The Eagle provides this update on the dire (?) financial situation facing Mount Greylock Regional High School.

A subcommittee studying the long-term financial outlook for Mount Greylock Regional High School says that the school has done the best job it could for next year’s budget in the face of higher costs and slumping revenue, but more work must be done.

“Despite the effective current effort, it is clear to the subcommittee that the school has not yet attained a financial model that is sustainable into the foreseeable future,” the report’s summary reads.

The interim report was presented to the School Committee last week, with more complete recommendations expected at the end of the school year. The group has nine members from Williamstown and Lanesborough and has met every other week since last July.

“I give the school credit for doing this,” said subcommittee Chairman James Kolesar, “because few districts are willing to focus so closely on the challenges ahead.”

The group includes Superintendent William Travis, School Committee member David Archibald and teacher Drew Gibson, but the remaining six members have never worked on the school budget process. Kolesar said that was by design to ensure they were approaching it from a fresh perspective.

Rest below. Comments:

1) Kolesar is a good guy and it is nice to see college faculty and administrators deeply involved in town issues. Previous commentary on MGRHS financing here.

2) The reporter, Chris Marcisz, ought to give me a call on this story. I give good quote. The central issue, discussed here, is that the teacher’s union at MGRHS is too powerful and is able to force excessively high salary and benefit levels on the school. The voters of Williamstown are sick of this and so try to limit things by keeping the budget low. The school board can’t/won’t make sensible adjustments (no health care once you retire from teaching) and so is left cutting language programs and sports funding.

3) Why isn’t a copy of the interim report available on-line? It ought to be.

4) “Fresh perspective” is sometimes code for “willing to take on the teacher’s union.” Time will tell.

The report comes as the School Committee has had to grapple with considerable difficulty, including the possibility of eliminating the French language program and of reducing the school adjustment counselor’s hours by half.

The group has found that the school has operated under heavy financial constraints in recent years, with a drop in state revenue of about $500,000 since the 2002 school year and with modest increases from the district’s member towns, while expenses — particularly for health care — have risen dramatically.

The school has coped with the straightened circumstances through staff cuts, a Proposition 2 1/2 tax override in Williamstown in 2003, substantial gifts from Williams College and “the drawing down of the school’s ‘rainy day’ fund to dangerously low levels.”

And despite some criticism in the community that the school spends too much, the subcommittee found that, compared with every other Grade 7 through 12 regional school district in Massachusetts, Mount Greylock’s “overall spending is almost exactly what would be expected given its number of students.”

Kolesar said the most surprising information the group found were projections about student enrollment in the future. By counting the number of students in the feeder elementary schools in Williamstown, Lanesborough and Hancock, the eligible student population will drop from 670 this year to 525 by 2015.

“There is a cyclical aspect to this because of the succession of baby boom and baby bust generation and their offspring, so the number is likely to rise again at some point,” the report reads.

Although the group “applauds the degree of financial scrutiny and creativity brought to the recent budget-setting process” for 2007-08, there is much work to be done.

“Attaining financial sustainability will require not only continued scrutiny of costs and financial management and modeling, but also an entrepreneurial approach by all those associated with the school to pursuing new sources of revenues,” the report reads.

Among the recommendations it includes are forming an alumni society and developing summer programs and expertise in subject matters such as teaching students with autism that schools in other districts could use.

Kolesar said the group hopes to have a more complete report by the end of the school year. It will include more comparative data with other districts and a survey of local parents who have sent their children to other schools. It also will include a more detailed look at the school’s fixed costs.

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