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Williamstown Selectmen Talk Mount Greylock Regionalization
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
11:05AM / Wednesday, June 14, 2017
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Hugh Daley leads his first meeting as the new chairman of the Williamstown Board of Selectmen.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Members of the Board of Selectmen on Monday encouraged Mount Greylock's Regional District Amendment Committee to look more deeply at the impacts of full regionalization or keeping the status quo of the current Tri-District agreement.
 
The board's bi-monthly meeting was dominated by talk of what new Chairman Hugh Daley called "the big issue for us this year."
 
Daley, who already serves as the board's representative on Mount Greylock's School Building Committee, has stepped up to act as a liaison between the board and the RDAC, which was revived by the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee this year to bring back a proposal first studied in 2013 to bring its feeder schools, Williamstown and Lanesborough elementaries, into the regional school district.
 
He outlined for his colleagues Monday four possible scenarios for the Williamstown and Lanesborough public schools going forward: full regionalization, fixing the current Tri-District to make it more efficient, breaking Williamstown into its own "stand alone" district, and returning to the model of having Lanesborough and Williamstown share a superintendent under the existing superintendency union apart from Mount Greylock.
 
Since 2008, Mount Greylock and SU71 have shared a superintendent and other central administration, like the special education director, under the Tri-District agreement.
 
The Tri-District and superintendency union agreements are made at the school committee level and can, in theory, be dissolved by the school committees. Full regionalization — joining two or more districts under a single superintendent — requires a town meeting vote. Mount Greylock has requested special town meetings in Lanesborough and Williamstown for November to decide whether to fully regionalize.
 
On Monday, members of the Selectmen provided some feedback to the RDAC.
 
"The criticism I've heard about the status quo sounds like the kinds of things you'd address by staffing," Selectman Andrew Hogeland said. "They seem to be things that if you wanted to pay attention to, you could address. I think the schools have made a lot of improvements with the Tri-District thing. … I'd like to have that option studied."
 
Hogeland also alluded to an option that has been discussed in the Williamstown School Committee and at the RDAC: amending the regional agreement to allow either town to fund its school over and above the assessment from the region.
 
"The elementary school is a gem, and if there's a way to have a region with some element of local control … to give both towns the opportunity to have a say in how to run their school, whether it's a way of structuring voting or structuring committees or having a supplementary budget," Hogeland said.
 
Selectman Jeffrey Thomas said he was anxious about the two towns embarking on "such a complicated undertaking," but he was appreciative of the efforts of Tri-District Superintendent Kimberley Grady and RDAC Chairwoman Carolyn Greene, who addressed the board earlier this spring.
 
Thomas also recommended that the RDAC talk to other towns in the commonwealth.
 
"Other communities in the state of Massachusetts have been through this," Thomas said. "I would encourage, to the extent you all have the bandwidth, to find an example of communities like Williamstown faced with a similar situation, and maybe they're a few years into it and we can interview them."
 
Daley told his colleagues that the RDAC is focusing on both the fiscal implications of full regionalization and the potential educational impact of breaking apart the Tri-District. School officials, including the principals of the three schools, have argued that aligning curricula between the feeder schools and Mount Greylock benefits students and that alignment under three independent districts would rely on the "good will" of future superintendents.
 
Daley also said the town has asked for a financial impact statement of breaking Williamstown into its own district and that recognizes it would not necessarily require its own full-time superintendent or director of pupil personnel services (special education director).
 
"If we only need half a SPED director, we need to figure out what the cost of that could be," Daley said. "We've asked them to give us a strategic number, rather than a punitive number — something that's designed to dissuade us from making that decision."
 
Daley told his colleagues he would continue to attend RDAC meetings when he can and report back to the board. He also encouraged residents to stay engaged with the issues surrounding the regionalization question.
 
"It's best for all of us here and Williamstown as a whole to have all of our questions answered before we get to the floor of town meeting," he said.
 
In other business on Monday, the board discussed the pace of progress in rehabilitating the former Spruces Mobile Home Park property.
 
The property on Main Street currently is open the public, but, as Thomas pointed out, there is not even a sign on the property indicating that fact.
 
"I've been walking my dog there," Thomas said. "It's such a real treasure we've inherited under circumstances we all know. It's frustrating that there's not a sign up.
 
"I know it's controlled by FEMA, but is there any way you could negotiate a more permissive relationship with FEMA … so that we don't have to go to them every time we make a change?"
 
Town Manager Jason Hoch and Hogeland, who serves on the town's Spruces Land Use Committee, agreed that they would like to see the pace pick up, but the town is constrained by the federal bureaucracy that manages the site. The town acquired the land as part of a federal hazard mitigation grant.
 
"At the end of the day, first and foremost and the reason they gave us the money is flood storage," Hoch said.
 
Hogeland said he was frustrated with the approval process, but the land use committee and town are being as aggressive as they can.
 
"The initial scopes of work we talked about for [Community Preservation Act] funding were pretty simple: signs, tree cutting and picnic tables," Hogeland said. "That's what we previewed for FEMA two months ago, and the answer was six to eight months [for review].
 
"Bike paths, pavilions and playing fields are a bigger step. This was sort of a test."
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