Peter Mehlin is depicted reading a book to a child on a park bench in the mural.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Peter Mehlin has been impacting children’s lives as long as the current Williamstown Elementary School has been educating the town’s youngsters.
Now Mehlin’s impact will be remembered for as long as there is a Williamstown Elementary School.
At Wednesday’s School Committee meeting, the longtime volunteer and library patron was recognized with a mural adorning the wall in one of the library’s reading areas.
Librarian Susan Lynch told the committee that Mehlin was recruited to work at the school in 2002 by former Superintendent Rose Ellis after Ellis learned the Williamstown native returned to the Village Beautiful after a 35-year career as a librarian in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“Peter has volunteered at least twice a week, sometimes more, and he’s made sure every year that we have new books in the library, which is amazing,” Lynch said. “He’s amazingly dedicated to our program and our students. The connections he makes with our students is exceptional.”
School Committee Chairman Joe Bergeron called Mehlin, “an inspiration for children and adults in Williamstown for many, many years.”
“I can’t count the number of times I’ve sat down to read a bedtime story and open a [library] book with Peter’s name in it as having donated it,” Bergeron said.
Mehlin was visibly touched by the gesture of the mural unveiled by Principal Joelle Brookner, and he seemed most pleased by the opportunity to discuss features of the scene depicted with some of the young children who attended Tuesday’s meeting with their parents.
“It seems strange to be honored for something which gives me such pleasure,” said Mehlin, also a member of the Board of Trustees at the town’s public library and a volunteer at the Clark Art Institute.
“The mission of Williamstown Elementary School is, ‘To inspire in all students a love of learning and challenge them to grow in heart and mind,’ “ Lynch said. “Peter is a living testament to that.
“Last year, when I realized he’d been with us for 15 years, we decided to do something to honor him and thank him.”
WES parent and graphic designer Sarah Brill created the mural, which depicts Mehlin reading to a child on a park bench surrounded by characters from children’s literature, like Curious George the Lorax and Pete the Cat.
The brief ceremony to recognize Mehlin was the highlight of a meeting largely focused on finishing up the business of the School Committee, which will be disbanded June 30 when the school entirely becomes the responsibility of the Mount Greylock Regional School Transition Committee.
Part of that process includes ending WES’ status as a town department.
“The school van that we’ve been so fortunate to have as part of this particular school is registered to the town,” Interim Superintendent Kimberley Grady told the committee. “I spoke with the town manager about it, and he graciously sold it to the region for one dollar … so that the children who need access to it will continue to have that.”
Grady also told the committee that Williamstown Town Manager Jason Hoch has helped inform and guide staff in the transition process as they go from being town employees to employees of the recently expanded PreK-12 Mount Greylock Regional School District.
“The town has been an incredible partner and has gone above and beyond as far as making this transition as easy as it can be,” Bergeron said.
The transition of employees is also an issue for the district office, which has the added burden of packing up for an impending move that will see central office personnel scatter to various locations in July and August as the Mount Greylock campus is consumed by demolition and construction.
To that end, Grady has asked the three “legacy” school committees that govern Williamstown Elementary, Mount Greylock, and Lanesborough Elementary to authorize a temporary addition of a part-time employee from the district’s business management firm, The Management Solution, to help bring all three schools’ employees under one umbrella.
“The regional school district needs to essentially hire anew,” Bergeron said. “There are new documents that need to go to every employee of the two elementary schools, all of which has been happening the last couple of months and will come to a big grand entrance for everyone on July 1. Couple that with all the School Committee documents and contracts constantly being shuffled and reexamined.”
Grady estimated the expense of the part-time manpower from TMS at about $2,200 per month, and she expects to need the extra person on board for about seven weeks. Bergeron said that since WES’ share of the pre-regionalization “shared services agreement” for expenses incurred by the former Tri-District is 37 percent, that would cost WES less than $2,000.
“Each of the towns uses slightly different, if not vastly different accounting systems, and we’re all unifying accounting systems that have not been unified across the three districts in the past,” School Committee member Dan Caplinger said. “It’s a one-time operation.
“We’ve been training staff across the district to get them unified on the same system going forward. This minimal extra expense will be a good investment in making our staff members more productive going forward.”
The School Committee unanimously approved a motion to authorize Grady to spend up to $3,000 of WES funds on the temporary business manager help.
In other business on Wednesday, Grady reported to the committee that Berkshire Health Group was offering a return to employees covered by its plans due to reduced claims. She recommended that the school follow the town’s lead and return those funds to employees in the form of a one-time refund of their annual deductibles. For employees on an individual plan, it comes to $250; for employees on the family plan, it’s $750, Grady said.
The School Committee voted 5-0 to return the money to its employees.
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