Mystery solved: Stockbridge truck-sign owner unmasked

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By Saturday, Apr 8 News  18 Comments
Terry Cowgill
For the past week this white Ford pickup has been parked on Main Street in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, at the intersection with Elm Street, across from the Stockbridge Library, and in full view of the offices of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District.

Stockbridge — It’s been the talk of the town this week. In the Elm Street Market, Nejaime’s Liquors and in the Post Office, people were more than curious to know who parked a pick-up truck this week on Main Street across from the intersection with Elm Street. And who erected a large sign on the truck’s bed announcing in no uncertain terms his (or her) opposition to amending the Berkshire Hills Regional School District agreement that determines how much each town contributes to the district’s capital expenditures.

An informal survey by a peripatetic reporter on Friday afternoon revealed that none of the 30 or so people interviewed had any idea who had caused the fuss.

Well, the mystery of the big sign has been solved. The Edge has confirmed that the man who blares his views for all to see is none other than lifelong Stockbridge resident Wilson Wright.

Wilson Wright's message is visible up and down Stockbridge Main Street. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Wilson Wright’s message is visible up and down Stockbridge Main Street. Photo: Terry Cowgill

“I just wanted to get my viewpoint out,” Wright said in an interview, referring to his opposition to the proposed amendment that would reform the way property owners pay for the capital portion of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District budget. “I believe it’ll raise my taxes — maybe not immediately — but it’ll happen.”

Wright parked the vehicle on Monday morning and plans to keep it there until Sunday or maybe Monday morning. One week is about right, he said, because he wanted to make sure the part-time residents see it, even though they cannot vote in annual town meeting where the matter will be decided.

The sign urges “Stockbridge voters” to “stop the madness” and “vote no on [the] school agreement.”

Stockbridge Patrol Officer Kirk Nichols told The Edge there are virtually no parking restrictions in that area of Main Street. Indeed, there is no signage indicating any restrictions at all, so there is nothing to prevent someone from parking a vehicle there for an extended period of time. The only restriction for overnight parking is during the town’s snow emergency period, which ended March 15.

The town does a have a signage bylaw, Nichols explained, but in the eyes of the law, Wright’s sign is viewed as temporary.

“It’s just like a bumper sticker,” Nichols said.

And of course, there might be also be freedom-of-speech issues if the town ordered its removal because the sign is making a political statement, Nichols explained.

The Regional Agreement Amendment Committee meeting in the BHRSD conference room last year. Photo: Heather Bellow

The Regional Agreement Amendment Committee meeting in the BHRSD conference room last year. Photo: Heather Bellow

The controversial proposal Wright opposes was endorsed in October by the Regional Agreement Amendment Committee (RAAC) and would change the school district’s 50-year-old agreement so that the three member towns would each pay the same property tax rate to fund the capital portion of the district’s budget, rather than be assessed mostly on the number of students they enroll in the district.

The new formula would not affect how the towns fund the much larger operating budget. Nor would it affect how district residents are taxed to pay for past debt, including the bonded construction costs of Muddy Brook Elementary School and Monument Valley Regional Middle School incurred about 10 years ago.

It needed the approval of Great Barrington and West Stockbridge — both of which have already passed it in special town meetings earlier this year — but Stockbridge voters will be the last to weigh in at their annual town meeting on May 15. The proposal is popular in Great Barrington, which would see its share of future capital costs decrease, but not in Stockbridge, where taxes would surely be raised to make up the difference. There would be little change in West Stockbridge.

“Great Barrington is for it — no surprise there,” Wright opined.

That proposed amendment is also viewed as significant because both Stockbridge and West Stockbridge approved reconstruction projects in 2013 and 2014 for the aging Monument Mountain Regional High School, while Great Barrington rejected the required Proposition 2½ overrides, thus vetoing the two projects, in effect.

An aerial view of the schools comprising the Berkshire Hills Regional School District: Monument Mountain Regional High School, Muddy Brook Regional Elementary School, and Monument Valley Regional Middle School.

An aerial view of the schools comprising the Berkshire Hills Regional School District: Monument Mountain Regional High School, Muddy Brook Regional Elementary School, and Monument Valley Regional Middle School.

Wright said he favors Stockbridge pulling out of Berkshire Hills and tuitioning-in its students at the state mandated cost of $5,500, which is about one-third of the current per-pupil costs to member-towns in the district. He estimates this would save Stockbridge about $750,000 per year, though he acknowledged it would be a difficult feat to pull off because the withdrawal of a member town requires the approval of all three towns at separate town meetings.

“Stockbridge and West Stockbridge have about the same number of students, so I’m surprised West Stockbridge went for it,” Wright said.

