Minutes – May 6, 2021
BERKSHIRE HILLS REGIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICT
Great Barrington Stockbridge West Stockbridge
SCHOOL COMMITTEE MEETING
Teleconference Meeting via Zoom
May 6, 2021 – 6:00pm
School Committee: S. Bannon, J. St. Peter, A. Hutchinson, C. Sprague, R. Dohoney, B. Fields, D. Singer, M. Thomas, S. Stephen, B. Bonn-Buffoni, Zoe Holmes (Student member)
Administration: P. Dillon, S. Harrison
Staff/Public: T. Lee, K. Farina, B. Doren, S. Soule, K. Burdsall. K. Retzel
RECORDER NOTE: Meeting attended by recorder and minutes transcribed during the meeting and after the fact from live recording provided by CTSB. Length of meeting: 2 hour, 02 minutes.
CALL TO ORDER
Chairman Steve Bannon called the meeting to order immediately at 6pm.
PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE
The listing of agenda items are those reasonably anticipated by the chair, which may be discussed at the meeting. Not all items listed may in fact be discussed, and other items not listed may be brought up for discussion to the extent permitted by law. This meeting is being recorded by CTSB, Committee Recorder, members of the public with prior Chair permission and will be broadcast at a later date. Minutes will be transcribed and made public, as well as added to our website, www.bhrsd.org once approved.
- Expectations for Civil Discourse:
- Guidelines: Bannon – I will start off with a brief statement. I want to give an explanation of how meetings are run. Public participation during Berkshire Hills Regional School District School Board meetings has been and always will be a valuable part of our meeting. The laws of the State of Massachusetts only require public comment during public hearings and at no other times is public comment required to be allowed. This board and administration finds public comment to be invaluable so we go beyond the minimum requirements. The rules that are used for public comment at any town or public school district meeting may vary depending on who is chairing the meeting. I allow more public comment at some meeting than other chairs and that is not a criticism to any other chair. It is just a fact. This chair will recognize comments from anyone who has a connection to the school district. This includes residents, parents or students of one of our district’s three towns, staff members and tuition or school choice parents or students. Once recognized, an individual may speak once for up to three minutes per topic at the discretion of the chair. The chair does have the authority to recognize someone for a second time for only three minutes. When you are called on to speak at a public meeting, you are required to give your name and address for the record. All oral comments at public meetings should be directed to the chair. It is expected that anyone recognized to speak will be respectful, they will keep their remarks to the topic being discussed, will not slander or speak negatively about any individual or group of individuals and absolutely no harmful remarks will be allowed. Hurtful remarks are not always intentional. For example labeling a class of people, is a hurtful remark. If hurtful remarks are made, it is expected the chair will remind the speaker of the rules of this meeting. Please remember there is a fine line between free speech, which we value in this country, and hurtful speech which we will not allow. Public comment at a meeting is a privilege that this board takes very seriously. I have always operated under the rule that there may be disagreement without disrespect. It is very helpful to hear opposing points of view. I only ask the speakers to choose their words carefully; this goes for administrators, members of the public and board members. None of us are immune from indiscretions when we speak at a public meeting. Thank you.
- Minutes: April 1, 2021 & April 15, 2021: MOTION TO APPROVE BHRSD SCHOOL COMMITTEE MINUTES OF MEETINGS DATED APRIL 1, 2021 AND APRIL 15, 2021 STEPHEN SECONDED: B. FIELDS ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS
- Superintendent’s Report: Dillon – we continue to chug along at school. Today was a great, sunny day. The kids were out a lot. I would like to thank Steve Soule and his maintenance group. You will notice there are many more picnic tables around the schools. We got a really good deal from Carr Hardware and assembled those.
- Good News Item(s)
- Elementary School Principal – P. Dillon – Kate Retzel is our incoming Muddy Brook principal. Kate previously worked in Lee for many years and before that in Pittsfield in both the public schools there. We are really excited Kate will join us and at a future meeting we will have her in person with us. Welcome to the district Kate. We are really excited. Feel free to just introduce yourself and say a few words. K. Retzel – Thank you Peter. Hi everyone. I’m sure I will get to know your names and faces after a while. I am really excited, after 11 years in Lee, I have some experience and am looking to put that to work with a new situation and new kiddos. Not much to add. Some of my strengths are in the social/emotional realm for kids and also data and RTI for kids just to name the top two. Hopefully we will secure an awesome assistant principal soon and will be able to move Muddy Brook forward in ways we all want it to go.
- Vacancies (Assistant Principal, District Wellness, Teachers, etc.) P. Dillon – we interviewed some assistant principal candidates the other day and we are very close to making a decision on that. We will likely share that news next week. Our district wellness coordinator was selected. The person we selected is Iona Smith. She is well known to many people in the district. She is thoughtful and a long-time member of our health and wellness team. We are very excited for her to join us. She comes from most recently Railroad Street and we will have her at a future meeting. We are also seeing some late in the year retirements. I mentioned a couple at our last meeting and we are working on filling those positions. Largely we are all set up at Muddy Brook and have a little more work to do at the middle and high school. We are close to being able to shortly announce our new 9th grade team that is going to implement the proposal you all approved last week. Not tonight but soon.
