|Williams College Seeking Input as It Forms Strategic Plan|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff |
01:05AM / Tuesday, September 10, 2019
|Williams College President Maud S. Mandel Monday addresses the Select Board about the college's strategic plan. |
Assessor Chris Lamarre talks about the options available to the Select Board at its annual tax classification hearing. The board stayed with a single rate.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The top-ranked liberal arts college in the country wants your advice.
Williams College President Maud S. Mandel was in front of the Select Board on Monday to discuss the school's strategic planning process, which includes soliciting input from a broadly defined group of stakeholders that includes students, alumni, faculty, staff and members of the community Williams calls home.
That includes not just Williamstown, but also North Adams, Lanesborough, Pownal, Vt., and beyond, Mandel and Williams Vice President James Kolesar told the board.
"If someone has a grand idea for the college's engagement in the region, we're happy to hear that," Kolesar said. "But most of what we'll hear are small to medium-sized ideas, and that's OK, too."
Kolesar is heading up one of eight working groups that are looking at various aspects of what Mandel foresees as a 10- to 15-year plan for the institution.
Those groups include panels focused on: curriculum; out-of-classroom learning (extra-curricular and co-curricular activities); the built environment (infrastructure); faculty and staff development; sustainability; diversity, equity and inclusion; governance; and "Williams in the World," the group headed by Kolesar.
"The overarching goal is not to fix something that's broken at Williams," Mandel said. "It's about thinking carefully about what our mission is and how at this historical moment we can fulfill it best."
And each of the working groups is tasked with looking at its subject area with an eye toward the core components of sustainability, diversity/equity/inclusion and transparency, Mandel said.
She said the college always has thought strategically, but this is the first time it has engaged in a formal planning process of this scale. It is a two-year process with the goal of completing a written report that will be available on the college's website in June 2020, Mandel said.
"In a way, the next five months are the most intense part of the process as we get feedback," she said.
Each of the working groups will solicit feedback from the stakeholders as appropriate, but Mandel said that anyone with an idea for the college need not wait to be asked. The college's website
offers a portal to collect input that will be shared with the appropriate working group.
"It doesn't mean we'll follow every suggestion, but it's important for us to engage," she said.
In addition, Kolesar said the school is working on plans for public forums, including one at the Williamstown Youth Center, that will be publicized to the community.
Also on Monday, the Select Board was engaged by some of the community members who are concerned about plans to install an artificial turf field at Mount Greylock Regional School.
The district put the project out to bid this summer, and the bidding period, which was to have concluded this week, has been extended to Sept. 20 at the request of the School Committee's Phase II Subcommittee, which developed plans to address deficiencies in the athletic fields at the middle-high school.
Several residents who have addressed the School Committee in person or online attended Monday's meeting, though only one, Stephanie Boyd, addressed the Select Board.
Boyd recapped some of the concerns that previously have been raised to the School Committee.
She suggested that the school district should hit the pause button on the project and listen to community members about the plan to install a product that has too many unknowns.
"There have been a number of tests trying to evaluate the impact on [athletes'] health," Boyd said. "All the studies don't look at all the chemicals [in the fields], the combinations of chemicals, the impact on kids with underlying medical conditions. There's lots of data missing, and all the studies you read note that.
"As a community, we have to decide if we want to take that risk. Whether it's minimal or great, I can't say."
Monday's meeting began with a joint meeting of the Select Board and Prudential Committee, which oversees the Williamstown Fire Department.
Both panels needed to make an annual decision on whether to split the town's tax rate or implement any other exemptions that are available under Massachusetts General Law.
As usual, the twin tax classification hearings followed the advice of the Board of Assessors and went with a unified tax rate that assesses residential and commercial properties at the same rate without any exemptions.
The biggest news from this year's hearing came when first-year Assesor Chris Lamarre announced that, for the first time, the combined value of the town's taxable property exceeds $1 billion.
The tax levy of $17.95 million for fiscal 2020 will be spread over personal and property values that totaled $1.02 billion, yielding a tax rate of $17.60, a decrease of 45 cents from the FY19 rate of $18.05 per $1,000 of assessed value.
Lamarre reported the town saw $15.2 million in new growth — some of which is attributable to the newly opened Williams Inn and the soon-to-open Fairfield Inn on Main Street. That new growth adds an additional $274,484 in tax dollars to the town's coffers.
As for residential taxes, the median value of a home in town rose from $279,300 in FY19 to $295,200 in FY20. That means that even though the tax rate fell, the tax bill for a home with the median value is going up, from $5,041 to $5,196 — an increase of $155, or 3.1 percent.