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Heather Bellow
Berkshire Hills Regional School District Superintendent Peter Dillon, left, and School Committee Chairman Stephen Bannon announce the loss of eligibility for state reimbursements for the major repairs that are necessary for Monument Mountain Regional High School.

MSBA: No accelerated repairs money for Monument Mountain High School

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By Friday, Nov 21, 2014 News 41

Great Barrington — It was a revelatory thunderbolt shot down onto taxpayers last night from the gods of state money: It appears Berkshire Hills Regional School District won’t get a dime under the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s (MSBA) Accelerated Repair Program to fix Monument Mountain Regional High School. The news prefaces a Sisyphean task of funding repairs or renovations to the building, and may put the towns on the hook for much of the cost of repairs to the deteriorating school.

The announcement was made by Berkshire Hills Superintendent Peter Dillon at last night’s (November 20) marathon school committee meeting.

“What this [letter] is saying is what many of us thought would be the case,” Dillon said, “and what many other people believed wasn’t the case, which was that the state was offering us one opportunity.”

Superintendent Peter Dillon.

Superintendent Peter Dillon.

It is bad news for Great Barrington taxpayers, who overwhelmingly defeated the District’s $51 million renovation project that included $23.2 million from the MSBA under its Major Repair Program. Opponents of the project had assumed a better deal could be made through the MSBA’s Accelerated Repair Program, an assumption upon which they leveraged a political strategy in the months leading up to the project vote, and for which the district warned them was not a sound basis to vote no.

Had the renovation passed, Great Barrington was to foot $19.4 million of that remaining bill, after Stockbridge and West Stockbridge, the other two towns in the district, took care of the rest. That $23.2 million from the state is now history.

The news came in the form of a letter to Dillon from MSBA Capital Program Manager Katie Loeffler, after an election follow-up conference call, and a letter containing the results of the November 4 vote. The Accelerated Repair Program only targets schools with isolated repair issues, Loeffler explained, not the extensive structural and system deterioration seen at Monument. The Program, Loeffler said, “targets school facilities with limited scope needs including roofs, windows and boilers in cases where all other systems are functioning and programmatic offerings are meeting standards.”

Loeffler goes on to say that according to the school’s needs based on the District’s 2010 Statement of Interest (SOI), drafted in 2008, and a Feasibility Study, the building “does not appear to sufficiently meet the educational needs of the District, nor does it appear to function soundly…therefore, it would appear more extensive repair or renovation work beyond the scope of the Accelerated Repair Program would be necessary.”

School Committee member Rich Dahomey.

School Committee member Rich Dahomey.

“I always feared they would write us a letter like this,” said committee member Dan Weston.

“You didn’t fear it — you knew it,” said member Richard Dohoney, who expressed some irritation with the MSBA’s process, which he said, “ripped the community apart and has had terrible repercussions.” Dohoney added that the process had “sucked all the oxygen out of the school district” over the last few years, but wondered what the alternative was. For instance, “We can’t dump it on the finance committee,” he said. “We’ve got to do it right this time, we’ve got to figure out the right way.”

Committee member Bill Fields said he understood Dohoney’s feelings, but “politically and realistically I don’t see an alternative [to MSBA].”

The letter contained a warning that had been sounded for months by the district and renovation supporters: rejecting the project and the state’s reimbursement might result in a loss of state funds altogether and push the district to the back of a competitive line for funding. For six years the school building committee explored repair and renovation options for the 46-year-old high school and found itself bumping up against educational and physical plant requirements for sizable state money to be released.

But many renovation opponents had trouble believing it, and were seduced by the possibility of higher MSBA reimbursements under an Accelerated Repair Program. This floated possibility was used as a hatchet to kill the project; the assumptions were made based on research of other MSBA projects around the state that received higher reimbursements through the Program, including the news that nearby Southern Berkshire Regional School District is to receive a significant reimbursement to repair their roof and boilers at Mt. Everett High School.

Mt. Everett’s building is 24 years old.

So compelling was the idea of the Accelerated Repair alternative, circulated through community chat groups and newspapers, that a recently created citizen petition even contained an application for urgent repairs to the school under the Accelerated Repair Program as one of their proposals. The petition was authored by Great Barrington residents Karen Christensen and Ron Banks.

“Our focus on local contractors is all the more timely,” Christensen said by email when asked if the MSBA aspect of the petition required a revision. The petition, she wrote, was intended to be “an ongoing initiative and living document.” She pointed to the first FAQ on the petition website, www.gb21.info, which explains how local contractors might be used.

“Repairs should be made as quickly as possible,” Christensen added, “and I see no reason that this cannot be moved on immediately.” Ron Banks could not be reached by press time.

“Many people called the MSBA,” Dillon said, “and tried to get their own sense of things, but the MSBA always said that they don’t respond to hypothetical situations…we’ve now confronted them with a concrete situation and they’ve given us a very clear answer.”