- Summer Program(s) – P. Dillon – we have continued to do work on our Summer Programs. We will be doing surveys of both staff and families for students going forward. We are going to run our typical special ed program and our Project Connection program, some tutoring programming and in addition to that, some online programming. We are fine tuning the rest of that. I think at our next meeting we can give you an update on who signed up and what that is going to look like. Dohoney – what you laid out about a month ago, seems to be a little broader than what you just listed. Do we have a set of what we are actually offering? In addition to the federal money, I see that now the Governor now has $70 million he is handing out for summer programming. I don’t think financing should be an option we need but it looks like there are some financing options out there. P. Dillon – I think money is not an issue. I think the real issue is student interest and family interest and demand, staff interest and availability. It has taken us a little longer to pull those surveys together. We are in the process of negotiating partnerships. One particular opportunity is for students of color to work together on something led by a former graduate tied to community partners; likely some online opportunities for classes through colleges, some SAT or ACT prep over the summer that people can do remotely from wherever they are. We probably have more things than we need to offer or have the capacity to staff or even interest but we need to have people complete those surveys so we can tie up the loose ends on it. R. Dohoney – I understand what you are trying to do. It is hard to complete surveys to gage interest when nothing has been offered. P. Dillon – I think it is the classic chicken and the egg thing. When you see the survey there will be a list of possible things that we expressed and there will be an opportunity for people to express a need rather than create something. S. Bannon – when are the surveys going out? P. Dillon – early next week. R. Dohoney – will there be actual academic classwork like a class where you are getting credit from teachers like an art class or English or science? P. Dillon – there is a possibility of doing that but this is sort of the teacher side of the survey. This year is really beating the heck out of everybody and most people are expressing a desire to catch their breath and not teach a more typical class. I think there will be a small number of people who are willing to do that and we will lean on them. If there is interest from the student/family side, we will potentially reach out to people in other districts as well. C. Sprague – where do the online components come into play? That would expand the options. P. Dillon – we are talking to other people and organizations about that and it is a little premature because we are negotiating some of it. Not negotiating with the teachers but with vendors. I think shortly I will be able to articulate a whole line of online options, super high-quality, really interesting; part of a national network. That might be appealing to some people. I also think, and I said this about six weeks ago, I am as interested in doing stuff in the fall and spring as part of an after-school program or even more interested in that than I am in going really deep this summer. We might be able to do a little of both. B. Fields – (slightly inaudible) Some districts are doing something and if money is not the issue, they are actually offering teachers $50 – $100 a student to be in class. The incentive is winning because in some of these districts, this is nationwide, they are getting teachers that admit that this would be very good. There is nothing like in the middle of July through the end of the summer with the financial…if you could have ten students and that teacher makes that money and gets it with the district’s blessing. They do all sorts of courses. I don’t know if it is COVID money or state money would be available but it is a perfect opportunity for our district to maybe look at some sort of thing. I know this is probably mixed up with negotiations but it would be a bonus if you came in and started programs two weeks after July 4th and said we will give teachers if they are willing to do this, $50-$100 per student. I am just throwing that out but it certainly would be an incentive. R. Dohoney – there should be significant compensation for teachers who are willing to make that sacrifice. It also seems to me to be an opportunity particularly at the high school but also at the middle school. We are so constrained by the schedule. There are a lot of classes kids would like to take and teachers would like to teach, like humanities, social studies, or focusing on a certain part of literature. S. Bannon – There is a need for one on one and tutoring and small class instruction if they have fallen behind. P. Dillon – let me come back to you with some additional ideas and feedback. One real interesting thing is summer affords us an opportunity to fool around with time. A typical class over the course of a semester translates into 54 hours which is an artificial old fashioned construct. Places at the college level like Colorado College do one class at a time instead of seven five days a week. Potentially somebody could go really deep for two or three weeks in something and it could be credit bearing and also really engaging. Somebody’s time commitment might be a few intensive weeks but then you could walk away from that. You could survive it. It might even be inspiring. What I don’t want to do is in a year when people are beat up and very exhausted, have them keep plowing through the summer and around November just collapse. Many people are doing really good work and some people are also doing good work but just hanging on. I will come back to you with a range of options there.
