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Mount Greylock School Committee Member Clarifies Her Position on Williams Gift
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
12:17AM / Tuesday, June 09, 2020
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A veteran member of the Mount Greylock School Committee on Thursday sought to put into context her recent comments about the district's need to maintain a building maintenance fund from the proceeds of a $5 million capital gift from Williams College.
 
Carolyne Greene, who recently rejoined the School Committee after a couple of years away from the panel, explained her May 14 comments during last week's meeting of the committee's Finance Subcommittee.
 
"Of course [preserving a maintenance fund] makes sense," Greene said. "It makes a great deal of sense. My comment questioning it was in the context of setting up a [stabilization fund]. This is, essentially a stabilization fund, and I know they're different things. But it's hard to get a stabilization fund when you have your own stabilization fund. But that's a different story, and I shouldn't have conflated the two, so I apologize."
 
Greene said she appreciated the input she has received since the May 14 meeting of the full School Committee, singling out feedback from Williamstown Select Board member Hugh Daley and former School Committee member Rich Cohen of Lanesborough, as well as the committees in both towns who have weighed in.
 
Her mention of the stabilization fund is relevant because the Mount Greylock Regional School District currently is asking its two member towns for permission to establish such a fund, though the School Committee is not seeking any appropriation for a stabilization fund in its fiscal year 2021 appropriation.
 
The 2016 Williams College gift has been on the mind of the School Committee because it is considering whether and how much to appropriate from the gift's proceeds toward needed improvements to the middle-high school's athletic fields. The fields as currently configured violate both the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title IX; for example, the bleachers and press box at John T. Allen Field are inaccessible, and the school's softball fields lack proper safety fencing, let alone dugouts like the ones at the varsity baseball field.
 
The school district needs to make the ADA and Title IX fixes because it invested money into renovating and expanding the school, but the field improvements are not costs that would be eligible for reimbursement by the Massachusetts School Building Authority. The district has a waiver from the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board that is good until April 2022 to make the improvements.
 
As part of the planning to make those corrections, the School Committee's Phase 2 working group developed a plan that also includes a multi-purpose artificial turf field that proponents argue would serve not only sports teams (football, soccer and lacrosse) but also physical education classes.
 
Greene on Thursday reread into the record a February resolution from the Finance Subcommittee recommending that the School Committee preserve $1.5 million from the Williams College gift with the rest of the remaining fund going toward the fields.
 
"It passed unanimously, and, as [Finance Subcommittee Chair Jamie Art] indicated, the School Committee chose not to act on it," Greene said. "So it kind of died with the Finance Subcommittee. I think we have an opportunity now to set some money aside.
 
"I would like to recommend that we recommend to the School Committee that we act now on establishing a maintenance and renewal fund, but with $1 million, not a $1.5 million, given that the numbers have changed and we don't have the kind of money we thought we had because of other commitments."
 
Although the largest allocation to date from the Williams gift was $2.5 million for a multi-purpose building, the School Committee has been dipping into the endowment-based account for years for multiple design projects for the fields and building plus rental of construction trailers that have housed the school district's central administration since the demolition of its former home in the old Mount Greylock.
 
To date, $3.3 million -- including the $2.5 contract for the multipurpose building -- has been committed from the gift, which appreciated significantly from February 2016 through March, when the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the global economy, including, presumably, the investments in Williams' endowment portfolio.
 
The Finance Subcommittee did not act on Greene's recommendation or decide on what the proper level should be for a prospective maintenance reserve, but it did agree to meet on Thursday afternoon, one hour before the full School Committee meets, in order to develop a path forward for the seven-person panel to decide on the fields question.
 
Greene started that process prior to Thursday's Finance Subcommittee meeting by compiling a spreadsheet of the questions that the School Committee may want to address in its deliberations. She divided the issues into six categories: needs assessment, financial, environment and health, design, process and COVID-19.
 
She said that some of the issues have been addressed, either partially or fully, by the School Committee or its subcommittees and working groups. But she saw the spreadsheet as a way of organizing the information the panel has and what it might need to move forward.
 
"One of the comments that I was hearing as I tried to get myself up to date on all the information was that there just seemed to be a lot of questions out there and a lot of information," Greene said. "We don't know if we've asked all the questions and if all the questions have been responded to and whether they've been responded to adequately. That's the purpose of that spreadsheet."
 
One big unknown is the value of the gift given the $3.3 million already committed from it. Finance Subcommittee Chair Jamie Art, whose day job is general counsel at Williams, said he would try to find out when the college would be able to supply a firm number. 
 
"I understand the desire to pin down what the number is right now," Art said. "June 30 is the end of the college's fiscal year. We're not too far from when we'll have much better numbers about how much is in that gift account at the current time. This is the one time of year when we'll get a better financial picture of what that's worth than other times of the year.
 
"I don't know if that's July 1 or some point in the following weeks when they pull that together. … I just don't know how long it takes to value it."
 
Thursday's Finance Subcommittee meeting followed a meeting of the full School Committee that saw it welcome back a familiar face.
 
Joe Bergeron, whose move to California last summer led him to resign his position on the School Committee, applied for the district's vacant business administrator position.
 
Superintendent Kimberley Grady told the School Committee that Bergeron was the unanimous recommendation of a search committee that she pulled together that included members of Lanesborough's and Williamstown's Finance Committees and Williamstown's town accountant.
 
On a 7-0 vote, the School Committee voted to hire Bergeron with the title business manager, contingent on him obtaining the certification he needs for a business administrator position. Grady explained that he is currently unable to take the test he needs to qualify for the latter title because of the pandemic.
 
The School Committee will meet in executive session on Monday to discuss negotiations relative to signing a contract with Bergeron, who plans to be in town soon to begin work and a transition process with current Business Administrator Andrea Wadsworth.
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