“Now that the vote failed…they are willing to go on record,” said committee chair Stephen Bannon, who suggested a new, larger, more inclusive committee — one formed with community members from both sides of the previous renovation debate.

School Committee member Fred Clark.

School Committee member Fred Clark.

Committee member Fred Clark said the whole issue was “beyond bricks and mortar,” that problems are “broader and have to do with strategic direction and having one town bear the burden of costs.”

Bannon that these strategic issues are being addressed, and pointed, as an example, to the “citizens group” forming to “look at school choice.” Quite clearly the committee is grappling with the complexity of these issues. They spent most of the meeting agonizing over how to address shaky tuition agreement negotiations with the Farmington River district. The school committee voted to play hardball and ask that district for a 6 percent increase for a one-year agreement, though if rejected, there is risk both in the form of significant revenue loss and the potential toll on students who have settled into Berkshire Hills but may be forced to leave if their district will not increase their percentage. The motion passed, with new member Andrew Potter and Christine Shelton dissenting, and Kristin Piasecki abstaining.

Clark said such strategic issues should have been looked at “ a year ago…to figure out how big this district is going to be and how to get fair and equitable payment…even the people who were against it understand that the building needs to be renovated.”

Richard Bradway agreed that the tangential equity issues are “critical discussions,” yet “however long these discussions take, there are kids that are in that school and we need to make sure we’re providing them with a structure over their heads that is sound.”

Clark said there was never a “fall back plan” or a “Plan B,” and that a lot of “misinformation” was put out there. He made reference to newspapers and some of their editorials.

“We need to get out in front of some of these things and have an open and frank discussion about these issues,” Clark added. “Everyone else is setting the agenda for these issues, and putting all these things out there that, quite frankly, aren’t well-grounded.”

Finance Committee member and vocal renovation supporter Leigh Davis spoke to the committee about the letter from the MSBA: “This is huge loss, almost a self-fulfilling prophecy…a big turning point for the town and school district.”

Former School Committee member Alan Wilken from Stockbridge.

Former School Committee member Alan Wilken from Stockbridge.

Former school committee member Alan Wilken said “I feel your pain, it’s a difficult time.” He said it was possible that the “district has outlived its mission,” and that this might be an “opportunity to rethink the district,” and “see where we want education to be in 40 years.”

It would appear that receiving MSBA reimbursement is now out of question, unless the district resubmits another SOI and goes to the back of the funding line for another Major Repair Program renovation, a process that takes a number of years. This was a concern Bannon repeated tirelessly over the last several months. Loeffler stated that a resubmitted SOI will be compared with SOIs from other districts and assessed as to which districts are “most needy and urgent.”

The school committee, with its buildings and grounds subcommittee, will now prioritize the high school’s problems and determine whether to submit another SOI, Dillon said.

Facilities Manager Steven Soule said the ineligibility for Accelerated Repair was “unfortunate.” He said in the short term the district will continue to do preventative maintenance, and “fix as things break.” In a buildings and grounds committee meeting scheduled for December 10, “we’ll be looking at prioritizing what is most critical for repair, and what to repair in a 5-year range.” One immediate problem, Soule said, was 14 doors that require “daily maintenance and adjustment to close and secure properly.” He said the concrete thresholds are crumbling, and so the job would cost more than to simply fix the doors. He said that at that point it would also make sense to make them handicap accessible.

The roof, Soule said, is “well out of warranty and leaking with frequency.” He said it could cost as little as $3 million to replace only the rubber membrane, but to do the insulating and bracing work required to pass current code, it could cost up to $8 million or $9 million.

Committee member Richard Bradway said after the meeting that there might be other funding through state and federal green building programs. Steve Bannon said by phone he thought it likely to find other funding for “piecemeal repairs in small batches.”

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41 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Ellen Lahr says:

    It sure would have been helpful to have this NO WAY information before Nov. 4. I am scratching my head.

    1. Ed Abrahams says:

      The school committee made it very clear that this was likely. No one who has worked with MSBA thought we would get significant money for repairs and many of us repeated that often. The vote was always about whether we accept $23 million in state money, not whether we do the repairs. So now we pour millions of local dollars into an old building.

  2. Patrick Fennell says:

    Obviously the MSBA and state are bureaucratically and politically flawed. They punish responsible communities and reward incompetent ones. The reason people voted No was the unfairness of the entire process and that GB would pay the brunt of the project while other towns would pay for none of the cost, tuition is still a problem, choice still remains the same after over twenty years, consolidation continues to be ignored, and there were many other holes in the plan. It is the duty of the school district and towns to find other options and contact our representatives to assist and find other solutions, the MSBA is not the only source.

    1. Ed Abrahams says:

      Patrick, you say there are other sources of significant funding. What are they? How competitive is it? What do they fund? Are they likely enough to fund us to make it worth the expense of applying?

