To the Editor:
Nathan Levenson spoke to the Berkshire County Education Task Force on April 25th, 2017. He is president of District Management Group, an education consulting firm now working with the task force on questions of declining enrollment. He said that most efforts to merge school districts fail. He said that to be at all effective, you have to ask, “Why are we doing this?”
In January 2012 Carl Stewart, now chair of the SBRSD School Committee, observed, in a letter to Kristen Hewitt regarding the potential merger of the village schools within the SBRSD district (a merger that was voted down but that he still supports): “As an aside, when the Berkshire Hills School District went through the process of closing the Housatonic School, the Plain School in Stockbridge, the West Stockbridge School, and Searles/Bryant in Great Barrington, the same arguments were made about the value of town and village schools. Now, several years later after all the schools were consolidated at the Monument Mountain campus, I believe there is very little argument that the education received by BHRSD students has improved significantly.”
But has it? And at what cost? Clearly, consolidation did nothing to control taxes in Great Barrington. And, based on the Egremont Finance Committee’s evaluation of the SBRSD budget, closing the Egremont village school will have no effect at all on SBRSD escalating school taxes either. (See analysis below.)
And if the crumbling Housatonic School building abandoned in the middle of their vibrant community is Stewart’s vision for New Marlborough; and the loss of a 130-year-old educational institution in the middle of Egremont’s National Register Historic District is his idea of successful management, then we need to rethink how they operate. We have to ask, “Why are we doing this again?”
The SBRSD has turned a deaf ear to us. Several years ago, the School Committee would meet once a quarter in each of the four schools; they would participate in the culture of the village communities they were created to serve. They no longer do that. Most were never in the Monterey School before they illegally closed it, or have attended a class in Egremont or New Marlborough. They have forgotten where they came from while they attempt to gut the communities who created them. The Villages have the right to expect 21st century solutions, not rehashed unsuccessful management strategies. It is time to rein them in, order our finances, and support the Town rights of all our member Villages.
The SBRSD School Committee under Mr. Stewart’s direction continues to abuse our good will with dated 20th century policies that will deliver nothing but bankrupt coffers if allowed to go forward. Ten years ago Sheffield killed the budget for financial reasons, so it is not without precedent to do so. We have to stop this continued march to the fiscal cliff and save our villages from further predation.