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Great Barrington, an irresponsible member of Berkshire Hills District

In his letter to the editor Jon Piasecki of West Stockbridge writes: "A Mighty 215 in Great Barrington are willing to impose their insistence on property tax reform at the expense of the children of our three communities. Too few G.B. residents care or dare to stop them.."

To the Editor:

After the recent rejection of the school budget by the voters of the Great Barrington at their Town Meeting, I think it is clear that the 215 people who voted down our school budget have sent a strong symbolic message. Those voters, who henceforth I will refer to as the Mighty 215, are fed up with the rising property taxes in Great Barrington.  Sure, Great Barrington has property taxes that are in the bottom third of the state. Sure, Great Barrington has 70 percent of the per capita income of the three towns covered by the property tax assessment. Sure, there are several other big ticket issues unrelated to the school that G.B. residents have to pay for, like the Fire Station and the new sidewalks. But to the Mighty 215, no object is more ripe for property tax reduction than our school budget.

Great Barrington has 70 percent of the students from our three towns and by the regional agreement pays 70 percent of the costs assessed to property taxes. A large part of the discontent in G.B. comes from a deliberate misrepresentation by school critics who maintain that G.B. pays 70 percent of the cost and has 52 percent of the students. That 52 percent number, in fact, comes from the full school budget and it includes choice kids and tuition kids, in addition to the kids from the three towns. The full school budget also includes all sources of funding, not just property tax assessment. G.B. has 52 percent of the kids in the total budget and pays 52 percent of the cost of the overall school budget. That this is explicitly and intrinsically fair, is in no way an obstacle to the property tax reform efforts of the Mighty 215.

In spite of the fact that the vast majority of the communities of the Commonwealth pay their property taxes based on enrollment, in a similar manner to our agreement, the Mighty 215 are not interested in any way conforming to the norms of our state nor with supporting the historic bond of the three towns to provide for our school. The Mighty 215 are willing to impose their insistence on property tax reform at the expense of the children of our three communities. Too few G.B. residents care or dare to stop them.

The efforts of the Mighty 215 have weakened our school, our teachers and harmed our kids by ensuring more cuts to the few non-state mandated expenditures in the school budget that have not yet already been cut. There will be less art, less music and less support for kids in need as a result of their symbolic dedication to intimidation. The Mighty 215 are sure to shave some microscopically tiny percentage off of their property taxes after the state mandates and the legal requirements that will need to be part of the complex new regional agreement tasked to the RAAC. I predict that even after this compromise they will not be content. The Mighty 215 have trashed what was our 3-town union and proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that Great Barrington, under the strict rule of the Mighty 215, is no longer a responsible partner to run our school district with.

Jon Piasecki

West Stockbridge

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