      You say it is the duty of the school district and towns to find other options. Are you saying that after voting to turn down $23 million that the district secured from MSBA, you are not going to participate in finding a replacement for that money? Are you going to help or are you just going to tell the people who actually do the work that they are wrong and then sit back?

      1. Patrick Fennell says:

        Actually Ed I have made a few calls to Smitty’s office to help with working on consolidation, guess what he doesn’t return calls or e-mails. You are a paid employee of the town not me. Remember Ed you hangout in a select group and have pushed away anyone who disagrees with you.

      2. Ed Abrahams says:

        Patrick, I haven’t pushed away anyone. Just the opposite, I keep asking for input, yours included. That is what you just objected to in my reply to you. I welcome your involvement. Beyond welcome, I challenge you to come up with the money you insist is “out there.”

        Securing funding for maintenance of the schools is not the job of the selectboard, it is the job of the school committee and they did it to the tune of $23 million. You publically rejected that and you claim there is other money out there. So I’m asking you to identify it and help secure it. Your last suggestion, MSBA emergency repair, didn’t pan out.

      3. Patrick Fennell says:

        Ed as a paid employee, it is the job of the Select-board to watch out for Gb, not the interest of Richmond, Otis and Sandisfield. I do not have a position in either the school district or town, remember two town meetings ago the SB made it clear that only paid elected officials were most qualified to do anything, free labor was unreliable. For a man and board that wants help from citizens it might help if you show us respect at the Select-board meetings, your board treats us badly, for example make people in the audience wait, citizens speak time is second to the last on any agenda, and cutting in on our time like last meeting is part of your lousy customer service. Also unlike a government board our other elected officials like Downing and Smitty don’t return citizens calls, so again lousy service from paid employees.

        Time to earn your salary and go to work. Until you show the 60% that voted NO some respect, you and your friends are on your own.

      4. Ed Abrahams says:

        I’m asking you to get involved, give ideas and help make those ideas happen (partly so you will know that there are good reasons why some good ideas don’t work) and what I get in return is name calling?

        Participation means more than telling everyone else their ideas are bad. This is the last time and I promise I won’t ask you again: Get involved. Show the elected officials (the vast majority of whom are not paid) that your ideas will work. Show them you can convince the state to take more money away from neighboring districts and give it to us. Show them you can figure out a way to fix the high school without the state’s $23 million and have it cost us less than the last plan.

        Anyone with a mouth can stand on the sidelines and tell others what is wrong. Please, please step up and show us how to do it.

  3. Jon Piasecki says:

    So now if anything goes wrong with the high school building we can thank Mickey Friedman, David Long, Sharon Gregory, Karen Christensen, the Great Barrington Republicans and G.B. voters they convinced to vote no. They will have cost us collectively at least 23 million dollars in a lost state subsidy and provided all of us in the district the opportunity to pay the total amount of any repairs.

  4. Dave Long says:

    I think everyone needs to take a deep breath. We did not ask the state to do accelerated repairs and they did not deny us the opportunity to apply. She simply is responding to the over-the-top description of how bad things are at Monument within the original application. If anything, the building committee is responsible for this letter. In my experience with the state, if they say “it appears” it simply means that if you come back to us you better have a good justification.

    Its too early to jump to conclusions. Right now we need to come together and come up with a workable plan that the voters will support. The school committee has already committed to create a process where that may happen. We need to focus on making the most of that and going from there.

  5. GMHeller says:

    Just another example of a Democrat-controlled Massachusetts state bureaucracy screwing voters for daring to vote ‘the wrong way’.
    How many times have voters seen this very same public relations ploy used penalizing a town or school district because local voters refused to knuckle under and vote the way state bureaucrats wanted in favor of wasting money on bloated public-works projects.
    The towns are always better off turning away these so-called ‘gifts’ of state ‘largess’ that always seem to come with the ‘catch’ that taxpayers will first have to come up with additional matching funds.
    Just who do you think pays for the state largess in the first place?
    If Democrat-controlled state bureaucrats are now penalizing Great Barrington’s school district because voters showed common sense, then blame for any loss of state funds should rightfully be placed on the local State Senator and State Representative whose job it is to secure from the state — with no strings attached — just exactly these kinds of monies.
    Remember people, this is money local taxpayers have already paid dearly into state coffers in the form of high state income taxes, sales taxes, and fuel taxes, as well as wholly unnecessarily Turnpike tolls (which the current State Senator and State Rep both supported).
    Why should a school district or town be forced to tax its residents even more just to get back from the state a small portion of all the money already paid into state coffers over the years?
    If state bureaucrats have the audacity now to try to screw voters for daring to vote the wrong way, then voters need to hold elected officials accountable — in this case State Senator Benjamin Downing and Rep. William ‘Smitty’ Pignatelli. These two politicos were elected to deal with the state bureaucracy and specifically to get money back from the state for schools and towns within their respective election districts.

    1. Patrick Fennell says:

      Well said.