- COVID-19 – P. Dillon – almost everybody is in school or wants to be in school five days a week. I think it is going really well. The COVID-19 numbers in Berkshire County continue to get better and I am excited about that. We look at the data religiously a couple of times a day. We have continued with pool testing and I think across the schools now, we have had about 1,500 pool tests and every single one has come back negative. I am really happy about that. The data in our communities is pretty good. I think we are surging in Great Barrington with something like 8 positive cases a week. Stockbridge and West Stockbridge are significantly less; our neighboring communities are in pretty good shape. Otis and Sandisfield have had a little bump but that is getting better. People are following the protocols. A lot of 16, 17 and 18 year olds are now getting vaccinated. We anticipate that the 12-15 year olds…the CDC will give Pfizer the clearance to release their vaccine for 12-15 year olds and will continue to offer our clinics at the DuBois Middle Schools. Hopefully we can get most or all of our 12-15 year olds vaccinated perhaps as early as next week. I think they just recently asked for approval, and we think that approval is going to come maybe Monday, for 2-13 year olds and there is the possibility that it might happen before the start of school or around the start of school. People are largely following protocols and doing well. As we are doing better as a county on this, the messaging around some of this is getting more confusing. It used to be that you just wore a mask all the time and now you don’t have to wear a mask outside in certain circumstances and context. The school and district are taking a conservative approach to this that might be more conservative than some of the general guidance and we are happy about that because it protects our students and staff. St. Peter – I would like to see in the next month or two, the plan for next year as far as what we are planning for return and vaccinations and staffing. Basically what to expect if the numbers continue to trend as they are. P. Dillon – we are anticipating that next year is going to be pretty close to a typical or normal year especially as more and more people get vaccinated. The biggest shift in the elementary school is that we are going to move forward with this model for more slightly smaller classes that Tim had proposed and we will see how the guidance changes around singing, musical instruments, lunch and some of the indoor phy ed stuff. I think we are on the other side of this and things are getting better. In my mind, I am planning for a regular opening at a regular time and being in school five days a week going forward which would be really appreciated. C. Sprague – will the high school be back to a full day of classes every day of the week. I know the early release is coming up…P. Dillon – I will talk about the early release. The plan is, and Kristi can talk to this later if we need to in more detail, the high school is going to go back to an eight period schedule. This year we did a seven period schedule. I am hopeful. It should be a good thing. That is from a structural perspective. In terms of the day to day work, a much bigger emphasis on social/emotional learning, relationships, advisory, supporting kids, and the other piece of it which is the excelerator to the recovery depending on your perspective. B. Fields – are other districts making plans, for example we have athletics operating normally in the fall, soccer and cross-country, football, volleyball; are other districts sharing what they are planning? P. Dillon – I can check in with Karl on this but my hope and expectation is that we are able to run all sports in the fall. We will have another discussion about winter sports. The two that were the most complicated were wrestling and swimming. A great study came out in England about swimming that the chlorine in the pool water takes care of COVID-19 in 30 seconds so the reason to not to swim wasn’t because we thought it wasn’t safe; it was because the facilities we were using didn’t let us do it there. They did let the youth swimming program and the master swimming program happen. To my knowledge they had a handful of cases and they managed it similarly as we do where they contact traced and shut it down for a few days and worked through it. Largely without incident. I think somebody came into the facility positive and I don’t know if there is any evidence anybody transmitted the virus within the facility. I think we are in good shape. Most of our athletic programs are high school kids and presumably they will all be vaccinated. We co-oped for crew with Lenox and they made a requirement that our student participate in pool testing. I may come back to you all and maybe all our interscholastic athletes should be required to participate in pool testing. Maybe. We can think about it.
- Job Description Revision:
- Accounts Payable Technician – P. Dillon – this is a position in the district office where somebody does a lot around paying vendors for things. You have a job description in front of you or you saw it in the packet. Previously this position had been part of the cooperative contract. Steve and I met with Paul Gibbons who represents that group and we requested that the position come out of that contract and be part of the independent one. He was fine with that. There are a small number of people that work in this office that are seen as doing confidential work so they are not part of a bargaining group. This is one of those positions. You will see red-line edits in this for the changes. MOTION TO APPROVE THE CHANGES TO THE ACCOUNTS PAYABLE TECHNICIAN JOB DESCRIPTION DOHONEY SECONDED: J. ST. PETER ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS
- Early Release Plan for Next Year – P. Dillon – I know this is a relatively big ask and I am going to try to make the argument that convinces you that it is a good investment in time and also that we have plans in existence or development that will address the potential shortcomings of this. Many people, many researchers think teacher time, teacher collaboration and professional development is the single greatest lever for schools. I could quote dozens and hundreds of people around this and interestingly, 18 years ago I wrote my dissertation around the value of teacher collaboration and the impact of it. Huge research based, carving out some time for teachers to work together is important. Historically as a district, we have used seven half days and four whole days to support professional development and faculty meetings every other week for much of the year to deal with some professional development but just some community building and administrative stuff. What I am proposing in simplest terms is that for a year we pilot an early release at the middle and high school at 1pm and at the elementary school at 1:45pm. The teachers have uninterrupted time after that to work very specifically around instruction, curriculum and assessment and very specifically on case management or addressing particular needs of students. If we were a 9th grade team or a group of math teachers, we would meet and talk about why Jason is such a rock star with his homework and his assessments and what we need to support Bill the best Bill he could be. I think it is really important. What has come up in people reading this and thinking about it is, two weeks ago you all approved this great plan around equity and access for all and are we creating a structural problem where some folks with more resources have more capacity to get their kids at 1pm and get them out of school on these Wednesdays and other people are working two jobs or they don’t have a car. So my answer to that is, I would like to think no and while I want to free up the teachers’ time from 1pm to 1:45pm, I believe we can, from a parent perspective