Act locally

The local schools are facing a crisis. On May 11, Williamstown voters will be asked to approve two debt-exclusion votes on capital projects for Mt. Greylock Regional High School. These votes would temporarily exempt the town from the restrictions on property taxes, with the additional revenue from the slight tax raise going exclusively to fix the school’s roof, boiler and locker room ceiling. Passing these ballot initiatives will allow the town to contribute its portion of the school’s budget, an important cause worthy of both the town’s and Williams College’s support.

As a Williams writing fellow, I have spent the past year helping in a ninth grade English class at Mt. Greylock. Doing so has given me the opportunity to meet hardworking teachers, dedicated parents and diligent administrators who are doing their best to provide an excellent education to the community’s children. Unfortunately, the bad economic climate has led to a substantial reduction in state funding over the past few years.

On both an administrative and grassroots level, the school has been stretching every available dollar. The school committee has passed a streamlined budget that has removed all spending it has have reluctantly deemed “nonessential.” They have also reduced funding to nearly every academic department, eliminated a job on the custodial staff and reduced the opening hours at the library. Every year, administrators, teachers, students and their families sell fruit, candy and other goods and services to help pay for field trips, sports teams and other after school programs. The school is pursuing more long-term cost-saving techniques in case the state is unable to restore funding, but it needs more time. Rising costs of unavoidable payments on building repairs, transportation and special education have left Mt. Greylock in a short-term bind. Because students cannot learn in a building that is crumbling, the school is bound by law to make these capital payments. If the town does not approve the two ballot questions, the money will have to be taken from elsewhere in the school budget.

The school absolutely cannot afford to cut any more programming. There are bright students who are struggling to remain engaged; others are simply fighting to stay afloat. Without the town’s support, the school will be forced to scale back funding even further for AP classes, athletics, theater and guidance counseling, among others. These are the programs that keep students excited about going to school. They provide both intellectual support and a sense of belonging for students who don’t feel fulfilled with their traditional classroom experience. Cutting funding to these programs could have devastating consequences for the student experience at Mt. Greylock.

These are the programs that have given Mt. Greylock Regional High School the reputation for excellence that it has today. Losing these programs will only further the school’s budget woes, as the loss will jeopardize the school choice funding and tuition that is generated due to its prominent status in Berkshire County. In order to attract the most elite faculty, the College relies on Williamstown to be a great place to raise a family. Strong public schools are essential to this reputation.

If approved, the two overrides would temporarily increase property taxes only slightly: a combined 12 cents for every $1000 of assessed property value. This means that a family with a home valued at $175,000 will be asked to pay a maximum of $21.25 a year for the duration of this 10-year increase. Of course, it is difficult to ask voters for any additional taxes in these tough economic times, but the alternative is simply unacceptable.

At Williams, we are used to hearing about serious but abstract problems that threaten our society – terrorism, global warming, HIV/AIDS in Africa. Fortunately, this is not one of them. This election presents us with a rare instance in which we can take a simple action that can meaningfully contribute to solving an issue of grave importance to the community in which we live. Turnout in this election is not expected to be more than 2000, so a few votes can make the difference. I strongly urge all students, faculty and staff who are registered to vote in Williamstown to make the short walk over to Williamstown Elementary School on Tuesday, May 11, and vote “yes” on ballot questions one and two. If they do, the College can make a strong statement in support of the efforts of the community’s schools and invest in its own future and that of the community at the same time.