    2. Dave Long says:

      It’s a mistake to turn this into a Democrat vs Republican issue. I will remind you that at least half of the most vocal opposition to this projects are very liberal, myself included. Given the historical perspective, a majority of those who voted no to this project usually vote for the democrat.

      We will need the help and support of our delegation (who are all democrats) as well as our new Republican governor to get to the best solution. None of these folks had anything to do with our situation. We have done this to ourselves. If anyone is to blame it is the School Committee for allowing the SOI to be submitted before anyone checked to see if there was political support for such a large project. In hindsight, the outcome should have been obvious and predictable.

      Now we need to get all that behind us and find a solution that the voters can get behind. As we all know, this is a complex situation that has as much to do with fairness and equity within the district as it does cost and quality of education. If we can express clarity an broad political support, I think reception of any proposal from the district will be far more positive than anyone is willing to believe.

      And thank goodness there is help from the state…. transfer payments or not. It is the only reasonable way for communites to fund these large capital costs. As to matching funds, as a Republican, you should appreciate that districts have skin in the game. This should make districts more responsible… and in this case it has through the ballot box.

      The state has said nothing that is binding… she simply made a personal observation based on her experience with our application. We are at the “back of the line” and until we advance, there will be no binding decision. The last thing that we need now is bicker about blame or party politics. Right now it is about building a shared vision of where the district is going, repairing disequities in our aggreements, and setting goals for education.

      That’s a lot to bite off, but it is also what should have been done before the last SOI was submitted. It is clear that the School Committee is now well aware of this. Until we make serious progress in this regard, many uncertainties will remain. In the meantime, there are plenty of practical steps we can take to move things forward. The first is to start to forgive each other so that we can be open to oppotunities as they arise.

      1. Geri says:

        My understanding is that the second SOI could only be very slightly altered from the original – or it would have been to the back of the line at that point.

        Forgiveness is the last thing on my mind unless a plan that is as good or better and no more costly to the taxpayers is crafted. And that’s a mighty steep order. At this point, I feel pretty certain that anything we do is going to be more expensive and less comprehensive because of the time that is going to be spent now getting back to the front of the line.

        At this point none of us can say what the price might look like for even a simple repair scenario. And whether the state will cover it. And what the interest rate might look like. With a new governor, who knows what shape the MSBA program might take.

      2. Dave Long says:

        Geri- we are at the back of the line at this point no matter what. Its time to move on…

      3. jon piasecki says:

        Dave thanks for admitting we are at the back of the line. Time to take responsibility for your work to put us there.

  6. Rich Bradway says:

    The money from the State comes from a portion of the sales tax. While we do pay into it by buying taxable items, so does anyone who comes to our State. With respect to the building, it sounds like you would rather not have State input and have taxpayers potentially pay for more of the brunt of the costs to tale care of it. Unless you believe we don’t need to do anything with the building.

  7. Dave Long says:

    Heather- I am sorry to call you out on your journalistic style again — since I greatly appreciate how hard you have worked covering this issue — but this piece should have been half as long, included a response from the MSBA, and at least one response from the former “opposition” since we are being urged to “step up” and find a solution.

    To me, Peter’s comments about the letter were thoughtless and misleading. I understand that he is still morning the loss, but a reporter should be able to see beyond that.

    The net result is a piece that is sensational and without true substance. It fuels the fire of division precisely at the moment when the community needs to mend relationships.

    I hope you will take this comment in the spirit it was intended. The Berkshire Edge has created an important role in the public dialog. I just want it to be as good as it can be…..

    1. Kate Banks says:

      Thank you, Dave, for continuing to gently shine light on what is important and true. Your grace is admirable.

    2. Andrew Blechman says:

      Dave, as someone who has spent most of his career in journalism (about two decades), including a masters with honors from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, stints at the LA Times, Des Moines Register, PBS NewsHour, ABC News, and having written for Smithsonian, The Atlantic, International Herald Tribune, among others, and the author of two books of nonfiction, etc., I have to take exception to your arrogant-cloaked-in-reasonableness critique of Heather’s reporting. She’s doing an excellent job, this story included. Her reporting is sorely needed and it happens to be some of the best we’ve seen in South County for a long time. I’d caution you to be aware of your patronizing tone, particularly when it’s directed at women. It comes perilously close to “mansplaning”. For a definition, you can look to your own posts, or read Rebecca Solnit’s excellent piece in Harpers.

      1. Dave Long says:

        Hi Andrew, long time no see. I understand your post, but to be quite honest I am sincere in my comment. I do value what Heather is doing. I also think as an emerging “paper of record” there are opportunities for improvement. I have had the chance to have a number of exchanges with her throughout this whole school thing and am pretty sure she knows I mean it.

        One thing that is exciting about the Edge is the immediacy of the news and the feedback. Nonetheless, the stories anchor the discussion. At the same time, most of us are friends, like you and I, and so “hyper civility” as you may describe it becomes even more important.

