Great Barrington — The Selectboard voted 4-1 on Monday to hold a special town meeting at 6 p.m. on Jan. 26, 2017, at Monument Mountain Regional High School to approve revisions to the Berkshire Hills Regional School District (BHRSD) Regional Agreement.
BHRSD Superintendent Peter Dillon attended to ask the board for the meeting and told the board the changes are mostly minor revisions to language to bring the 50-year-old agreement up to modern standards, with one significant change to how future capital projects will be paid for by each of the three towns. The agreement hasn’t been revised at all since 1990.
Dillon said he will also ask Stockbridge and West Stockbridge boards to approve special town meetings.
The agreement among Stockbridge, Great Barrington and West Stockbridge governs how the towns pay for the schools. A Regional Agreement Amendment Committee (RAAC) was born after several years of controversy about what many Great Barrington officials and residents say is an unfair formula based on student headcount that has Great Barrington paying 70 percent of the load among the three towns. This was an issue that, in large part, prompted Great Barrington voters to vote against renovating a deteriorating Monument High two years in a row.
The amendment committee was composed of town officials from each town, concerned community members and school committee members, and it was widely known that the real goal was to ask Stockbridge to pay more for the schools.
And it was not an easy process, one that Dillon likened to “sausage-making.”
But the committee finally compromised and came to this: While the existing per-pupil formula of paying for the schools remains, future capital projects will be paid for by each town based on a state formula that calculates a town’s wealth based on the full value of all its taxable property. To read more about this and RAAC meetings, click here.
Dillon said, in the event of some sort of consolidation with another district, the agreement would be opened up for “additional negotiation.”
Selectboard member Dan Bailly wanted to save the town money by adding the vote to the Annual Town Meeting in May for no additional cost. Dillon said the special meeting would cost the town around $2,000 but felt it was important enough that it stand on its own to leave room for debate and discussion.
Bailly voted against the special town meeting. “We have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers,” Bailly said.
“It could add another two hours to town meeting in May,” Dillon said.
And board chair Sean Stanton said it might be “confusing” to voters who, in May, will also be voting on the school budget.
Stanton said, while the revisions won’t make too much of a dent in residents’ tax bills, he was happy the capital expenditure changes are “better” for Great Barrington.
“It’s much better for Great Barrington than what we have now,” Dillon said.
“That’s all I care about,” Stanton said.