Our schools are our most important investment

Town meetings really are great institutions — same people, same lines, different year. It’s sort of like watching reruns of Law and Order over and over again until you can practically recite the dialogue yourself.

It’s like a sing along. There’s always some wealthy guy (who else?) who gets up and complains once more about how the taxes are killing the poor people in town. What’s he against? Why, the school taxes, of course. They are forcing the good young people out of town.

He neglects to mention the fact that the schools of Great Barrington are the single best way that our young people have of achieving success later in life. He also not-so-subtly suggests that school budgets keep passing because parents (can you imagine that?) keep loading the meetings and voting for the budget.

That’s the whole point. There are two ways of voting, also known as “voting with your feet.” One is to vote and the other is to stay home. Hey, if you don’t show up you don’t get a vote. Similarly, if you don’t like the taxes in town you can move to Alford and vote for the school budget there. Then you won’t have to bitch about the school taxes.

While the cost of running our schools will surely increase a little as salaries and expenses go up, our schools are surely the most important function in town — more important even than any of our other valuable services.

Our schools represent a commitment on the part of the town to do what’s right. Even if your kids are grown or you send them to a private school, understanding the needs of schools is fundamental to the American experience.

I know people who have put a huge brood of kids through school but now that their kids are done, they say they just can’t afford to pay for increases to their budgets. I know a slew of people whose kids went to private schools (their prerogative). They want to know why they should pay. But I also know a lot of people who send their kids to parochial or private schools who know how important it is to provide great public schools.

Of course, most of those who would do damage to our kids know better than to get up and yell about educating the kids. They always frame the issue as, “I would be for it if the other districts paid more or if the school districts combine.” I have espoused such a move for years in this very space but it isn’t going to happen. Our choice is to pay for what we have or don’t pay. I don’t like it when my taxes go up any more than anyone else but this is terribly important.

There was a wonderful man at the meeting who was my favorite speaker of the night. He warned us to never forget that “These are all our kids.” We pay for libraries and firehouses and police stations and to pave the roads but this new crowd is all for curtailing costs at our schools.

So we have to find the right people who get it; we have to trust our public officials to do the right thing. Every town has people who rise above personal and petty politics. That’s why I am going to vote in our town for the two candidates who understand what it’s all about. I’m voting for Bill Cooke and Sean Stanton. These guys know what value is. They are no pushovers. They are sure to question every expenditure but they are overall responsible people.

You may think that this column is about Great Barrington but of course, it’s not. It’s about every town and village and city. We just have to put a stop to those who would harm our kids.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 5/9/15

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