        You have to understand that it has been very difficult for me at times to be on the other side of the issue from folks like Marianne Young, Karen Smith, and others that I respect and admire. I think that it is important to make those feelings as clear as the point of disagreement.

        As to “Mansplaning” I am sorry if it comes off that way, but, again, looking at my posts, you will find a similar tone in response to plenty of male posters who I wish not to offend, admire, and disagree with. I will try and find a different tone to communicate the sentiment.

        I will also quibble with your assessment of this story. The headline is inaccurate and Peter’s assessment was stated as fact, in spite of the fact that it is not. I think that’s a good time for a reader to call out the error. Not that the tone or implication of the MSBA letter is positive, which it is not, but it does not mean that we could not get funding through the Accelerated Repair Program with a different application. Nowhere in this story is that pointed out.

      2. Sheldon Hoxie says:

        I offer no opinion here on the quality of Heather’s article. But to suggest that only a journalist with a master’s degree is qualified to critique journalism is the epitome of snobbery and bad manners. That, along with your unfounded innuendo regarding Mr. Long’s alleged sexism, should be an affront to readers of this otherwise fine website.

      3. Dave Long says:

        Thank You Sheldon!

      4. Stephen Donaldson says:

        The only thing more impressive than your resume is the massively bombastic self-adoration your summon up to recite it. By the way, if the word you use to characterize Dave’s writing style is meant to suggest that he explains things like a man who is being patronizing to a woman, then, just to set the record straight, you have misspelled it. The correct spelling is mansplaining. Perhaps, despite your unparalleled credentials, you forgot to edit and fact-check your own writing. Maybe you should go back to journalism school with Alan Chartock to brush up.

    3. Heather Bellow says:

      Dave–As always, I appreciate your concerns.

      I did not call the MSBA for comment because the memo to the superintendent was self explanatory.

      In accordance with good journalistic practice, I quoted Peter Dillon as to what he said in the meeting, not what I might have thought he was feeling.

      I did quote one vocal opponent of the renovation, Karen Christensen, and attempted to reach another, Ron Banks, before the deadline set by my editor.

      If the opposition was not fairly represented, it is because in the interest of not appearing sensational or divisive, I left out my email exchange with Mickey Friedman, the main proponent of Accelerated Repair, who told me he was in the “midst of proofing my novel and getting it ready to be published.” He said he needed to “wait a short bit and study the MSBA response and think more about what this means for the School District before I can offer any useful analysis.” I regret this omission.

      As for the “true substance” of the local news I report, I give you Shakespeare, from The Winter’s Tale:

      “O sir, I shall be hated to report it.”

      1. Dave Long says:

        Heather – It’s not so much how you might characterize the opposition, but rather a sensitivity to the significance of the letter that worries me. This letter pertains only to the plan that was defeated. However, it is far too easy for folks to interpret this as applying to options in the future, which it does not. We all knew that the proposed plan was dead after the vote – and are asking “now what.”

        You can see from the posts in response to this article that there is still a lot of anger surrounding this vote — which is understandable. At the same time, we are entering budget season which will mean that we will have to move quickly to to get any kind of process in place that needs to be included in next year’s budget for May town meeting. It is far too easy for things like this letter to be misinterpreted in ways exacerbate the wounds and unnecessarily impede healing. Clarity of what the letter actually means would dampen the effect while improving accuracy.

        I have talked to Peter about this and I think we agree that the tenor of his statements was unfortunate. We also agree on the critical need to diffuse the anger and pivot all of this energy into a constructive process moving forward — something I think the core group of players both pro and con expect to participate in. But for that effort to be successful, the community will have to support it. Otherwise, dear Jack Spencer’s pessimism will be prescient. The current and understandable anger is our biggest enemy.

        This begs the question of clarity. The letter was simply the period at the end of the vote — not a turning point in itself. I think it is far too easy to read the worst into this story — just as it was easy to read the worst into the MSBA’s letter. I do not suggest that you sugar coat anything. But without a check of the veracity of the presentation, the weaker side of human nature will prevail.

      2. Dave Long says:

        P.S. I seem to have fogotten the Karen quote. I did see it the first time through, but somehow managed to loose it. I stand corrected on that.

  8. Jack Spencer says:

    I am usually an optimistic person but the school issues, renovation,choice,etc, have become so slogan oriented and the discussions often contain an unhealthy undertone of bitterness that I am not sure there is a will to find reasonable solutions.I hope I am wrong but but the divisions being created betweenthe 3 communities,the rage over issues, the misuse of statistics,will eventually weaken a good school system.We are in danger of becoming as dysfunctional as the U.S.Congress.

