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District needs a ‘clear’ vision of 21st century education

In his letter, David Long of Housatonic writes: "This is not a time for the opposition to gloat, or the pro side to be discouraged. Yes one opportunity has been rejected. But now we have a new opportunity to do something even better."

To The Editor:

Last night’s vote [November 4] clearly demonstrates that the [Berkshire Hills Regional School] district needs to think differently about the school building and find ways to accommodate what residents have been demanding all along. There are four clear demands that the plan did not address and must be confronted. They are:

  1. A clear vision of what a “21st century education” really means and how the building will relate to that vision for the next 25 years. A vision is not a laundry list of features; it is an organizing idea that defines the value of each option and thus aids in decision making.
  2. Use local contractors where possible. It has been clearly demonstrated that this is possible if there is a will to do it. Dismissal of this issue is second only to cost in the list of reasons the plan did not pass. This is a community project — the community should get some economic benefit from it.
  3. Lower operating costs. Investments are less painful when offset by savings. Hydronic solar or photovoltaic assisted heat pumps provide real savings in a short time frame. There are probably numerous other opportunities to make the building more thrifty.
  4. Lower total cost. Voters are clearly overwhelmed by rising costs of all kinds — property taxes in Great Barrington have become a lightning rod for people’s frustrations. Part of this issue is about pricetag, the other part is about financing. A thriftier plan combined with a diversification of funding sources could help alleviate a good deal of this frustration. Clear and compelling educational goals should help in finding alternative funding mechanisms.

Personally I would add that a plan going forward should include a strategy for insuring an adequate school budget for the foreseeable future. The biggest failure would be to renovate the school and then not have the money to use it to its potential.

I would also add that Great Barrington needs to find ways to insulate the groups that take the brunt of tax increases — namely seniors on fixed incomes, lower income homeowners, farmers, and especially renters — from the regressive nature of property taxes. I know Michael Wise has been working on this. My guess is that there may be multiple strategies to easing the pressure on these folks.

My informal polling indicates that about a third of the opposition are “Tea Party types” that will not vote to raise taxes under any circumstance. But that leaves a large constituency that could be moved to support a renovation of the school. I would argue that if the district could clearly demonstrate that it has tackled any three of the above demands, a great deal of the opposition would evaporate.

This is not a time for the opposition to gloat, or the pro side to be discouraged. Yes one opportunity has been rejected. But now we have a new opportunity to do something even better. I hope that we can continue this open dialogue in a constructive manner so that we can realize the potential to do something really outstanding for our kids in a responsible and cost effective way.

 

David Long

Housatonic

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