Lanesborough and Williamstown, Massachusetts residents have approved a proposal to merge the region’s four school committees.
Unifying the four school committees that run Lanesborough and Williamstown elementary schools and Mount Greylock Regional High School under one umbrella organization has been the talk of the towns for months if not years, according to Tri-District Interim Superintendent Kimberley Grady.
“2009 and on essentially they have been looking to become one region,” Grady says, “where we had an essential stop gap when were – because we brought a vote forward for the building project.”
Construction is underway on a $64.8 million Mount Greylock Regional High School, expected to open to students in January 2019. The Massachusetts School Building Authority is splitting the bill.
“We’ve been working on this for a little more than a year now, again bringing it back to the surface to bring forward,” Grady says, “so aggressively approaching it since June.”
Turnout at Tuesday’s special town meetings was sparse. Of the 4,975 reregistered voters in Williamstown, 303 voted. In Lanesborough, only 131 of 2,330 showed up. In both towns, a vast majority voted in support.
“This will streamline governance and it will also have a continuity for pre-K to 12, you know, educational experiences for children within the communities,” Grady says.
Officials predict it will take 18 months to craft contracts and a new umbrella committee. They’ll start in January. In the meantime, a transitional school committee will take charge.
“It’s still going to be a seven-person committee,” Grady says. “All the committees are coming together this evening at 7 o’clock here at Mount Greylock. We have an open session where we will be opening for our first meeting simultaneously. To what the regional agreement states is that the committee will be made up of four of the Mount Greylock existing school committee members (two from the town of Williamstown, two from town of Lanesborough), one member from the existing Lanesborough Elementary School and two members from the existing Williamstown Elementary School.”
Opponents of the merger in Lanesborough are concerned about Williamstown’s 4-3 edge in committee representation.
“I don’t remember the last time we had that deadlock where it was essentially a 1/12th budget that the 4-3 was actually in place,” Grady says.
But naysayers point to the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District as an example: A single district could also lead to a consolidation of the elementary schools.
The decision to close Cheshire Elementary divided the Adams-Cheshire community during budget talks in July. The Adams-Cheshire Regional School District is now undergoing a year-long process to amend the language in its regionalization agreement.
Nevertheless, the Berkshire County Education Task Force says consolidation is a key step in creating a countywide school district. It recommended such a move in July, claiming it could save the county more than $34 million a year, increase state aid and address declining student enrollment across the 32 communities.
Cynthia Brown, who’s on the task force, spoke in support of school districts merging. Brown was the vice president of Academic Affairs at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and served as the college’s interim president.
“We envision that these relationships will deepen and expand,” Brown says. “We envision that over time existing and new combination of districts could grow and include more districts, as more and more towns and other districts see the gains that could be made by coming together.”
The task force predicts it will take 10 years to shift to a countywide school district – if municipalities agree. Most municipalities are already in some kind of shared or regional school district – just like Lanesborough and Williamstown.