    1. Dave Long says:

      Jack: It is a dark day when you loose your optimism. I understand your concerns… we really have quite the quagmire here. But I have to say, by and large, I think that this last vote has made a lot of people wake up and smell the coffee. We are blessed with a lot of smart people, the trick is to get them focused on the same prize. Many of the underlying issues go back years. Maybe this will push us towards some kind of resolution. In spite of some of the hurt feelings and stinging rhetoric, we are still talking about theses issues — which is more than I can say for 3-5 years ago…..But you are right that we need to guard against the woes of rabid factionalism and pat responses…

  9. Andrew Blechman says:

    Patrick, good to know that the GB Tea Party’s scorched-earth policy of misinformation and misdirected anger is in no need of self-reflection. Even better to know we have yet another new enemy we can blame — the MSBA.

    And kudos for your Tourette-like Letters to the Editor. I look forward with great anticipation to your Two Minutes of Hate each week in the paper. The addedbonus of receiving your wisdom in these pages as well? All I can say is double-plus good! Ford in Flivver!

    I’d also like to personally thank you for throwing one of the finest school districts in the state, let alone country, into chaos. And for ensuring that we pay the same amount in school repairs but without the added bonus of a $23 million cherry on top. This is perhaps your finest hour, and you really deserve to be acknowledged for it.

    By the way, pisser that our community was just forced to accept a $200,000+ cash transfer from the state. That CPA’s a son of a bitch, no? Even worse are the hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants that our moronic, lazy, good-for-nothing town planner has won us. I hate to think of what that out-of-town lady town manager might have up her sleeve — nothing good ever came out of NY, let alone those hoity toity grad schools for city planning and civic governance.

    Maybe you can take the massive, exhausting step of again dialing Smitty to find out if there’s a way we can reject all this money, too. Funny thing is he returns my phone calls. Maybe he’s simply intimidated by your uncanny and unwavering ability to not only know absolutely everything, but to be right 100% of the time (Heck, even Babe Ruth swung air two-thirds of the time!) — and the overwhelming generosity and humble tone with which you share your commonsense wisdom, despite it being unsolicited. I think there’s a word for your talent: omnipotence. Sort of sounds like a title: O Omnipotent One!

    But none of this comes as much of a surprise. Sort of like the absolute inability of sniveling, progressive, over-educated out-of-towner, community-minded pansy volunteers like myself to have a shred of commonsense, let alone the ability to identify with taxpayers … such as themselves.

    Again , thank you for throwing our school district into chaos — our kids deserve no less — and for insuring my taxes will soon rise so we don’t have to accept a $23 million “handout” from a bunch of groveling bureaucrats in Boston. Let that money go to some other community, one so overly preoccupied with educating their kids that they’re blind enough to accept tens of millions of freebie dollars without fully understanding the sinister ramifications. Sadly, not every community is privy to such … omnipotence.

    1. jon piasecki says:

      Thanks Andrew for speaking the truth to these gasbags. They cost us all $23,000,000 and have condemned our kids to more time in a school in desperate need of restoration. Love that they have all these ideas after scuttling the state accepted plan because they are so much smarter. What a bad joke. They destroy they do not create.

    2. Tom Christensen says:

      It is insulting to suggest that a majority of town voters are misinformed misanthropes. Renovation proponents, throughout the process, have been the first to throw stones (in the form of veiled insults). It’s disappointing to see it continuing after our community rejected this project for the second time. I’m happy to be on the side of not only the informed majority, but the side which has at all times maintained it’s manners.

      1. Geri says:

        You consider yourself part of an informed majority? How is that – when the misinformation disseminated by opponents led many to falsely believe that we could save all kinds of money plus get higher reimbursement for Accelerated Repairs. And the only person I’ve seen whose posts got him kicked off the page was an opponent. Maybe you missed those.

  10. Rich Bradway says:

    Dave I appreciate your attempts at taking the high ground on this. I am more than ready and willing to work with you. My concern is that there are still some critics of the plan and the school committee who are using the “I’m too busy to help” stance.

    Frankly to some degree I am not surprised by this, and to another degree, I am very disappointed. My fear in all this is that they will work to discredit any plan that surfaces from another effort. I don’t think there is any pleasing them. When my dad was alive he had a phrase for this…”They would complain if they were hung with a new rope.” Of course, he used more colorful terms then I am permitted to use here.

    Anyone who decides to help needs to be held accountable in convincing the community what needs to be done. This is not a part-time effort. And it is not solely the effort of the school committee to get it done at this point. I am not suggesting you would be such a highly unhelpful person, but given the antics of certain individuals, I am skeptical of some truly trying to help despite there assertion that they would.

    With respect to blaming the school committee in submitting a statement of interest to begin with, I am a little put off that you would blame them for doing such a thing. Although I was not on the committee at the time when it happened, I am glad that it did happen. Someone needed to do something to get the ball rolling. That HS building has been in need of repairs since I was a student there in the mid/late 80’s.

