Proposed BHRSD amendment asks too much of Stockbridge

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By Sunday, May 14 Letters  7 Comments
To the Editor:
There is an amendment to the Berkshire Hills Regional School District (BHRSD) agreement that is being put forth for a vote at the Monday March 15th Annual Stockbridge Town Meeting which is asking Stockbridge to accept a much larger portion of the BHRSD Capital Budget. Great Barrington feels they are paying too much in spite of the fact that they have the majority of the students enrolled in the school system.
The proposed amendment to the existing agreement between the three towns of Great Barrington, Stockbridge, and West Stockbridge would place an unfair financial burden on Stockbridge as we have far fewer students enrolled than Great Barrington. The proposal is based upon Stockbridge’s perceived financial position. I would point out that with an aging population living on fixed incomes, and facing major infrastructure and building projects, Stockbridge cannot afford this added financial responsibility.
The real issue is reimbursement by the State of Massachusetts for the students who choice into the school system. This payment needs to reflect the real cost of educating the student in today’s dollars. The effort needs to be placed here as well as the number of school districts Berkshire County  supports.
As an aside,  I believe many years ago Lenox asked to join BHRSD and Great Barrington voted the proposal down, with Stockbridge and West Stockbridge voting yes. This certainly would have helped with the current financial situation.
I will vote no on Monday’s proposed amendment, and I hope the majority of Stockbridge voters do as well. This vote is not about education per se, but about the intent of the original BHRSD agreement, and the correct formula of who should pay based upon enrollment.
Gary Pitney
The writer is chairman of the Stockbridge Planning Board and Board of Assessors.

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7 Comments   Add Comment

  1. John Hart says:

    Thank you Gary,

  2. John Hart says:

    I would like to submit here that those engaged in town need to ask the town Treasurer at town meeting to translate what town report say about stabilization and free cash. Those numbers when projected out til fiscal year’s end are scary. Stockbridge needs policies set in place with eyes to the future and also set with the understanding that Boards and commissions and committees change. With those changes have come many differences that need to be standardized and regulated.

  3. Rich Bradway says:

    I respectfully disagree with you Gary. I realize many people want to pit this as a Great Barrington vs Stockbridge thing because of what has been said and what has been reported. When that happens, the people who will feel it most are the students. I am a firm believer that operating costs should be divided up by enrollment. Capital on the other hand represents something else to the three towns. It is an investment in our community. If we employed the philosophy that GB students place more wear and tear on the schools because they have more students, then we should employ that for all the out of towners who use our roads, town water, sewer, etc. The school represents more than that. In the end, the increase in the capital budget we will be arguing about is less money than many of the individual articles that will discuss money increases on the warrant. The irony is that the school agreement amendment has no monetary impact on the town at all. Even if we passed this amendment, Stockbridge still has a line item veto on any major capital school project that comes our way. Stockbridge can single-handedly shoot down any capital budget that includes a borrowing element. That wording was also added to the amendment. Did anyone read that part of the amendment? The earliest the district would come to the town with a capital project is probably three to five years out. I suspect that because there are so many articles that have to address budget increases on the warrant, there will be groundswell of people who will look at the school amendment article as an easy one to shoot down because it will represent a spit in the eye to Great Barrington. Yet the only people we will hurt is our school community, of which our town is still a part.

  4. Bobby Houston says:

    Gary, John –

    No doubt you are aware that the entire controversy has been hashed out in full and addressed in the proper forum, the RAAC- which included full and aggressive representation by qualified community leaders from Stockbridge? (BTW it bears pointing out that Gary Pitney is not writing here in his role on Stockbridge Planning or Assessor.)

    The reason for the regional school agreement change is that our BHRSD has expanded way beyond the three towns in an effort to provide a broader education for all. However, outdated State statutes hamper financial support of this strategy.

    With these limitations, the three towns engaged in a year long, formal negotiation process, seeking ways to support the school financially. The proposed amendment addresses the limitations imposed by State for sharing costs. These do not take into account the true costs of students who attend from outside the district. Stockbridge’ s increase reflects a contribution that the RAAC group as a whole felt was more reflective of its was passed unanimously.

    Considering the RAAC process was highly fraught — and I mean HIGHLY — and ultimately successful, I have to think your letters are last-minute efforts to scuttle something that was difficult and important to achieve.

  5. John H Hart says:

    I have no intent to “scuttle” any hard work put forth by the RAAC. What my concern is, and I will vote accordingly is that the town be educated at ATM about the differences between student count and school budget and what the capital improvements will include and a ceiling placed on what Stockbridge’s contribution in “five year” might be. Our town finances are in shambles for many reasons. I just hope we do not make a decision tonight that will add to the burden down the road.

    1. Patrick Fennell says:

      RAAC was hardly a success.

  6. Rich Bradway says:

    Gary and John,
    Two more points I want to add. Leveraging “choice” as a reason for not supporting the amendment is a double-edged sword. First, the district has made it supremely clear that we do not hire new teachers to accommodate the kids choicing-in. We have the teachers we have because our community has made it supremely clear that we want the type of programming we offer in our schools. The school committee treats all choice students as revenue, meaning they accept choice students to fill in gaps where we have availability because the student-to-teacher ratio can accommodate it. We do not hire more teachers to accept in choice students. If we want to leverage choice in the argument, and try to raise the reimbursement rate for choice, I would like to highlight one critical issue with that approach. If we do not maintain our schools, and keep them up-to-date, safe, and offer a competitive education, then there will be district kids who will choice out to go to other schools like Lenox, Lee, Southern Berkshire and even the new Taconic school in Pittsfield in the coming years. If we plead for the higher reimbursement to say something like $10,000 per student, guess who pays for all those kids who choice out? We do.

    Secondly, the town’s finances being in shambles is by our own doing. We deferred everything just like GB did and guess what, the same thing is happening. Worse, because the same thing is happening, the school district will be the one that gets kicked down the road. Just like in GB.

    The vote on the School Amendment is simply to change the formula. There is no money being voted on. Here is what any costs will be in the next 5 years. If the roof fails or the boilers fail, the district will have to pay for it. There will be an opportunity for state reimbursement but not a lot and certainly not 100%. The boilers are the original boilers from 1967. I believe the district added money in operating to fix/replace one of them for this year. I would suspect the district might do the same for the following year. As for any major renovation or big project , the district will have to file a letter of intent to apply for state assistance. If they do it in the fall of 2017, then the earliest we will see a response from the state is 2018. The last go round took almost 3 years and it wasn’t until Smitty stepped in. Then the district has to go through a project feasibility phase which will take another 1-2 years. This will require public buy-in the whole way. Earliest we would see a vote go to the towns would be 2020 for funding to take place in 2021. I would suspect the earliest we would really see a major project come our ways is 2022. Even then, there is language in the amended school district agreement (if we approve it) that gives any one town vetoing power. Once the school district votes to approve money for borrowing on a capital project, each town has 60 days to vote on the bond. If one town votes NO, then the bond is not approved and the district has to go back and come up with another plan.

    I hope this is the kind of information the town will be educated with tonight.

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