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David Scribner
Voters at the Stockbridge Annual Town Meeting lifting their cards in support of a amendment agreement between the three towns in the Berkshire Hills Regional School District. The measure passed 155-91.

Stockbridge endorses amended BHRSD agreement, completing district-wide approval

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By Tuesday, May 16, 2017 News 10

Stockbridge – In an unexpected spirit of pragmatic generosity residents at a 4-hour, jam-packed Annual Town Meeting here Monday night (May 15) overwhelmingly approved – by a 155-91 margin – an amendment to the Berkshire Hills Regional School District agreement that would increase their tax rate should the district undertake capital projects, such as renovating and upgrading the aging Monument Mountain Regional High School.

And they did so with the full awareness that they were taking on a greater tax burden in order to more equally share the costs of improving school facilities, in spite of the fact that the town Finance Committee had voted 6-0 against the amended agreement.

“We need to do it,” declared former selectman Chuck Gillette. “There are garbage cans in the high school hallways to collect the water leaking from the roof. We’re going to pay a little bit more to get a whole lot more. It’s our responsibility. Every generation puts a school in place for the next generation.”

Regional Agreement Amendment Committee member Fred Rutberg at the podium. Behind him is Gary Johnston, town moderator.

Regional Agreement Amendment Committee member Fred Rutberg at the podium. Behind him is Gary Johnston, town moderator.

At their town meetings earlier this month the other district member towns, Great Barrington and West Stockbridge, had also adopted the amendment that replaces the current enrollment formula with the town’s property values as the basis for determining each town’s contribution to the regional school district budget. Under this method, according to current assessed townwide property evaluation, Stockbridge would be responsible for 32 percent of any capital expenditures – up from 15 percent under the per student formula, while Great Barrington’s percent would drop from 70 percent to 53 percent. West Stockbridge would be responsible for 15 percent.

The revised agreement was the product of a year’s deliberations – sometimes acrimonious — by the Regional Agreement Amendment Committee (RAAC) made up of town and school committee representatives, and was acknowledged as an attempt to convince Great Barrington, whose voters had twice rejected a $24 million proposal to rebuild and upgrade the high school in large part because of the inequities between how the costs would be distributed among the three towns.

In defense of the amendment RAAC member Fred Rutberg argued that “apportioning costs by the number of students won’t hold water in the future. We don’t know what enrollment will be moving forward, but we do know that this revised assessment would only occur if there is a new capital project, and whatever project comes forward will be voted on.”

He also pointed out that the high school needs to be renovated.

“Doing it piecemeal,” he said, “we won’t have the state providing a reimbursement. We’ll pay more and get less.”

Former BHRSD School Committee member Rich Bradway. Photo: David Scribner

Former BHRSD School Committee member Rich Bradway. Photo: David Scribner

Rich Bradway, a former member former member of the BHRSD School Committee, noted that the increases in the school district assessment to Stockbridge had been kept to 1.5 percent. “The School Committee has kept expenses down,” he said, “with much smaller increases than other expenses. Funding our schools is an investment in our community.”

Still, there was resentment against Great Barrington for having rejected the school renovation proposal two years ago, for which the district would have received nearly 50 percent reimbursement from the state, when Stockbridge and West Stockbridge had endorsed it.

“We shouldn’t reward Great Barrington,” shouted out one resident “They had two chances. If they were so concerned about their children, they would have voted for it, and we wouldn’t be here talking about it.”

In the end, however, it was the views expressed by resident Sarah Horne that proved persuasive enough to overcome simmering annoyance with Great Barrington.

“We should put most of our money into education,” she insisted. “There is no better way to ensure a better future for our community, state and country. This is most important. What we are saying is that we believe in education for all the children, not just in our town but in the district. Education has longevity.”

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10 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Karen Smith says:

    Bravo Stockbridge and West Stockbridge you renew our faith in knowing that children are our greatest resource.

  2. Chris Thomas says:

    With a few years experience in the corporate world, one of the greatest lessons I learned in that you manage with your head… not your heart. There’s a reason the Stockbridge Finance Committee (a group I suspect has more knowledge, experience and foresight regarding funding allocation than 99% of the attendees last night) unanimously encouraged rejection of Article 7. Time will tell whether their trepidation, and that of a good portion of the voters, was justified.

    We can’t predict the future but good, bad or indifferent our vote made a commitment that leaves many questioning whether it is the right choice at the right time.

  3. Rich Bradway says:

    With all due respect Chris Thomas, our finance committee can do a hell of a lot better. There were a number of questions asked of that committee last night of which the committee had no numbers or data to back up or even provide answers. As I mentioned last night, the school district is the one cost center in our town budget that has maintained its increases on par with the consumer price index. All other costs centers have been almost double on the low end and practically 5x higher on the high end. The school district works it’s collective butt off to keep increases low, despite the fact that the state continues to overpromise and underdeliver on a number of things, as well as tossing out a few unfunded mandates our way. The fact that the chairman of the finance committee leveraged the word “saddled” when referencing the school budget versus less provocative language for other foolhardy expenses, shows where his loyalty lies, with his wallet now and not the future well-being of our community. Another Finance Committee member had the gaul to compare the rate of our tax increase with Great Barrington over a 6 year period , but conveniently omitted the years immediately prior in which Great Barrington too ran up against a number of infrastructure investments that our town is now currently facing. If you are going to compare facts, compare them with comparable facts, not those that you conveniently pick out of thin air. I for one am happy that the town showed courage in voting in the affirmative for this amendment. It puts the priority on what should matter in our town. Investing in our future.

  4. Karen Marshall says:

    Shelby Marshall was not the person who said Great Barrington shouldn’t be rewarded. He supported the warrant and spoke in favor of it. Please correct this mistake….

  5. John says:

    With declining enrollments, and the school boards have the audacity to significantly increase spending.

    It is no wonder why so many ‘locals’ now leave the Berkshires for greener pastures.

  6. Shelby Marshall says:

    The opening sentence describes Stockbridge’s “spirit of pragmatic generosity” as “unexpected.” The Edge’s reported may not have expected our town’s residents to be generous to our neighbors, but most people in town have been committed to this position all along. Hence the overwhelming approval.

    I am also appalled that the reporter ascribed to me a statement with which I emphatically disagree. I do not think Stockbridge is “rewarding” Great Barrington, and I think that point of view is completely wrong-headed. I spoke (and voted) in favor of the warrant article. Great Barrington cares about quality education just as deeply as Stockbridge does. They have been facing a greater burden than we have, and this reapportionment is appropriate.

    1. My apologies, Shelby… in my notes I had mistakenly put your name with the individual who shouted out his remarks about Great Barrington. The story has now been corrected. And congratulations to Stockbridge.

      1. Ellen says:

        I think you mean that the story has NOW been corrected?

      2. Right, Ellen… fatigue sets in…. thanks for the copy editing, as always.

      3. Shelby Marshall says:

        Thanks, David. I appreciate it! Your reporting is excellent, and it’s good to see a correction made so quickly.

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