Others in town are not. Rev. Samuel J. Smith, the priest-in-charge of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, also serves on the Community Council at Muddy Brook Elementary School.

“I have great faith in the leaders of our schools,” Smith said in a brief interview on Main Street. “The [proposed amendment] is okay with me because ultimately it’s a sound investment.”

As for whether the movement to defeat the proposed amendment is widespread, Smith replied, “My parishioners are not talking about this.”

“I’d like to think that the RAAC, which reached a unanimous agreement on the revised agreement, is representative of the broader community,” Berkshire Hills Superintendent Peter Dillon told The Edge. “I also imagine that there will be many conversations.”

But Wright, who owns Wright’s Garage in Lee, is convinced he’s onto something. We’ll know more on Monday, May 15, when the Stockbridge Annual Town Meeting gets underway at 6:30 p.m. in the gymnasium in the Town Offices building.

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18 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Ted B. says:

    This IS the problem with the way the school budget works …….I have no children. I still have to pay the my house tax on my mansion that Great Barrington says is worth 165K ! Way back when the idea came about to renovate for a mere 52 MILLION or something like that, I would a flyer of people pushing for the renovation ! It said go to this website and find out what the real cost to you would be….so I did ! I put in the numbers , that 165K , my real estate taxes would have risen something like $165 a year, then I saw the other towns, I figured lets use the same 165K in those towns. Did WEST Stockbridge it was like $145 , then I did Stockbridge it was like $80 …..that’s the problem folks ! One of the perceived riches towns in south county that pays LESS !

    1. Caroline says:

      What website can we go to and find out the real cost that you mentioned?

    2. Caroline says:

      What website can we go to and find out the real cost that you mentioned? Thanks.

      1. Patrick Fennell says:

        Contact the BHRSD superintendent’s office for any and all school numbers. The office is in the Stockbridge Town Hall of which GB pays 70% of the rent.

    3. Caroline says:

      Patrick, I was actually interested in seeing an online resource to calculate costs. I’m in a neighboring community where we are interested in looking into our regional agreement as well. It would be great if someone could point me to the online calculator that Ted B. referred to. Thanks.

  2. Patrick Fennell says:

    The real solution to this problem is make Berkshire County ONE school district so all town contribute in a fairer system. Total county is less than 5,000 students.

    1. Carl Stewart says:

      Mr. Fennell, if for no other reason, is to be commended for being the only person commenting on this article who is willing to identify himself. Blame for the general anonymity of commenters should be divided equally between the cowardice of those writing and The Edge for its ridiculous and unprofessional refusal to have a sane editorial policy.

      But my praise of Mr. Fennell stops there. Like his leader, Mr. Trump, he has no concern for the truth. “Total county is less (sic) than 5,000 students,” claims Mr. Fennell. The actual number is over 16,000 and this statistic is a matter of public record, widely available to anyone who cares about the truth. More importantly is the question, unanswered by Mr. Fennell, of how a single Berkshire County school district would save money.

      1. Pete says:

        The county has too many schools for the shrinking population. The individual towns are struggling to make their budgets.. Some how consolidation has to happen in order to sustain a viable school system. Most of the school expenses are salary related, thus, there is little fat to cut out of school operating expenses. Cutting a few art or sports programs has little impact. Mr. Fennel is 100 percent correct in my opinion. The entire county school systems need to be re-organized to adapt to the existing conditions. I doubt our state representatives have the courage to step up and tackle this. If not done, all of these schools will fall apart as they cannot be sustained under the current method of funding.

      2. Patrick Fennell says:

        I apologize to the always correct Mr. Stewart my math was wrong. However having one administration, consolidating food services, subcontracting some services like cleaning, maintenance, and perhaps other services, would be a good start. Right now the cost per student is way to high for district towns throughout the county.
        Again I apologize for my bad math please forgive me Almighty Carl. please I beg of you wise and pompous one!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      3. John says:

        The cumulative tax burden continues to increase without bounds. The taxpayer cannot be viewed as a bottomless pit.
        It is not ok to run seniors out of their homes long since paid for. The school systems must be right sized.
        The school boards, knowing the student population is decreasing appear to be in competition to develop the newest most expansive facilities, as a strategy to survive against consolidation from a neighboring town.

