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Mount Greylock Considering Universal Pre-Kindergarten
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
06:35AM / Saturday, October 12, 2019
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Mount Greylock Regional School Committee Chairwoman Regina DiLego, left, and Superintendent Kimberley Grady follow public comment at the start of Tuesday's meeting.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School District may take a look at transitioning to universal pre-kindergarten as soon as the current academic year.
At last Tuesday's School Committee meeting, Superintendent Kimberley Grady broached the subject of removing the fees the district currently charges for programs at Williamstown Elementary School and Lanesborough Elementary School.
The topic is trending across the commonwealth, and the need is growing in the district, Grady said.
At the state level, the Massachusetts Association of School Committees is voting on a resolution that the group, "file or support legislation that will provide a sufficient appropriation for universal pre-K in Massachusetts and will achieve the actions necessary to provide access to good, quality universal pre-K for all children in Massachusetts."
Locally, Grady said she sees concerning trends of declining pre-kindergarten enrollment and assessment scores among incoming kindergarteners that indicate greater need.
And, in a Friday interview, she explained that the benefit of universal pre-K would outweigh the potential of lost revenue from doing away with the district's current fees.
"Many years ago, we made a change [to the pre-K program] that said if families met the requirements for free or reduced lunch, there'd be a sliding scale," Grady said. "Of 13 families in Lanesborough right now, only two pay. So what is the revenue? $18 a day for 175 days for two kids."
Of course, the hope is that by making pre-kindergarten universal, the district would see an increase in enrollment, but Grady said there would be budgetary offsets.
"If we can bring 45 more kids into the school district, that's 45 more kids I can count for regional reimbursement and transportation reimbursement," she said. "There wouldn't be a loss."
Grady said a switch to universal pre-K would require alterations in the district's policy.
"When I was talking with [district counsel] Adam Dupere, he said: If you're going to offer it free for everyone, you'll get families that will hold up a slot and only come one or two days a week," Grady said. "I'm going to talk to other superintendents and see how we can address that so it's not a place you can bring your child only one or two days a week. [Sporadic] attendance is not going to yield the results we want."
Education is not compulsory until first grade in Massachusetts.
Grady said if the universal pre-K switch can't happen this year, it will be one of her priorities for the 2020-21 school year.
In other business at Tuesday's marathon meeting, the committee approved an expenditure of up to $125,000 from the Williams Elementary School building endowment to address the heating system, including a needed replacement of the glycol that runs through the pipes at the elementary school.
The district's director of buildings and grounds told the committee that the liquid was bad and that failure to replace it before turning up the heat this fall could result in "dire consequences," including school closures.
Grady said that while there are no leaks in the system now and no current safety risks, the freezing point of the current glycol in the pipes was up to minus-1 degree.
A similar request was made on Tuesday to the Board of Selectmen in Lanesborough, which authorized an emergency request to replace the glycol at Lanesborough Elementary School, where the liquid's freeze point was up to 10-above, Grady said.
Buildings and Grounds Director Tim Sears indicated that deferred maintenance was an issue at the elementary schools.
"When you have a glycol system, typically at about three years, you put in an additive that will buy you another five years," he said. "At that point, you can do another additive. If those steps are skipped, your glycol is bad after a few years.
"You can get 15 years out of it if it's treated properly. I don't believe this was. It's in really bad shape. Other than that, it's just routine and part of our long-term maintenance plan. … It will be coming up here at Mount Greylock in about a year and a half. It's something that's so expensive not to take care of. It just makes good sense."
The emergency work at both elementary schools was scheduled to be completed over the four-day extended weekend for students created by Monday's Indigenous Peoples/Columbus Day holiday and a districtwide professional development day for faculty on Friday.
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