Lanesborough School Committee weighs pulling out of School Union 71


LANESBOROUGH -- Concern about administrative costs has sparked a debate about whether Lanesborough Elementary School should withdraw from School Union 71.

The Lanesborough School Committee deferred a vote this week after public comment and a request for an official opinion from legal counsel, but the effort has prompted concern from the chairwoman of the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee, who believes the union should be preserved.

"This is not the voice of collaboration or cooperation, and that concerns me very much," said Chairwoman Carrie Greene. She said the quality of students' education and property values would suffer if Lanesborough were to withdraw.

Lanesborough Elementary School has shared a superintendent and administrative services with Williamstown and Mount Greylock Regional School District since joining School Union 71 in 2008, when it left a neighboring school union shared with Richmond, Hancock and New Ashford. The union differs from the region, which was formed in 1958 between member towns Lanesborough and Williamstown.

School Committee Chairman Robert Barton has said he believes the town could save money by joining another superintendency union. He said the intention would be to withdraw by the end of June 2015, when Superintendent Rose Ellis' contract is up for renewal.

Barton presented calculations demonstrating Lanesborough has high administrative costs -- $809 per student.

Committee member Jim Moriarty has called the $809 number "troubling," and agrees with Barton that the school should examine its options.

But Ellis countered this on Wednesday with a separate set of figures that showed the overall cost was lower than several other towns. Any high cost to Lanesborough could be attributed to the district's small enrollment of roughly 200 students and fixed costs, she added.

Regina DiLego, the third member of the Lanesborough School Committee, questioned Barton's plan.

"Why do we need a vote to leave [the union] to discuss our future?" she asked.

DiLego, who also chairs the separate School Union 71 committee, stressed the need to meet officially with other members before taking any vote.

Mount Greylock member Chris Dodig, of Lanesborough, said dissolving the union would be a risky move.

"If Lanesborough ends up with no partner or one the town doesn't like, it would be one blunder this town would be slow to forget," he said.

Dodig also stressed the need for an official opinion from legal counsel regarding contracts.

Barton said in talking with the committee's shared legal counsel, attorney Fred Dupere, he learned that voting the intent would absolve the committee from any obligation for multi-year contracts made after the vote.

But Greene said she learned the opposite.

"It does not absolve [the committee] from contracts signed after the vote is taken," she said. "He was very clear that's what he told you, and was very clear he did not suggest the plan."

Attempts to reach Dupere on Friday were unsuccessful.

In a meeting of the Mount Greylock School Committee this week, Greene also expressed her committee's concern over complaints from the district's shared administrative staff. In a letter to the Lanesborough School Committee from Mount Greylock staffers, one employee said she has spent more than 80 percent of her time over the last several months dealing with demands from Barton.

Other residents expressed satisfaction with the current arrangement and noted the elementary school is one of the highest performing in the county.

To reach Edward Damon:

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On Twitter: @BE_EDamon


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