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Great Barrington voters demand equitable division of school district budget

In this letter to the editor, Steve McAlister of Great Barrington writes: "The end game appears to be that Stockbridge will hold Great Barrington hostage to the current, half-century-old apportionment."

To the Editor:

Great Barrington’s defeat of the school budget in town meeting has caused a stir, but it’s important to view from the perspective of what unites the town, rather than what divides it. Laying aside the seemingly inevitable accusations and mischaracterizations, it is clear that both sides value and honor the local public education system as one of the best aspects of the community. The disagreement lies in how to save and improve it. Beneath the question of reapportionment lies the disturbing fact of a high school which is passing into obsolescence with no hope for significant improvement on the horizon.

Those who supported passing the budget view the defeat as a terrible example for the community and an expression of a rebellious spirit that they fear may become habitual. Their response to the need for reapportioning the tax burden more equitably among the three member towns is to continue with what has been tried or is still being attempted. Their counsel is patience and continued funding, with modest increases each year. Meanwhile, the school district will address deficiencies in the high school physical plant in a piecemeal way, but thoroughgoing modernization must wait.

Those who opposed the budget see a two-headed monster, in the form of continuing tax increases that will be unsustainable over the not-so-long run, and a lack of progress in pursuing the reapportionment. The voters of Great Barrington have made it clear in two votes that they will not bear an unfair proportion of the costs needed to bring the high school physical plant into conformity with current standards, and so it continues to age. Any further votes to renovate would also surely fail in the current atmosphere, as before.

There appears to have been little progress in resolving the apportionment question, since the first renovation vote failed in Great Barrington a number of years ago. This lack of progress was recently underscored by the intransigence expressed by the Stockbridge representative, in a well-documented meeting of the committee activated to address apportionment. His message was essentially that Stockbridge will contribute nothing beyond their current, highly favorable apportionment. So the end game appears to be that Stockbridge will hold Great Barrington hostage to the current, half-century-old apportionment, and Great Barrington will hold Stockbridge hostage by refusing to pass the school renovations, leaving Stockbridge (and the other two towns) with a wreck of a high school. Students cannot all “choice out,” since space in other schools is limited, so it is ultimately the students who suffer most. Something must give.

Therefore, the current situation offers a golden opportunity to lay aside differences in Great Barrington and present a united front, in the knowledge that both sides share the same desire for outstanding schools, making it clear to local and state officials that NOW is the time for change, and lack of progress toward a satisfactory solution will not be tolerated any longer by the voters of Great Barrington. What is really needed is not just another year of the status quo, but genuine, palpable progress on the question of equitable apportionment. That would be welcomed by all.

Steve McAlister

3 Warren Avenue

Great Barrington

The writer is a candidate for the office of town moderator.

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