    In my opinion, precious little was done leading up to the point of submitting the SOI in 2008. Many of today’s vehement critics were on the school committee when nothing was done. They simply kicked the can down the road. When they saw the costs of educating our kids go up yet the rate of increase of tuition not follow suit, they did nothing. They championed choice, and yet when the costs of educating our kids went up and choice remained fixed, they did nothing. Sticking one’s head in the ground is not a way to deal with problems.

    The only thing that I can see of significance that was done was consolidating the elementary schools into one building and expanding middle school to be 4 years instead of 2. I am not discrediting that accomplishment as I know it took many years and much effort to make it happen.

    School committee meetings are public meetings and to some degree the press reports on the school committee’s actions , however few still want to pay attention to what happens in our school district. If people were paying attention, they would see that in the last 3 years, the current school committee has been trying to reverse the course that was set for it by previous school committees.

    The current school committee has instituted a much more strict policy with respect to choice. Since we cannot prevent kids from choicing out, we must allow kids to choice in to offset that deficit. We have pushed for higher increases in tuition rates. While that effort may not be going as fast as our critics would like, at least it is going in the right direction for a change. Even with the modest increase, we could potentially lose a tuition agreement, which means less revenue for the district and the potential for eliminating programs.

    In recent days, there has been movement on making changes to the district charter. Frankly I would like to see something happen. I agree it is inequitable, however it will take more than the school committee to make that happen. For the most angered of GB citizens who have been put off by this inequity, they need to simmer down and start playing nice. If not, no one will want to work with them.

    People talk about consolidation. I think it will happen, however it ain’t going to happen over night. People seem to forget that it took almost 10 years for our own district to consolidate the elementary schools. Once again, if we expect to consolidate with other districts, we need to start being more collegial with them, otherwise nothing will happen. Furthermore, we need to consider things that will be impacted by consolidation, most of all education. We cannot sacrifice it simply to save money. We have an obligation to provide a quality and competitive education to all kids in our district.

    My point in all this is that we are moving in the right direction, albeit slowly. The process will take time, and it will require the majority of the community’s effort and time to be all-in for it to succeed. This is especially the case since I feel we will need to be creative in how we locate funding to pay for all of this. Unlike you, I am pessimistic in how much we will get from the MSBA. Having been involved with the process for 4 years and seeing how they work, I think we have a steep uphill climb to get back to where we were with a 48% reimbursement if we get anything at all.

    If we don’t get creative, then it will be all on the backs of the community to pay for it and we will be paying for it more than just with our wallets.

    That’s what I like about your ideas. You are willing to be creative. We just need to make sure our creativity takes into account that there are kids in the HS right now who are trying to go to school in a building that needs to be improved ASAP.

  11. Dave Long says:

    Rich- I very much appreciate your comments. There is no question that we have a long hard road ahead. It will be interesting to see who stays the course. My guess is that some voices will come and go… as that is the way that things usually are. I am committed to do what I can to help. I am eager to see how Peter and the School Committee with handle this. I think we have all learned important lessons that will help us all do a better job this time around.

    I have watched with great interest as the School Committee has wrestled with the District Agreement, School Choice, tuition agreements, stipends, and union issues. I agree that we seem to be making some real progress after a long fallow period. Unfortunately, these efforts came too late to affect the vote on renovation. I think we all hope they will bear some fruit this time around. At this point, everyone understands how critical these issues are for the future of the district as a whole, and any plans to fix the high school in particular.

    As to the School Committee’s decision to submit the SOI when it did, I am in no way criticizing them for trying to take action to improve the building. My issue is a tactical one. At the time it was submitted, Great Barrington was still reeling from two schools, a library, and a police station. We were just about to start the firehouse after a long and bloody debate. Great Barrington residents had made it quite clear that they have had enough. At the same time, we were in the middle of a recession that was harsh to many of us — damping any appetite for new construction even further. To me, it would seem like the School Committee should have been sensitive enough to the political realities that they would have bent over backwards to ensure that they had community support before starting the MSBA clock running. From that point forward the district was committed to seeing the process through with limited ability to affect the other financial and equity issues that ultimately sealed the fate of the project.

    This is an important lesson that we must be heed moving forward. If one good thing has come out of this vote, it is the use of the Berkshire Edge and Facebook in ways that expand the dialogue beyond the limitations of public meetings and the rigid format of letters to the traditional papers. It is too bad that we did not have these kinds of free public discussions before the fact. All of these things, traditional and new media, are important tools for building support. I expect that we can find more ways to engage the community and demonstrate responsiveness as we rebuild the trust of the voters.

    The greatest loss is probably the damage this debacle has inflicted on the prestige of the school. The community has always been exceedingly proud of Monument. Now, in spite of its awards, high test scores, and vibrant student initiatives, it has been tainted with the impression of a “51 million dollar disaster.” The discord between perception and the reality portrayed by the proposed renovation was an important factor for many working class voters I talked to. As Marianne Young and Jack Spencer have often pointed out: “we are victims of our own success.” In some ways the vote was cathartic and has finally made some people aware that there are real problems with the building. This is another area where creativity can rebuild trust. Being able to articulate a clear educational vision that demonstrates that Monument is on track to remain the great school that it is will go a long way towards reestablishing the pride and support the school has always enjoyed.

