WILLIAMSTOWN -- The three school districts that serve Williamstown and Lanesborough are revisiting the prospects of becoming one regionalized school district. This time, they've got the blessing -- and funding -- of the state.
The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) recently announced the award of a $50,000 regionalization grant to the Mount Greylock Regional, Lanesborough and Williamstown public school districts -- also known as Williamstown-Lanesborough Public Schools, or the Tri-District -- to investigate the pros and cons of expanding the current Grade 7 through 12 district of Mount Greylock to include the elementary schools.
This one-time funding will be used to create a so-called Regional District Amendment Committee.
The grant allows for the districts to hire a communications consultant, financial specialist, and legal counsel to guide the new committee. The group will solicit volunteer representatives from the Mount Greylock, Williamstown and Lanesborough school committees, as well as Lanesborough and Williamstown select boards and finance committees, and Rose Ellis, superintendent of tri-district.
School committee leaders say they are hopeful with this advent of this new project, which mandates a final report on grant activities to be filed with the state no later than July 31.
"The previous study that took three years didn't really have a process, just a lot of discussion," said Carrie Greene, chairwoman of the Mount Greylock School Committee.
She said another difference with the new proposal, as opposed to previous attempts, is that it will focus only on expanding the existing Mount Greylock district from Grades 7 through 12 to a pre-kindergarten through Grade 12 district by including the elementary schools.
The three separate districts already are managed by one superintendent, Ellis.
Regionalization would mean the new district would have a single school committee and a single budget, managed by the superintendent.
"From what information I'm familiar with, this process will have very good representation from each of the groups from the schools and towns. Ultimately, any end vote on the subject will be by the towns, who will have good solid information to go from," said Regina DiLego, who chairs the Lanesborough Elementary School Committee.
The committee will discuss the grant and new planning team at its regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday.
Williamstown Elementary School Committee Chairwoman Margaret McComish couldn't be immediately reached for comment.
Over the next several months, the districts will be responsible for putting out a request for proposal to hire consultants and convene the new regionalization planning committee.
Once the group is established, it can begin to develop a detailed analysis of the feasibility of expanding the Mount Greylock district, which it will provide to each of two member towns.
The new group will also be held accountable for presenting its findings through community forums to be held in Lanesborough and Williamstown.
If this process of investigation shows significant benefit to regionalization at this time, residents in each town would vote on a warrant to expand the current district to a pre-K through Grade 12 system.
"Regionalization can be more advantageous in meeting the future needs of all our students and providing greater continuity in a first-class education system," Ellis said in a written announcement of the grant.
Regionalization could also lead to cost savings for the schools and towns, and could help Mount Greylock strengthen its current case with the Massachusetts School Building Authority to renovate its current facility.
Discussion of unifying the three separate school districts in Lanesborough and Williamstown as one regional, pre-K through 12 district has been under way in various stages since 1970.
"Things change over the years. Resources, dynamics, populations change. I think now is a good time to reinvestigate," DiLego said.
Greene said the Williamstown-Lanesborough Public Schools will follow a similar process used by districts in Massachusetts that have recently regionalized.
These include Ayer-Shirley, Chatham-Harwich, Somerset-Berkley, Freetown-Lakeville, and Southwick-Tolland-Granville regional school districts.
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