High school upgrade our obligation

The folks who are charged with watching out for the children of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District are scheduling a Nov. 4 redo on the earlier failed vote to rejuvenate Monument Mountain Regional High School.

From the outside, the school looks pretty good, but according to the folks who serve on the School Committee and the first-rate administrators who we have hired to educate our kids, we have fallen way behind. They say that we need to update the technology and create new labs and vocational spaces to bring us into the 21st century.

The opposition, and it seems mighty, is spreading the word around that this is a bad plan. They suggest that the taxes are already too high in Great Barrington; that we have already voted on and defeated the matter; that we are overbuilding; that we are tuitioning kids in from outlying districts that aren’t paying their fair shares; that the school superintendent is going to China to get students to pay tuition to support the school; that poor people will be overburdened. To put it mildly, this has become quite a hot-button issue.

Look, I don’t like seeing taxes go up any more than anyone else does. For as long as I have written this column, I’ve been yelling that we should combine the Southern Berkshire and Berkshire Hills school districts. There are fewer people in both schools than there were when we arrived in the Berkshires in 1971.

The problem is that people in both districts feel a sort of local nationalism and want the status quo or “cosa nostra” otherwise known as “our thing.” School Committee Chairman Steve Bannon says that he has personally approached the Southern Berkshire system on several occasions but there was no interest from that quarter. So there is truly a part of me that thinks that until the two districts sit down together and try to make sense out of too much high school for too few kids, we should not spend this huge amount of money. Yet, I also have other thoughts.

We elect a school board that has gained considerable expertise on the subject of how to best educate our kids. Steve Bannon is as solid a man as I have seen in local politics, ever. If he says we need a better school, I believe him.

The Chartocks are immensely grateful for what the school district has done for our kids. We could not be more proud of them and what they have accomplished. We are not likely to turn around, as some others might, and say, “My kids are done — why should I pay for your kids?” Public education has always been a community responsibility like the library we built or the Taj Mahal of firehouses. Nothing is more important than ensuring our kids’ future so that they can start out having the best chance in life.

In the end, we are a community. We need to provide our kids with the very best that they can have. Not everyone is going to go to college and if that means making better training and vocational facilities for them, that’s what we have to do. Sometimes these debates are framed as “us versus them” or “elitist versus blue collar.” Not this time. We are fighting for every child. The anti-tax folks will use every conceivable argument to get their way but frankly, it is un-American to vote no on this matter, even though we might feel it in our pocketbooks. That’s the history of this country. We do what we can for all our kids and their future.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 10/13/2014

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