        Time to focus on educating kids best, and not on who has the grandest most impressive school campus. Meanwhile, families continue to leave for greener pastures…

  3. John says:

    These school boards have gone crazy with the spending.
    It’s no wonder the school populations are decreaseing. Families cannot afford to live in threat Barrington or Stockbridge so they move . ( not to mention that most businesses supporting families have been run off by crazy taxes)

    Schools need to be right sized. No more tax increases

  4. Wilson Wright says:

    I would like to clarify one part of the story. Stockbridge pays almost $2,500,000 into the system. We have 145 students. If we were able to pull out of the district agreement without too much prejudice and choiced back in the students, the savings would be substantial.
    145 students, times $5000=$725,000. $2,500,000-$725,000=$1,775,000. Throw in $100,000 for transportation and still have real money savings. Again, not sure what the cost would be to remove ourselves from the district. But if enough towns did this across the state, I believe that rate would increase.

    1. Pete says:

      What if Gt. Barrington decided to that? Then the other towns can figure out how to fund the schools while the majority of the students are choice. Simple answers to complex problems don’t work.

  5. Ben Greenfield says:

    I don’t believe that if there was one Berkshire county district we would automatically save money county wide. The notion that food service if consolidated would be obviously cheaper is not obvious to me.

    If Berkshire County was going to try a group effort in saving all the school districts money I would focus on transportation. Transportation has little direct pedagogical effect and the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority exists and could take on the burden of planning public transit planning and budgeting.

    Grabbing line items that are traditionally found in school budget’s and moving them to other more appropriate budget either at the state, county, or municipality is the least disruptive way to make progress

    1. Pete says:

      The current funding system is not sustainable. The county wide idea may not be the precise solution but a different approach is needed. Do we need 4 separate high schools and districts in south county, where population is decreasing? Do we need 7 separate high schools in the north. Would 4 or 5 suffice.? Does school choice make any sense in non-urban areas like ours? I don’t have the answers, but our state reps need to be pushed to come up with solutions. This is controversial so they will avoid doing anything. Mr. Wright needs to put his sign t the offices of our state reps. The towns and school committees need help to make any significant changes.

  6. Aaron says:

    As a former resident of GB, and presently one of Stockbridge, this argument is both saddening and not all that surprising. Great Barrington seems to engender a deep-rooted sense of entitlement among those who live within its confines. (Perhaps it is focus on the ‘Great’ which causes this.) Rather than follow a sensible scheme whereby the number of students educated in the system from a given town is the root metric for determining funding, they see an opportunity to reduce their fair share at the expense of the ‘other.’ School systems exist to educate children. Pupils, not property, are the metric to be used to determine funding.

    They portray Stockbridge as wealthy, greedy and uncaring rather than actually looking at the facts. If Stockbridge actually was as it is portrayed by GB, then Stockbridge would not be a part of the regional district, rather it would go it alone ala Lenox. This simply is not the case, nor will it be happening. The argument put forth by Great Barrington neither holds water nor does it show any capacity for those who make it to recognize that they embody the false narrative which they put forth to attack Stockbridge.

    GB has the tax base and population to pay its fair share of the system which it uses the most. Rather than looking inward, or looking at the comparatively massive business-base advantage which it has over both Stockbridges combined, the residents of GB are attempting to use their position to split West Stockbridge’s interest from Stockbridge. Under the present proposed scheme WS burden remains flat, GB’s goes down, and Stockbridge’s goes up. The reality here is that this proposal is greed and entitlement run amok, wrapped in the guise of progressivism and fair play.

    I suspect that Stockbridge will again vote down this extortionate attempt to needlessly subsidize and lower the GB tax burden for educating its own students.

  7. Terry Cowgill says:

    To be clear, the proposal would only change the school district’s 50-year-old agreement so that the three member towns would each pay the same property tax rate to fund the CAPITAL portion of the district’s budget in the future. It would not affect how residents of the district are taxed to pay for the much larger operating budget, nor for debt service for earlier capital projects. Those latter two portions of the district’s spending would continue to be funded as is.

  8. Wilson Wright says:

    Yes, that is one question. What tax rate would be used in the future. An equalizing rate would raise both Stockbridge’s and lower Gr. Barrington’s I believe. Or if this did go thru, the property values that get re-valued every few years would rise. Hence you will pay more.
    There are 15 elderly property owners in Stockbridge looking for help on their tax bills. I assume there has to be others in Barrington and W. Stockbridge in the same situation. What happens to these people?
    Asking for more money is like the government. Could be down the proverbial black hole. We could use some quantitative easing coming our way. Money can solve problems. Just depends where it is being drawn from. Cost control is harder, less appealing.
    We are back to one of the other questions. When should all South Berkshire be consolidated?
    Per pupil cost is the most equitable system.

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Lea Zavattaro, 102, of Lee

Friday, Feb 23 - Mrs. Zavattaro enjoyed cooking and spending time with her friends and family over a cup of coffee.