My first town meeting: Stockbridge chooses the greater good

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By Saturday, May 20 Viewpoints  8 Comments
David Scribner
Stockbridge Town Meeting voting on a new school funding formula that would benefit Great Barrington.

Stockbridge — Although I was born in the U.S., I was adopted by Brits and raised in England. As surprising as this may sound, the British don’t study American history or American politics from an American point of view. What you call the Revolutionary War, for example, was referred to by my History teacher as “that unfortunate incident involving tea.”

Before Monday I had never been to a Town Meeting. But I’m a writer and the mother of a voracious reader who loves the Stockbridge Library, so when a friend asked me if I could come to the Town Meeting in Stockbridge to help oppose a possible motion to reduce funding to the library, I said “you bet,” I had no idea what to expect.

I was truly astonished to see over 250 people there. My doctor and dentist, the guy who hands me my packages at the post office, the owner of the Stockbridge General Store where my kids get bubble gum, the principal of the elementary school, the Art teacher, the superintendent of schools, the guy who fixed my frozen shoulder in five minutes, dozens of people whose faces I recognized but did not know by name and of course the noble librarians and board members from the beloved Stockbridge Library.

First a man with a white beard stood up and asked everyone to vote on the first four issues on the piece of paper by saying “Aye” or “Nay.” There were no “Nays” at all.

“Is the library safe?” I whispered to the woman next to me.

“Yes,” she said.

“Oh good. What’s next?”

“The school.”

“What’s the issue?”

“The Finance Committee thinks we shouldn’t raise our taxes to help capitalize improvements at Monument because we have far fewer kids living in Stockbridge. We’re going to vote ‘for’ or ‘against’.”

“You mean it will be decided here? Tonight? By the people in this room?” I said.

“Yes.”

“Blimey.”

This would never happen in England.

I knew that Monument Mountain Regional High School badly needs fixing — no school should have to use trash cans to collect rain water because the roof is leaking. I also knew that there had been understandable upset amongst Great Barrington voters who felt the financial burden on them was unfairly high.

Times are tough all over Massachusetts. There are many people in Stockbridge for whom even a slight rise in taxes will be a significant burden. ‘Who votes to raise their own taxes when they don’t have to?’ I wondered.

Then, over the next hour and a half, I witnessed people I knew, sort of knew and didn’t know at all come up to the microphone and express their feelings about the pros and cons of taking on more of the financial burden to help ease the strain on Great Barrington.

“Why should we reward Great Barrington?” someone said.

“Because they’re our neighbors and they need our help. And because we believe in education for all children, not just in our town but in the district.”

And then, despite the fact that no one thought it would happen, against the recommendation of the Finance Committee, the people of Stockbridge voted against their own self-interest. We voted to raise our own taxes, to help our neighbors in the next town.

Instead of the exception, what if this sort of thing became the norm?

Editor’s Note: The Berkshire Edge and the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center have joined forces to encourage discussion about the value of community. The above article represents that effort.


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8 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Steve Farina says:

    Very nice perspective on the process. On a side note, I would like to point out that your history teacher DID share a popular Americanized view of our history. “That unfortunate tea incident” actually was not a violent revolution until the Crown ordered the British Troops to confiscate the weapons and munitions of the colonists. “The shot heard ’round the world” was a direct result of the British Troops attempting to execute that order.
    Kind of ironic as Massachusetts is now one of the toughest states for free men to obtain a firearm. Still today the only thing that is keeping this nation (and because of that, many others) free from totalitarian rule is the 2nd Amendment.

    1. Diane Provenz says:

      Does Sandy Hook keep us free? We need gun control to keep weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill and criminals. We don’t need multi action guns and military style weapons.
      The second amendment was written when people still used muskets.

      1. Steve Farina says:

        Which was leading edge technology. Uh, how’s that gun control working for Chicago? Seems it is the criminals only who have leading edge technology, including armor piercing weapons.
        Perhaps you should read the 2nd Amendment again. Study it. Understand why it exists. And maybe, appreciate and respect the wisdom of the founders of our nation who had a much greater grasp of the reality of an unarmed citizenry.

  2. Gerald Elias says:

    Democracy may be in a shambles in DC, but it’s alive and well in the small towns of the Berkshires. Thank you, Alison, for reporting with the personal touch.

  3. Delta Willis says:

    Massachusetts is a wonderful state where I was lucky to live for a few years, and this appreciation for libraries and schools explains why. Nice report, Alison Larkin!

  4. Anne Wallach says:

    Lovely and gratifying article Alison. Made me feel good about Stockbridge, unlike my feelings about much of America today. Thank You

  5. Bobbie Hallig says:

    This letter from Alison Larkin made me positively weepy! So little good news these days and this was just so very right,even inspiring. Too bad that “the greater good” wins so seldom these days. Congratulations to Stockbridge for doing the just and correct action. I am proud to be your neighbor and supporter.

  6. Laurie Norton Moffatt says:

    Lovely article Alison. Many of us, parents of Monument students and community alike, believe we voted in our self interest because our families and community benefit from well-educated students and our teachers and students deserve sound facilities within which to teach and learn. Monument serves our community in so many wonderful ways. Perhaps a vote to amend the spending formula might seem like a vote against our economic self-interest, but actually with this new capital expense sharing formula, now a vote to repair our school will receive more financial suppport from the State and we will be able to get the job done. It is desperately needed and I am grateful to our Town.

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