did with the bus company last year. We will go to them and say, 'We had a contract for 180 session days and now it's 170 session days.' If you recall last year, we only had 115 session days ... so we were able to deduct and that resulted in monies coming back to the town, I think around 49-50K," he said.
"But in this particular case, the bus routes are limited by the guidance we have received from DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) so that when a route is running and I have a 47-passenger bus, I'll probably have 15 students."
Students from both districts have the option of "opting out" of in-person attendance altogether. The nature of McCann's vocational program lends itself to far fewer students electing for the remote learning option compared to Hoosac Valley. When asked by Member Joe Nowak, Brosnan said McCann's number was "very, very few". Dean said his number was substantial and that it presents challenges when trying to solidify a plan to meet all student's needs.
"It looks like about a third of our population are opting for the remote only [group]. Which makes it extremely difficult quite honestly because...we have two thirds of our students remaining in person. We can't bus them all to school at the same time and we can't instruct them at the same time if they're not in the building. We had to do the hybrid model to make sure that we provide access to everybody. There are a lot of logistics we've been working on with the scheduling of the [groups]."
Both superintendents agreed with nervous laughter when Duval said it seemed like they had things under control "as of today."
Another article held by the board was the potential adoption of a 40R "Smart Growth Overlay District." The state 40R law has been passionately debated for the past several years at many public information sessions. The zoning amendment would give potential developers access to state funding for the creation of a certain percentage of affordable housing among market-rate or mixed-use developments in dense, downtown areas.
Proponents of 40R see it as an avenue for developers to obtain public funds to revitalize vacant buildings in strategic locations throughout town and undertake projects they might have been averse to without those funds. The project would need to contain no less than 20 percent and no more than 40 percent affordable housing.
Opponents say it will tax an already stretched thin municipality and school system by inviting lower-income families in high numbers and also take valuable real estate off the market that might be better developed at 100 percent market-rate prices.
Town Administrator Jay Green said he is aware of two projects that would stand a much greater chance of moving forward should the town adopt 40R.
"We already know that there's at least one project that will only go forward if 40R is passed. We know at the Memorial School, when we had the bid project, at least three out of those five or six developers said, 'if the town passes 40R, this project makes a lot more sense for us,'" he said.
The Planning Board would have final say as to the percentage of affordable housing contained within each project. The board would also have final say as to what projects get approved.
Town meeting will debate these and the rest of the warrant articles outdoors and under the lights for the first time ever as it will take place at Bowe Field on Old Columbia Street. The decision was made to have the meeting outdoors in order to safely adhere to the state's social distancing guidelines.
Chairwoman Christine Hoyt said she and many others from Town Hall have been working on the particulars for the past few months.
"We had a crew over at Bowe Field today in the rain, so we got to see what the field conditions might be like on a rainy day. We had the town moderator, town clerk, police chief, code enforcement, DPW, town administrator ... as well as a representative from a tent company, and audio visual company to make sure we would have seating and cover for our town meeting members," she told the board.
"We talked about available restrooms, ADA access, parking, arrivals. The Forest Wardens and the Police Department will be guiding people to parking and to their seats."
Hoyt said that anyone attending the meeting will need to be masked at all times. The annual town meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 24, at 6 p.m. at Bowe Field.
Two new police officers were sworn in in front of several of Adams' finest. Samantha Morin and Nicholas Kaiser took their oaths of office in front of their masked families and colleagues. The department has seen the retirement of several of its most senior members along with its chief in recent months. Interim Police Chief Troy Bacon praised both candidates' experience — Morin served in the Army and with U.S. Department of Homeland Security while Kaiser comes from the North Adams Police Department — and said they should have a smooth transition into the department.
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