use other folks to keep kids engaged doing interesting, high-quality things until the end of what would be a more typical day. Project Connection, community partners, I am already in conversation and about 100 of our students participate in the Butternut ski program; it looks like they can offer this earlier on Wednesdays so kids who want to do that can. If kids want to stay with us in our own building doing something high-quality that is interesting, they can do that. If kids want to go home, they can do that. If older students want to use part of Wednesday afternoon to participate in internships, they don’t have corresponding after school activities like athletics or drama or something, they could do that. If they wanted to go home and come back or they could stay in school and be engaged in high-quality stuff. The typical school year has 40 weeks in the year and the plan is to do the early release, and this is a little confusing, and we have to be very careful about messaging this, only in the weeks that are full weeks. That ends up being about 30 of the 40 weeks. If the week is in November and it is Veteran’s Day and we have that Tuesday off, then we would not do an early dismissal on that Wednesday. The election day week, we would not do it; Martin Luther King Day week, we would not do it, etc. There would be a little messaging there but that would be the approach. The math around this, I shared. Normally we used four days for professional development; two before school, one on election day and one in March. We give up in exchange for this March development day in its entirety which in and of itself covers like four of the early dismissals and I would give up the seven half days. My total ask is a little more than 10 or 12 hours. I can get more granular than I did in this proposal and go to the minute but I didn’t do that because I think this represents it well. Hutchinson – will buses run at the same time everyday? P. Dillon – here is what our intention is. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday the buses run like they do now. They leave the high school and middle school right around 2:45 and the elementary school around 3:15. On Wednesdays, there will be leaving the high school and middle school at 1 and the elementary school at 1:45 and then there will be the option for another bus leaving at 2:45 or 3:15. The Project Connection buses go at 5pm. J. St. Peter – will there be different routes? P. Dillon – I am guessing the 1 and 1:45 buses will be the same as they are on the normal routes. The 2:45 and 3:15 buses will likely have many fewer students than the normal bus at the end of a typical day. There is the possibility that on those runs, normally we run 13 buses at a time. At 2:45 and 3:15, I don’t think we are going to have the demand to run all 13 buses. The Project Connection buses will run. I am thinking at 2:45 and 3:15 we won’t know this until we get people to sign up and make sense of it, we will probably run in the range of 6 buses. If we run 6 buses instead of 13, there is a possibility the routes will be slightly longer but it really depends on where people fall along the routes and who decides what to do. S. Bannon – have we done a cost analysis on this for the extra bussing? P. Dillon – it is not huge money. It is running potentially 6 more buses for 30 days at a little less than $400 and I will confirm that. Our plan is to look at what we are offering in Project Connection and expand it, work with our community partners and expand it. Often in Project Connection we have huge wait lists of people who want to get into things that they are not able to. C. Sprague (inaudible). P. Dillon – on the current seven half days that all fall on Fridays, kids go home at 11:30 and there is nothing. What I am proposing is if a kid wanted to go home at either 1 or 1:45 they can, but if they wanted to stay and I hope they do because we will do neat things, then they can have a regular day or dismissal or if they have previously participated in Project Connection they could stay straight until 5 on Wednesdays. Potentially there is a real value added here. Project Connection is, it is short of like band-aid v. the skin glue…Project Connection is the name for our federally funded 20th Century after-school/extended day program. That is meant to target kids who are academically and/or economically needy or seen as high risk. We have not, except for the very beginning of our time with Project Connection, been able to include our whole population in it because the funding is targeted. Under a broader umbrella of our extended-day after-school programs, we have run other things that often get incorrectly called Project Connection or band-aids but it is not that it is just a part of our extended day program. This has been a bull of ours for a long time to just open up our extended day program anyway. Carving out some time for teachers and staff to do some thoughtful work and creating additional opportunities for a wider range of students are converging in this plan. Part of what Rich was pushing me on is what are you going to do around recovery learning or accelerating learning….R. Dohoney – I have never said that. I have never used those words in my life. P. Dillon – what are going to do to make up for the challenges of COVID. Ok. I think one of the opportunities is to do that on Wednesdays and also on other days after school. If I thought it was a good thing for students, I would do it earlier in the day but all the research says we should start later anyway so I don’t want to run a 7am SAT class because it is not going to turn out well. A. Hutchinson (inaudible). P. Dillon – that is the plan to have a late bus. It is all tied to interest and capacity. Probably half the high school kids drive themselves. We are running buses at 5pm now, three or four, and they are nowhere near, pre-COVID they were not at capacity even during COVID, there were few people riding the buses. R. Dohoney – we could have an eight hour meeting in the absence of late buses. P. Dillon – my challenge is to propose a plan to perhaps get your support and then finetune the additional details and come back to you with it. I wouldn’t propose this if I didn’t think we could do it. I don’t know the answer to every small question. Before COVID we ran three or four late buses tied to our extended day program and those buses were often not full. MOTION TO TABLE PROPOSAL UNTIL THE FIRST MEETING IN JUNE SO IT IS COMPLETE AND THE ADMINISTRATION COME BACK WITH WRITTEN GUARANTEES OF THE WRITTEN REPRESENTATION R. DOHONEY SECONDED: J. ST. PETER PASSES: 6 TO 4 P. Dillon – I think it makes it significantly harder for me to move forward on planning. What I may end up doing is sharing a draft calendar with seven half days and four professional development days and then asking you to change that. I think that creates an undue burden on families but if that is how you like it. I am trying not to engage in debate. If I came back with a fully articulated proposal for the May meeting would you react or respond to it or are you not going to do it until the June meeting? R. Dohoney – we need written proposals that are major shifts in advance of the packet. Just complying with the minimum regulatory rules for disclosure is fine but we probably wouldn’t have just voted on the motion now if this proposal had come far earlier with far more details. I wish the administration would fill our in boxes with written proposals and back up for things at any time, particularly of this magnitude. I will welcome any proposal at any time. We will be discussing and voting on this in early June. S. Bannon – it is what the motion was so we could change our minds, but that is what the motion was and I have to stick to what the motion was. C. Sprague – this is a perfect example of seeking out a little more insight and I think it is a good idea but I want to see more.
