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Cash Infusions

The latest Alumni Review has a thoughtful article by Morty on the relationship between the College and the local community. As with most everything Morty writes, it is worth a read. I have questions, however, about one passage:

Williams exists to educate students. The greatest determinant of the quality of their education is the quality of faculty and staff. We can only recruit and retain the best if the local community is healthy. So when the College, after careful consideration, invests in the local infrastructure, especially in public education and healthcare, every dollar benefits our current and future students. This includes the pledges we’re paying over several years toward the construction of a new Williamstown Elementary School building and to the capital campaign of North Adams Regional Hospital as well as a cash infusion to forestall a potentially disastrous budget crisis at Mt. Greylock Regional High School.

There is a sense in which this is reasonable and true. But that is also a sense in which it is misleading and self-serving. For now, I just want to focus on the budget “crisis” at the local high school, a topic that we have already touched on.

In simple terms, the “crisis” is that the good citizens of Williamstown don’t want to raise their (property) taxes. If they vote to raise their own taxes, there is no crisis. If they don’t, then they need to set the budget for everything that the community spends money on — including the local high school — appropriately. All the other towns in Massachusetts, my own included, face the same set of trade offs.

But Williamstown is, potentially, different because it has a great big sugar daddy in the form of Williams College. In fact, reading between the lines, it isn’t hard to picture a scenario in which the school board knows (Ralph Bradburd, professor of economics and school board member, has known Morty Schapiro, professor of economics and college president, for more than 20 years) that the College will step in with a “cash infusion” to make up for any budget shortfall.

I predict that this is precisely what will happen in the next few months.

No doubt Aidan will accuse me of being cheap [He’s right! — ed], but large “cash infusions” should be reserved for items that directly benefit the students.

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#1 Comment By Eric Smith ’99 On March 11, 2004 @ 10:59 pm

I still maintain that this does directly benefit the students. Like I commented last time, I see it as the equivalent of a raise/bonus to the professors (to attract/keep better talent). It has the added side effect of making the town happy about Williams instead of hostile about the constant infusion of rich white kids wandering around acting (perhaps rightfully so) intellectually superior while they clog up Route 2.

If you have a major issue with it, just direct any donations to the school to something specific.

I should have just pointed a link to my old comment and said “see this”.

#2 Comment By Aidan Finley On March 11, 2004 @ 11:41 pm

Kane,

you are totally wrong on this. without decent schools, this might as well be New Haven without the prestige and Choate down the street. Communities live and die on the basis of their public education, and for a town devoted to higher education, this is doubly critical. I don’t fault the college for not pissing in the well.

#3 Comment By David Kane On March 12, 2004 @ 6:20 am

Eric,

1) Nothing wrong with repeating yourself. That’s a tradition here at ephblog! ;-)

2) Directing donations, although an extremely useful fund-raising tool, doesn’t hep much here. Money is fungible. If you give to aspect X of Williams, the College can take the money that they would have spent on X and use if for Y.

Aidan,

I put myself firmly in the anti-well-pissing camp and, in a world without resource constraints, would be happy to see the College spend millions on making Williamstown nirvana in the Berkshires. But that money could have been spent elsewhere.

Perhaps a better way for me to frame the issue is to turn the question around. Mount Greylock Regional High School could clearly use another $250,000 from the College this year. Which part of the College’s operating budget would you like to see this money come out of?

#4 Comment By Aidan On March 12, 2004 @ 3:29 pm

now, wait, I didn’t say that the college should be handing out rolls o’ cash every year, just that the cash infusion was especially necessary for that budget year.

in any case, I feel for the issue because my own school district was thinking about slashing funding when I was in high school, something that would have driven me into the private sector. Communities really need to value their education, and I think the college is spending wisely in this regard. As to where in the operating budget? Perhaps from OIT’s budget…haha. No, seriously, I think the college can afford it–notice the clever use of the NARH donation to prepare the hospital for the health-center-closing onslaught next year.