Town to vote on proposition 2.5, CPR approves new daycare

With a fiscal crisis threatening the future of Williamstown’s local schools, the community is scrambling to find solutions. The loudest proposal at this time is to override Proposition 2 ½, which will be voted upon in the upcoming May 13 election.

Due to a $3 billion budget deficit, the state of Massachusetts cut its aid to towns across the state in an attempt to balance next year’s budget. The reductions in spending will affect the Williamstown municipality, the town elementary school and Mount Greylock High School.

Examples of Town reductions include: $393,000 in lottery aid, $179,638 in transportation funds for the high school, $100,000 in support for special education costs and $75,000 in state grants. Figures are subject to change since the state has not finalized the budget.

As an institution of education, a community member and an employer of local residents, the College has a direct interest in the town and in particular the area schools.

“The College is currently thinking and talking with a variety of people about what might be an appropriate way to participate in what seems to be a coming together of the community to address both short-term and long-term budget issues for the town,” said Helen Ouellette, vice president of administration and treasurer.

The College as a non-profit institution legally cannot hold an opinion on the override of Proposition 2 ½, which proposes to supersede the present law prohibiting the town from raising property taxes more than 2.5 percent.

In order to cover the cuts in state funding, the town would raise the taxes by 6.4 percent. The 84-cent tax increase per $100,000 would increase local revenues by $595,266. The median house in Williamstown, costing just under $200,000, would pay an extra $168 in property taxes.

“As the largest taxpayer in town, the college has the most dollars at stake when taxes rise. On the other hand, the health of the community’s infrastructure, especially its schools, is important to the health of the College,” Ouellette said.

The Town’s situation is coupled with growing costs of present services. The cost of town employees for next year has increased in order to pay for higher healthcare expenses, which have jumped $100,000 for just the elementary school staff. Special education costs at the high school for the upcoming year have increased by $400,000.

The Town already has figured these cost hikes into the budget, covering the increases with various cuts including staffing, supplies, and transportation reductions at the area schools.

“If the proposition (to override Proposition 2 ½) fails, my concern is what is the impact on the quality of programs we can offer, in particular for education,” said Williamstown selectman John Madden.

If overriding Proposition 2 ½ does fail and the town cannot find any other source of revenue, the Town will be forced to cut $200,000 each from the municipality budget, the elementary school budget and the high school budget. This is in addition to the cuts alluded to before and already accounted for in next year’s budget.

“First, our children deserve a good education, and without an increase in property taxes, we won’t be able to provide one. In other words, it is the right and moral thing to do,” said Ralph Bradburd, professor of economics at the College and local resident who is strongly in support of the property tax increase. “Second, even property owners who don’t have an ethical bone in their bodies and who are totally self-interested should vote to raise property taxes to maintain the quality of our schools because the high property values in Williamstown are dependent upon the quality of the schools in this town.”

Bradburd continued with a message for students at the College. He said, “Students who care about Williamstown or who care about ensuring the future quality of the faculty and staff of Williams College should register to vote in Williamstown right away and should be sure to vote for the override in the vote on May 13. If we don’t have good schools we will not be able to attract good faculty and staff, and if we don’t have good faculty and staff, the Williams of the future will be a lesser place.”

After the election on May 13th when residents will vote whether to override Proposition 2 ½, the Town will have to pass a finalized budget at the town meeting on May 20.

“The health of the town and the health of the College are closely bound together. The College has a stake in the health of the schools especially as a community focused on education,” said Jim Kolesar, director of public affairs.

In addition to the College’s concern about education on the elementary and secondary levels, the College also faced with the need for a new daycare facility for faculty and staff children.

“In order for Williams to be competitive, it needs good daycare and it (the present center) does not live up to expectations,” said Professor Colin Adams, chair of the Committee on Priorities and Resources (CPR).

Two years ago the CPR formed an ad hoc committee to begin research on the matter. Last year, the committee forwarded its their recommendation for a completely new building to the CPR.

The project is in its beginning stages. From figures given by the firm DW Arthur and Associates, the CPR estimates that the new building will cost an estimated $3.5 million, a figure near the estimated price of just renovating the building.

The CPR has made its recommendation to the senior staff and has their support. A building committee has been established and will research possible sites, architects and other details of the project. A proposal has yet to be taken to the Board of Trustees.

Additionally, the CPR has determined that the new daycare facility must be larger than the current center.

Currently, while the College provides the building and maintenance for the daycare center, a non-profit organization, Childcare Berkshire, actually runs the programs. In order to cover costs, the organization opens up empty spaces in enrollment to the community. At the moment, two-thirds of the enrolled students are faculty and staff students and the remaining third are children of community members.

Although a faculty or staff member may be in need of daycare, if the center is filled, then the faculty or staff’s child will be placed on a waiting list. Presently, only 51 students six weeks old to five years old and 26 school age children can be accommodated. If the college plans to increase faculty and staff, the demand for enrollment space may increase.

The daycare center further lacks physical space for the students enrolled at this time. The program is split between two buildings. After-school children use rooms in St. John’s church, which is next door to the actual daycare facility.

The CPR has found that it would be easier to run a successful program if all of the staff and children are in one building. On rainy and cold days, there is not adequate space for forms of indoor play.

Another complaint about the facility is the poor parking and drop-off and pick-up driveway. Again, space is the issue. Park Street provides only limited space for parking and even less space for maneuvering during pick-up time.

The center further lacks a lobby near the entrance and administrative offices reside in the basement of the building. The CPR believes that the center could run more smoothly if administration offices could be moved near the front of the building and if space could be provided for waiting parents.

In addition, staff members have requested more storage space and a swing room, which would be open to different age groups and would allow students to move about more during the day.

The present daycare facility located at 51 Park Street was last renovated in 1999.