By Bill Densmore
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. -- There is no "silver bullet" to resolve increasingly tight budgets and gradually declining enrollment at Mount Greylock Regional High School, a one-year long-range planning group has concluded in a 14-page report made public on Tuesday. Dovetailing to one of the group's recommendations, Williams College announced it was assigning a staffer to help the the public high school and the college coordinate existing and new collaborations.
In a pointed reference, the report also suggests that Williamstown's desire to preserve open space will hamper the financial future of town services, especially the schools, unless taxpayers are willing to raise money by means other than property taxes from housing growth. "As there is no such thing as a free lunch, ther is no such thing as free open space," the report says. "It comes at a cost -- that of forgone income . . . the need to face more squarely that it has the tradeoff between open space and the quality of municipal services, including education."
The Long Range Financial Planning Subcommittee's final report was given to the Mount Greylock school board at an evening meeting. (LINK TO FULL REPORT). "To those in the community who believed there were one or two silver bullets, we can now say with confidence there aren't," says part of the nine-member group's concluding report. "To those who believed there need to be frequent overrides, we say they're politically infeasible until the public believes all other avenues have been exhausted. To those wanting someone to give the school a large endowmnent, we say you stand a better chance of being hit by lightning."
The panel, including Supt. William Travis, school-board member David Archibald, former teacher Drew Gibson, and six community members, was chaired by James Kolesar, Williams College spokesman and community-relations expert. The study compared Mount Greylock to nine other Massachusetts regional school districts, concluding that Mount Greylock's financials -- and fiscal challenges -- are fairly similar. It concludes or recommends:
- Costs will increase gradually by more than foreseable revenue, causing ongoing shortfalls "and the need for increases in revenue by overrides and/or other means. The main drivers of the deficit -- utility and health-care costs.
- Since 2000, enrollment has dropped to 623 students from 800 students. The drop is project to gradually continue, reducing state per-pupil reimbursements but not reducing fixed costs.
- The report recommends seeking new revenue or expense-reduction sources, including inter-district collaboration, more tuition-paying students from outside the two-town district, forming an alumni association (to raise gifts), look at private endowment of some faculty positions, rent out facilities, market to potential students, develop faculty-staff entrepreneurial spirit and even, "with sufficient political will" sell off some property for a one-time gain.
- If the school continues to cut faculty to balance its budget, it risks a spiral of reducing enrollments from voluntary student withdrawals. "Families would bolt, public support would evaporate, revenues would drop," teo report warns.
The report recommended more collaboration with Williams College. As the final report was being released, Williams College announced that a "center at Mount Greylock Regional School" was being launched "with the goal of maximizing the academic value the college can provide the school." The center will be coordinated by Kaatje White, a Williamstown resident who's husband is a Williams College development official and who is a Mount Greylock parent.
The college statement said White would coordinate the eduation collaborations that already exist between the school and college, develop new ones, and ensure the center activities focus on enhancing the school's mission. No dollar-value of the Williams commitment was mentioned in the statement, which said the principles guiding the center would be that it: benefit all students, focus on core academic skills, accent the excitemnent of teaching and learning those skills, engage all relevant school faculty, engage as many college sutdnets, faculty and staff as possible and result on no financial burden to the high school.