- Additional parent Feedback on MMRHS Plan – S. Bannon – if anyone has anything to say on this, please raise your hand and I will recognize you. No one, let’s move on.
- Multi-Function School Activity Bus – P. Dillon – we bought two vans and are excited about them. There is one question in this that is highlighted in yellow on page 4. I would like your collective feedback. We have a choice between a van (our multi-function school activity bus) . It is a van, somebody could drive it with the drivers licence we all hold or we could require people to hold a 7D license which is slightly more complex and you need to pass an additional test. My recommendation would be to let our own people drive it with just a regular license but I wanted to ask the committee for their feedback on it. This is a procedural document that is why it didn’t go to policy and actually Sharon did a very nice job of putting it together. That was one question I would like the committee to weigh in on. People to use this would be athletic coaches, activity groups, small athletic teams like the golf team, the quiz team, internships. Bannon – this isn’t new to us. We have done this in the past. We just ran out of vans. P. Dillon – we ran our vans into the ground. This year we purchased two new vans. We used the opportunity with the new vans to finetune and refine our procedures. It’s like when you rent a car, the exterior damage chart with little pictures of the car and you could circle where you dinged a fender, etc. The feedback I want is are we ok with a regular driver’s license or do we want to hold people to a higher standard and get the 7D license. S. Bannon – who will be in charge of this? R. Dohoney – I’m going to be honest, your question, I assumed it was just about employees and what kind of license they have. I wasn’t about to contemplate that others could drive them. I am in favor of that. Right now, that was news to me. S. Stephen – my motion is assuming these are going to be school district employees. P. Dillon – that is my assumption to. C. Sprague – it can also be coaches, advisors, etc. P. Dillon – they are all district employees. S. Bannon – I would like it to be the high school mainly. Is it the principals mainly that are in charge of signing out this van or the athletic director? S. Harrison – the athletic co-curricular director is in charge of that and he will be putting up a Google calendar so people can schedule use of it. He is also going to be responsible for receiving the keys back, for receiving both the pre and post trip forms back. One of the things we had trouble with last time with our last van was keeping it clean, keeping it used, full of gas and that is one of the things the procedural document is trying to overcome is trying to make sure we have a strong and long life for this. It will be the athletic director. K. Farina – there is a process that Karl and I have discussed that I would be giving approval before it goes to him for actual scheduling so that I can make sure the people who are signing up to use it have done the things they are supposed to do before it goes to Karl. S. Harrison – that is great Kristi. P. Dillon – part of this whole process is people registering in advance; you don’t decide the day of the thing that you want to take the van out. There is a copy of your driver’s license on file and a whole process around that. B. Fields – instead of just saying you want to have people who will be using the van have a motor vehicle license, could we also offer an incentive to get the next higher up with Berkshire Hills picking up the cost of that? I think it is important due to this incident that happened with School Center, Inc. about the license you need. I understand where Paul Gibbons is coming from. I would like to see by reaching out to the people using the vans, coaches, internships people, would it be possible for the district to say we will allow you to drive it with your driver’s license but we encourage you and we will pick up the cost for you to get the next step. S. Stephen – Bill, I think you are making this way more complicated than it needs to be. R. Dohoney – I agree with the sentiment so if you want to make a motion for that Bill afterward. MOTION TO ALLOW PEOPLE WITH A REGULAR DRIVER’S LICENSE TO DRIVE THE SMALL VANS WHEREVER THEY NEED TO GO S. STEPHEN SECONDED: J. ST. PETER ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS S. Harrison – I just want to add, the cost was $50, it might be between $50 and $75 per person now. It is a written test. S. Stephen – we have no idea what this costs, right? S. Harrison – between $50 and $75 per person. P. Dillon – I believe and maybe I am reading this wrong; Sharon could it be as low as $15 but it is done yearly? S. Harrison – when I looked it was $50. B. Fields – a couple of years ago before I was teaching we had to do a CORI and you had to get fingerprinted and teachers had to pay for it. I can’t tell you how perturbed that the district didn’t pick up that cost. S. Bannon – that was in the contract by the way. B. Fields – that is why I am offering this. S. Bannon – if someone is driving, are we checking their license? P. Dillon – they can’t do it until they register with us that they are somebody who will be driving. S. Bannon – we also have to check that there are no DUIs, etc. P. Dillon – I think the challenge is the timeliness of reporting. I could check your license today and you could get a DUI tomorrow and I won’t know about it. R. Dohoney – you are looking for driver history. S. Bannon – exactly. P. Dillon – I understand that. That would most likely come up on a CORI check. MOTION THAT THE BHRSD ENCOURAGE PEOPLE WHO USE THE VAN TO GET THE NEXT STEP LICENSE 7D AND HAVE THE DISTRICT PICK UP THE COST OF SAID LICENSE B. FIELDS SECONDED: R. DOHONEY ACCEPTED: 9 to 1
- Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) Letter – P. Dillon – we got this letter on April 14th, it was dated April 13th, unfortunately the MSBA has not approved our project to move forward. Apparently there were more high need districts, 52, and we didn’t make the cut. I like to think that we were close to making the cut but there is no list or waitlist that is publicly available. The one upside to this and I have to be an optimist in the context of my work, is that if and when we reapply, the turnaround could be as quick as five to six months because they hope to approve the next round of this in November or December. That would be the fastest turnaround in the history of the MSBA. I am frustrated that they didn’t approve us. I really believe our ducks are in a row and I made this case a hundred times to you and them and everybody but everything to date that we could do to get on the list, I think we have done. Both the conditions of the building and the high level of community support warrant us moving forward. I think there are two questions. One is I would like to bring to our next meeting a revised or updated SOI for your potential approval and submission. At a meeting maybe six months ago, maybe a little longer than that, some folks discussed the possibility of a two-track approach of doing the SOI again with the MSBA but also having a proposal to move forward if they chose not to support us again. The first part is relatively easy. I’ll bring you an updated revised SOI and we will submit it. The second one is slightly more complex and either Richard or Jason talked to me the most about it, one of you might want to frame the second track. Dohoney – we had a joint meeting of the buildings and grounds and the finance committee in January of 2019 when we started this conversation and at that point I was initially pushing forward trying to build our own process and the sentiment at that point was we were behind the eight ball for the 2019 town meetings and we were on the verge of submitting the SOI anyway so we said wait and obviously the wrong decision. We keep getting in this cycle where we wait for the SOI and then by the time we get notified of the denial of our SOI it is too late to get on a track so we wait for another SOI and I just can’t go along with that anymore. I applaud Peter’s optimism but the definition of insanity is having me do the same thing over and over again with the same result. I may or may not support an SOI next week but a requirement of my support for that would be that we are moving forward with building our own projects and getting ready to start a design phase in the first half of 2021 and putting the financing in place and doing all that work. It is nice that we are promised a quick turnaround in November but November or December still puts us behind the eight ball. I am definitely in the two-track column. New students show up every September and they keep rolling by and we are not doing them justice. B. Fields – I want to echo what Rich has said. If it is a two-track or it has anything to do with the MSBA, I am going to vote no. I feel we should start now to do this. We are not doing justice to the current students. I think I paraphrased that correctly. We are not just waiting. I think we need to start this summer by informing the finance committees of the three towns that this is what we are going to do. This regional school district has fiddled too long. What Rich has said is so true. There is no guarantee on the letter that the time frame is going to change. I know that is what you hear normally but that is not what I am reading here. I am reading the things we got for the last three years. I am at my wits end with this. I want to get rid of the MSBA and tell the towns this is what we are doing. We are going to be our own boss on this because we can deal with what we want and not what the MSBA wants us to do. P. Dillon – I want to flag one thing. If we go the second route, Steve and I might come to you for some additional support because I don’t know if we have the capacity in addition to all the stuff we are doing to manage a DIY project. We have to get an owner’s project designer, manager, something. R. Dohoney – we are going to have to do that either way. S. Bannon – I disagree with Bill. I think we have to give the MSBA one more shot because of dollars and cents. Either way we have to do it. If we get turned down this year, we contine with the project. R. Dohoney – We should have shovels in the ground this time next year. S. Bannon – if we want to over the summer start forming a building committee for MSBA guidelines so that if they say yes, we have a committee that needs a guideline. If they say no, we have a building committee. If we want to hire a project manager over the summer, we do that. If the project manager is licensed to do work with the MSBA, great. We could go on the second track immediately. It is seamless rather than waiting six more months. I think the two tier approach is fine. I am not willing to go with Bill’s approach because there are at least 30 million reasons it could make a difference. I think we have to give it one more shot and hopefully they will see it our way. S. Stephen – we need to do this two-pronged. There is no question about it. I think MSBA is sending a clear and loud message and has been for three years. We need to go at this in both directions and we need a project manager and if we need to hire a project manager then we need to start getting that in motion. The longer we sit around and do nothing, the worse it is for everyone. Our high school is successful, despite itself. It is not successful for a lot of people. It is successful for the people who are successful. That building is a disaster. If anybody wants to say otherwise, that’s just crazy. This is a building that is 70 years old. How many people live in a 60 or 70 year old building that hasn’t been renovated or hasn’t been fixed up, hasn’t had anything done to it. The windows….this is craziness. We need to get this building fixed. R. Dohoney – I know we are not voting on anything tonight. S. Bannon – we could. R. Dohoney – we could but clearly the administration is going to put together another SOI to be voted on which is a singular vote. I would like to have a more flushed out, build on our own proposal. It could just be a turn sheet but really what we are going to vote on that separately. My preference would be first. I don’t know what that looks like and it will affect my vote. S. Bannon – what I want to see is a single track to the MSBA decision and then if the MSBA says yes, then this is where we are going. If the MSBA said no, this is where we are going. We shouldn’t be doing two things at the beginning. We can continue forming the building committee; we can continue getting a project manager until the MSBA’s decision. Then we have to follow their rules. R. Dohoney – I think we may need a construction project manager. I think we are understaffed in terms of administration to deal with this. We need expanded administrative staff. I don’t want it to be loose. We have to be prepared. Sharon might need as much help as Steve and Peter on this in regard to what the finances on this will look like. I don’t know if we need to go to the town for approval. We might be able to do that with our own capital budget for next year. That all has to be flushed out. If we are going to the member towns for that approval, that is a boatload of work for Sharon. Some of the bullet points I would like to