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Mount Greylock School Committee Considers New Purpose for Elementary School Trips
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
01:09AM / Tuesday, December 18, 2018
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Mount Greylock Superintendent Kimberley Grady and School Committee Chair Joe Bergeron read through minutes of a prior meeting.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Members of the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee want to see the district's elementary schools explore using a year-end sixth-grade field trip as a way to help integrate the graduating classes in Lanesborough and Williamstown.
 
Lanesborough Elementary Principal Martha Wiley and Williamstown Elementary Principal Joelle Brookner were before the School Committee on Thursday to get its formal sign-off on their school's respective trips to Cape Cod and approval for the fund-raising efforts that support the sojourn.
 
The trips are both educational and community-building exercises, Brookner explained, noting that the town's elementary school has had some sort of year-end overnight going back decades and has been going to the Cape for the last 15 years.
 
Wiley said Lanesborough has been running a trip for its graduating sixth-graders for 35 years.
 
"For many, it is a rite of passage," Wiley told the committee. "Students have the opportunity to travel outside Berkshire County with their peers, take on new responsibilities that can develop an increased level of confidence and independence and learn from individuals who are experts in their fields."
 
The trips are funded through fund-raisers and parent contributions. Brookner said any families concerned about their ability to pay just need to contact her privately to talk about scholarships.
 
The committee ultimately voted unanimously to OK this year's trips, but, first, Regina DiLego noted that, with fund-raising already underway, the committee was getting the question late.
 
"What if, for some reason, like for liability issues, the committee decides [against approval]?" DiLego asked. "This precludes us as a committee from having an honest discussion because fund-raising is already going on, and we're the phenomenal bad guys if we say, 'We're not going to have these kinds of trips.' "
 
Committee member Steven Miller agreed and suggested the committee take up the 2020 trip this spring.
 
Committee member Dan Caplinger suggested that the district consider coordinating the elementary school trips so the sixth-graders can travel together.
 
"The body that oversees the [Mount Greylock endowment fund] met this morning, and one of the proposals we talked about was having ways to have orientation for the seventh-graders because when you have two schools worth of elementary schools rising [to the middle school], it's important they mix together," Caplinger said. "One of the comments that came up was: Lanesborough goes to Cape Cod, and Williamstown goes to Cape Cod. Traditionally, they've gone at separate times.
 
"This is something I'd hope we could think about for future years. Is there a way to achieve all that these trips have achieved in the past as well as allowing the rising seventh-graders to meet in that environment and get to know each other in a lower stress situation than they're facing in the first few days of seventh grade."
 
Miller followed up on that comment by saying he was hoping the dates of this year's trips were the same; they're not.
 
A different kind of district alignment was achieved by the School Committee at its last meeting of 2018. The panel voted unanimously to align and raise the rates the three schools' pay for substitutes.
 
Going into the school year, all three schools were paying substitute teachers $80 per day but different rates for substitute paraprofessionals. At Mount Greylock, subs for the paras got $70 per day, and at Lanesborough, they got $63 per day; at Williamstown, the paraprofessional subs were paid $11 per hour, which worked out to $67.87 per day.
 
The committee on Thursday decided that, effective immediately, the teacher substitution rate will be $85 per day, and paraprofessional subs will receive $75 per day.
 
"The finance subcommittee discussed this in detail," School Committee Chair Joe Bergeron told his colleagues. "We discussed the fact that, as the superintendent has noted, we are having trouble filling our substitute positions. … In Berkshire County, we're not at the high end in both the sub and para sub rate level. We could move up in that range.
 
"The business office reported a change like the one we recommended won't have a significant impact on any building's budget. It will be within a few thousand dollars [annually] in each building."
 
The committee was shown a chart that analyzed the market for substitute teachers in the county, reporting that Pittsfield Public Schools pays substitute teachers $90 per day ($110 per day for certified or retired teachers), and substitute paraprofessionals are paid as much as $90 per day (in the Northern Berkshire School Union).
 
A separate School Committee vote on Thursday voted to raise the minimum wage paid in the district to $12 per hour, in line with the commonwealth's increase that goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2019. Although municipal entities, like school districts, are exempt from the increase, the Mount Greylock School Committee followed its finance subcommittee's recommendation to enact the hike, which will impact only the handful of district employees not already covered by union contracts.
 
In other business on Thursday, the School Committee voted 6-1 to authorize its Capital Gift Phase 1 subcommittee to hire an owner's project manager to get to work on a plan to spend part of the $5 million Williams capital gift to construct new offices for the district's central administration.
 
Bergeron suggested that the full committee could either designate authority to the subcommittee or plan to reassemble for a special meeting this week after the subcommittee interviews prospective OPMs Dec. 18 and 19 and makes a recommendation.
 
Caplinger argued that the full committee should have input on and responsibility for such an expenditure. Others said that if the three-person subcommittee feels strongly about a potential OPM firm, the full committee should trust the people tasked with doing the vetting.
 
Ultimately, the committee voted, with Caplinger dissenting, to authorize the subcommittee to make the decision if it has a 3-0 vote. If the subcommittee is split, it will send the question back to the School Committee.
 
Prior the start of Thursday's open session, the School Committee met in executive session for about an hour to "discuss strategy with respect to litigation related to the [middle-high school] building project." Two representatives from general contractor Turner Construction were invited to join the committee for the executive session.
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