    And that vision should guide the effort to find pragmatic solutions to as many problems as possible. Not all problems rise to the same level of urgency or scale. Some issues can be solved through the redeployment of resources. Others, like the roof and boiler, will require cold hard cash. It certainly will be a creative challenge to work within these constraints — as well as the constraints imposed by the state. But it will be possible because it must be possible — for our kids and our community.

    I look forward to working with you as we restart the process. Thank you again for your thoughtful comments. Your eyes are clearly focusing on the right issues.

    1. jon piasecki says:

      David “higher ground” Long has spoken, and quite a bit really if you were to count the lines above. There is no surprise that he is reaching for the higher ground fast as he has sunk the rest of us. Your actions have hurt the children in the three district towns. Oh and now all the tax payers get to pay the full fare for a new roof and boiler on an obsolete school. Perhaps, David, you might have more closely familiarized yourself with the funded renovation plan you just helped squash. We would be moving ahead on our way to a new school, with a plan that had been vetted and had a $23,000,000 state subsidy attached, instead of dropping to the back of the line grasping at your delusional straws. Climb high David on the backs of our kids and let the rest of us get to pay.

      1. David Long says:

        Jon, there is no reason to be so spiteful and rude. You flatter me by thinking that I somehow managed to convince many people to vote against this project. The fact is, this project was DOA even if I had said nothing.

        I am very familiar with the plan, have had many conversations with people inside the school, poured over the supporting documents, and talked with the MSBA, DCAMM, and the State Attorney General’s office to verify facts within the plan — not to mention going to meetings and presentations over the course of three years. Very few residents have spent as much time with this plan as I have.

        What I have always tried to do is get the best plan for our kids and at the same time protect the school budget from an equally dangerous contraction. It is simply untrue that we will be denied money from the state to fix the building when the time is right, but in my opinion as a voter and parent who is passionate about education, the risks of moving forward with that plan at this time were too great given the other issues that threaten the financial stability of the district.

        I also did not think that the plan made a better school or directly solved major educational issues within the school — which negatively affected the value of the plan and increased the risks associated with the plan. I don’t know much about you other than we are practically neighbors, both raise pigs, and have some very special people as friends in common. But I have to believe that if we were to put our disagreements aside for a while and simply talked about what’s important in education, we would find that have a lot in common.

        I started going to meetings because I had a daughter moving up to Monument and another one coming along behind her. I desperately wanted to like this renovation plan. But the more I got involved, the more concerned I became — I think you know the rest of the story…

        But none of this changes the fact that a overwhelming number of voters in Great Barrington were never going to vote for the project. I simply tried to be as thoughtful as possible in articulating criticisms and making suggestions. That is what active citizens do. And my involvement earned good will from those involved on both sides of the question.

        I understand that you are angry. But this anger is not going to get you what you want. As frustrating as it is, the district is starting over, will probably end up with a sizable reimbursement from the state, and a better school than if we had passed this renovation. At the same time, as Rich Bradway has pointed out, we may finally resolve some of the larger financial issues that will allow for better equity and long term stability for the district.

        Now that the vote is over, its time to move on….

  12. Rich Bradway says:

    Dave, although I embrace technology for making everyday work more efficient, I cannot agree that social media will facilitate the next process. This is because I see how people use it. It is far too convenient to leverage it for misinformation than communication. If we have any hope of making something work, it will require time and face to face discourse.

  13. jon piasecki says:

    Hi David
    Expect more.
    We had the money. You lobbied hard for the voters to turn it away. I am sure you would be happy to move on as you, with your helpers Mickey Friedman, Karen Christensen and Ron Banks with help from the G.B. Republicans and Sharon Gregory have so completely crippled our district and our towns. I can not imagine a design of any quality or a process of any worth driven by the communal brain power that turns away a $23,000,000 subsidy, and an accepted and vetted plan. With such a lack of vision and propensity to delusion I dread the sure to be grotesquely expensive recycled-plastic-pipe-dream fairy castle , built by a local contractor, you all propose for our teens. You have disrespected and done all of our kids wrong. All of you as a group have worked to split the voters, to spite and undermine our kids along with our talented and hard working teachers, the elected, selfless and truly representational school committee and our outstanding superintendent Dillon and excellent principal Young. Regardless of your mass of verbiage to the contrary, you did this so you could save a few bucks. And surprise surprise you will cost us all and yourself a ton more and never take responsibility for your efforts in aiding this wrong. Move on as fast as you want but you can count on me reminding you of what you all have done the entire way forward.

    1. Kate Banks says:


      A respectful reminder to please stay away from slanderous comments.

      Kate Banks

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