see on something we could vote on…..S. Bannon – Sharon, when are the elementary and middle school debt payments over with? S. Harrison – FY24. S. Bannon – So we will not stop paying whether this is approved or not until after that. That is a positive. R. Dohoney – no. We are starting FY22…if we approve at next year’s town meetings, we will draw that down in 23. S. Bannon – my concern is we will want to make sure we have good communication with the towns. We don’t want them to spend the money somewhere else. B. Fields – we should talk to the finance committees right away. We need to tell them this is what the district is planning on doing. S. Stephen – if you go the finance committees right now you are going to have towns pull out of the district. S. Bannon – I agree with Sean. P. Dillon – I would like the committee to understand the depth of the political implications around this and it would be much easier to go back to the MSBA with a unanimous vote supporting it. “We would like to be a part of this; please help us do it” rather than to go with a split vote or multiple contradictory votes. Though I support the notion that if they deny again we figure out a way to do it on our own. I want you all to think about how you present your thinking because it will get to the MSBA and I think it should be coherent and deliberate. S. Bannon – I agree. If we go it alone, it has a huge financial impact. B. Fields – I understand that. S. Stephen – can you walk down the street and chew gum? Yes we can. We can do this at the same time. C. Sprague – is there a way we don’t have to be exclusive and support it as a committee but still be marching down an alternative scenario? S. Bannon – I think that is what Peter suggested. What he is not suggesting is that we take a 6:4 vote to submit a SOI because that will be the death nail of the SOI. R. Dohoney – we have had unanimous votes denied; split votes denied. S. Bannon – I don’t know if we have had split votes denied. One of the concerns the MSBA still has is they have a very long memory and the fact that we had two no votes. R. Dohoney – I don’t think this elephant is ever going to forget. That is the problem. S. Bannon – you could be right. I am not denying that. S. Stephen – it certainly is not a mystery when I offer you money twice and you don’t take it twice why and I am going to offer it a third time. P. Dillon – but the circumstances have changed so much which is what I keep trying to explain. B. Fields – we heard that at the Next Steps Committee two years ago. We could use the Next Steps in this communication with the towns. We went to every town finance committee and explained to them and they all said they understand the problem. It’s not like they don’t know this is happening. One of the candidates for selectman in Great Barrington brought it up at a meeting about a stabilization fund. She said, we are going to need money for the high school. S. Bannon – she didn’t say we are going to need money for the high school to go it alone. She said we are going to need money for a high school which is a true statement. R. Dohoney – The next meeting is on the 20th. Peter is definitely going to have an SOI for us to vote on one way or the other, is that the plan? P. Dillon – yes. R. Dohoney – is there an appetite for a joint finance/buildings & grounds committee meeting next week sometime to bat around ideas on this? J. St. Peter – Yes, we were going to meet anyway to discuss multiple tracks and reassess. This would fall right into that. R. Dohoney – let’s plan on the 13th and Peter can confirm with everybody tomorrow. J. St. Peter – the MSBA said they had 71 SOIs from 51 school districts. Do we know how many they gave out out of those 71? Do they publish that? R. Dohoney – I think since January they have done 6. I just try to follow the meeting minutes which are really hard to follow. J. St Peter – to me it looked like 10 or 11. I wonder if I am missing more? I wonder if there are multiple rounds. R. Dohoney – it is really hard to decipher. We will get a report for what they did in 2019. It is very opaque. B. Daley (?) – I have been listening to this for eight years now, on both sides of this whole debate. Every time I hear that there is a vote coming up, especially the last two, I have been like whatever; it’s not going to happen. I have been in contact with both Rich and Jason with my revised feelings on this. Rich, I really do want to commend you for what you said tonight and going about this in a way that is sensible moving forward toward actually getting a project done because it really is all about the kids. It really is all about the students. As anybody that knows me as far as municipal finances go, I don’t really want to spend a penny on anything but there comes a time when you absolutely have to. Moving forward I think it is imperative…we can’t sit here and say this could happen or that could happen. We have to at some point, and when I say we, I mean the whole community, have to start moving towards getting a project done there. With that said, I don’t think I should completely blow off the SOI so I like the idea of what Steve and Peter were talking about and being very careful with that. Continuing down the path that satisfies both requirements is the best. Get a project manager on board, do whatever you might need to if there is some sort of building committee you might need for the MSBA and if that doesn’t go through in six months then you can dovetail into doing it on your own. I am very pleased by the discussion tonight so I commend all of you and I know it is never an easy decision. I am not going to just throw a number out there because I don’t’ think it is fair to but being in the construction industry and seeing what this pandemic has done to building materials, in 2013, that project was somewhere around $56 million. You can probably understand that building materials alone have doubled in the last year. You can imagine what the price of this project may be now. The interesting thing about that is if we were able to do this on our own on, we might be able to do it differently where we don’t have so many requirements that the MSBA has too. I do appreciate you keeping this moving forward. At some point it is time to crap or get off the pot and it is time. You have to keep going here. P. Dillon – I looked at the MSBA site and they invited 15 people to their eligibility period; three for the feasibility study, 4 for schematic design, 3 to scope of budget and a bunch to audit but that is on the backend of the project. The pool that I think we would have been in for eligibility was 15. S. Bannon – so that is less than 20% if my math is correct.
