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In The Arena

In the Arena: Attention-getting idea

Sometimes, it takes a seemingly outlandish idea to bring focus to a serious issue.

That’s exactly what Mohawk Trail Regional School Superintendent Michael Buonoconti did when he proposed that the district examine the possibility of going to a four-day school week in an effort to reduce operating expenses.

“We are putting together the budget next year, and we’re always looking for innovative ways to improve education and save money at the same time,” Buonoconti said.

Hence the four-day proposal that Buonoconti says grew out of a series of conversations with the district officials. And, out of the box though it may be, Buonoconti admits that there are questions as to its feasibility, given current state educational standards.

“The commonwealth mandates that students spend 990 hours in the classroom at the secondary level, 900 at the primary level,” Buonoconti said. “A four-day week can meet that requirement by adding an additional 90 minutes to the end of each school day.”

Buonoconti said meeting the mandated 180-day school year in a four-day week is another matter entirely.

“You couldn’t meet the time and learning requirements under the current system, which is why it would require either special state legislation or special permission from the Commissioner of Education to move forward,” Buonoconti said.

That may not be the toughest nut to crack, though, because even if he gets the state to buy in, Buonoconti will have to sell the idea to the district’s parents, who may not view this as quite the “innovation” he does.

“We haven’t even begun to have those conversations yet, but we will, because these are the people who will be most affected by this,” Buonoconti said, adding that the fifth day could provide an opportunity for the district to offer new enrichment programs that create a more complete educational program than what is currently being offered.

“This is not going to be an overnight proposition,” he added. “We have a lot to do before a proposal even comes forward.”

So far, all Buonoconti’s been empowered to do is to study the idea, but even if it doesn’t get beyond the concept stage, he created a bit of a firestorm just by introducing the idea — which was part of the plan all along.

“I want is to get the focus on what rural districts are facing,” Buonoconti said. “At the absolutely least, it brings back the issue of funding for regional school transportation, which doesn’t always get discussed because regional districts come from typically smaller population areas, and we don’t have quite as much clout on Beacon Hill.”

“This hopefully gets it some attention.”

I think it already has.

Voter decisions

After a couple of election cycles absolutely devoid of races, it looks like the voters of Greenfield may have some decisions to make this year — ones that finally begin to answer the question of who really controls this town, amongst the electorate and politically.

Greenfield Town Council President Mark Wisnewski announced that he will run for re-election, setting up a showdown with former councilor Isaac Mass, who has taken out papers to run for that seat. And it was also revealed that Conservation Commission member Tom DeHoyos has pulled papers to run for the Precinct 4 seat occupied by Steve Ronhave, who has not decided whether to seek another term. Council Vice-President Hillary Hoffmann is running again, but does not have an opponent as yet. Ditto newly reappointed Precinct 2 Councilor Alfie Siano, who is expected to run for the unexpired term of Keith Zaltzberg, and Councilor David Singer is not running again, leaving an open seat in Precinct 5.

Assuming Mass and DeHoyos return their papers and those become real races, there are a couple of things to look for, including whether any prominent Greenfield Democrats have the temerity to openly support two pretty conservative candidates. I happen to know at least a couple of people who fit that description who aren’t exactly thrilled with what they have seen from the council this year, and even though Greenfield elections are technically supposed to be apolitical in terms of party involvement, there have been instances in the past where Dems have crossed the aisle to support a candidate of a different party and it caused real problems.

I’m also hoping that this election either reinforces or puts to bed the question of whether this is still a center-right town. We’ve heard a lot of talk this year about how this council is representative of a new “progressive Greenfield,” while others claim there is still a great “silent majority” of natives anxious to take their town government back once and for all.

Which side is right? We may get part of the answer in five short months, and I, for one, can’t wait.

Chris Collins is the Franklin County News Bureau Chief for WHAI, WPVQ and WHMP Radio. He is a former staff reporter for The Recorder, and is a Greenfield native.

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