- Sub-Committee Reports:
- Policy Sub Committee – N/A
- Building and Grounds Sub Committee – N/A
- Superintendent’s Evaluation Sub Committee – N/A
- Technology Sub Committee – N/A
- Finance Sub Committee – N/A
- District Consolidation & Sharing Sub-Committee – N/A
- Personnel Report: Dillon – it is very much hiring season and some really good news about hires. Janie Downer is joining us as a biology teacher at the high school; Madeline Albano and Cora Beckham will be at the elementary school. Vonda Almstead is our accounts payable technician; Iona Smith is the district wellness coordinator and Anne D’Aniello is moving from two half time positions at MMRHS to a full time special education position. Keith Wright, a middle school science teacher, is moving to MMRHS. K. Farina – last year Anne was in the social studies department at .8; this year she was a full time teacher but splitting half time social studies and half time special education. After a discussion with Peter and the school committee’s approval on the plan we proposed for 9th grade, we have moved to post the social studies position as a 1.0 full time position that will have the ability to make the class sizes small in 9th grade and provide the team the time they need to do the work to make the plan we proposed successful.
- Certified Appointment(s)
- Non-Certified Appointment(s)
- Extra-Curricular Appointment(s)
- Business Operation
- Education News
- Old Business
- New Business – P. Dillon – sadly the other day, we had another car accident outside of the high school. Students were driving, exiting south onto Route 7, going toward Great Barrington. This happens occasionally and they are usually minor accidents. Thankfully everybody is ok. They were transported to Fairview and checked out. The last time this happened was almost five years to the date. At that point and several times we have reached out and met with the DOT previously with Chief Walsh and now with the current chief Paul Storti, with Smitty, Steve Bannon and Steve Soule and I met several times with them and the previous town manager. The ask was for a second light and the response that they have shared is that the data doesn’t justify a second light and in some cases a second light can actually create a more dangerous situation. I am not going to argue the merits of any of those arguments. A couple of nice things have happened since the 2016 accident: flashing lights with the speed indicators were installed on both sides of Route 7 indicating a 35 mph instead of the 50 mph and Route 7 is marked in large white lettering that says school area. That is the upside. Great Barrington did that with the advice and support of the DOT. What I imagine will happen because there was another accident is people will voice their concerns about this and we will likely have another meeting with the DOT or several more meetings. Their recommended solution is that we build an internal driveway that lands somewhere on Monument Valley Road and then all traffic exits there with that light. Fields – a lot this is driver experience. R. Dohoney – this is not a BHRSD problem. It certainly is not a Peter Dillon problem. It is a Town of Great Barrington problem and a Mass highway problem. We are in charge of educating these kids and that is hard enough. They are in charge of keeping our roads safe. That is where all this energy should go. S. Bannon – the Town of Great Barrington can write a letter which they have done, the Town Manager can meet with the DOT and the DOT sends a letter out that it is not a dangerous intersection and we are not putting a light there. So far we haven’t been able to crack this problem since I have been on this committee. Somehow we got the light at the middle and elementary school which was unplanned when that building was built. We got that politically but the second one, the DOT has not been very willing to talk about. P. Dillon – if you want to send emails, send them to me and I will forward them to the appropriate people. R. Dohoney – I think it is better to encourage people to do that. Everytime there is a minor accident at an intersection in Lenox, MassDOT fixes the problem right away. I have been commuting from Great Barrington to Pittsfield for 15-20 years and I can count at least three intersections that have been fixed because of dangerousness. I don’t know of one in Great Barrington. The people need to rise up. B. Fields – what you don’t want it to lead to is what started this whole thing in 1983 which there was a double fatality after a football game right at that spot. That is why the rule change occurred, not the flashing lights but that whole thing was a result of a double fatality with many cars coming out. I agree with Rich and it is sad to say but that is the only way that something gets done if you have a thing like that happen in Lenox. S. Bannon – people are going to get upset again which I can relate to. Email or write to the DOT. The DOT has the ultimate authority here. They are a political body and they should listen to their constituents. They are not elected but. R. Dohoney – I would like to sign a letter at the next meeting to send to them. It can’t hurt. P. Dillon – I would also reach out to our elected officials, our state rep and our state senator. S. Bannon – we have done that before, why not do it again. We have met with them the last two years. P. Dillon – I am happy that no one was hurt badly. Please let’s work with our young people to be extra careful and patient. It is better to be a couple of minutes late and get out of that intersection safely than to try to squeeze into oncoming traffic and get into an accident. I will also build into my memo that the flashing light be working on early release days. R. Dohoney – did it happen on a Wednesday? P. Dillon – no it did not. R. Dohoney – early release spans an hour and a half right now. C. Sprague – it should be flashing all the time. S. Bannon – I think it might be flashing all the time. R. Dohoney – I think they should put a regular stop light there. It could be a stop light in the morning and afternoon and a blinking light the rest of the time. S. Bannon – we did ask that.
- Public Comment – S. Boyd – I live in West Stockbridge, I literally just walked in so I apologize. I may be way out of order here but have you talked about the vote with regard to reapplying for school funding. Bannon – yes, we have. R. Dohoney – we are going to vote at our next meeting. S. Bannon – we had a discussion but we are going to vote at the next meeting. S. Boyd – ok, thank you.
- Written Communication
MOTION TO ADJOURN – ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS
Meeting Adjourned at 8:02pm
Christine M. Kelly, Recorder
Christine M. Kelly, Recorder
School Committee Secretary