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Save our Schools

Hayley Wynn ’06 has an excellent article in the Record on the budget crisis at Mt. Greylock Regional High School. She does an especially fine job of gathering comments from several faculty members. (I wonder how she decided which faculty members to interview?) Highlights included:

In spite of the College’s $250,000 gift to Mount Greylock Regional High School last spring, the high school is again facing a tough budget crunch and the possibility of more cuts in student services. While administrators stressed the importance of the quality of local education to the College, they were unwilling to say that more aid will be forthcoming.

Ahh, but the good citizens on the School Committee certainly think — wink, wink — that the College, if presented with an ultimatum, might very well put up some cash again.

Professors with children in the public schools have a personal stake in the issue. Steve Sheppard, professor of economics, has two children attending local schools, one in seventh and one in ninth grade. “The quality of local educational opportunities was a very important factor in my decision to come to Williams,” he said. “Sadly, I have to say that I think the quality of local schools has been hit by the cuts of the last several years, and is below what we, and most people, would expect of the hometown of the best liberal arts College in the country.”

Steve Sheppard came to Williams in 2000! Isn’t it a bit much for him to discover now that the local schools aren’t up to snuff? I am ready to believe that Mt Greylock Regional High School (MGRHS) is not as good a school as Sheppard would like it to be, but I am highly suspicious of the claim that its quality has dropped significantly in the last 4 years. I’ll try to contact Professor Sheppard to see if there is any evidence of this that I am not aware of.

Karen Kwitter, professor of astronomy, expressed similar concern. “When my family moved here almost 25 years ago, people were already saying that Mount Greylock, while not as stellar as it had been, was still a first-rate school,” she said. “That was important, because I was never interested in sending my kids to a private school…I would say the situation now is critical – teaching positions are gone, and students have to pay for being in a play or participating on an athletic team.

Kwitter, as a long time faculty member, has more standing than Sheppard if it is true that MGRHS has gone downhill over the last 20 years. I am unaware of any evidence that it has in fact done so. But if the best she can do is to whine that “students have to pay for being in a play or participating on an athletic team,” then I am suspicious here as well.

Student activity fees are not a MGRHS-only phenomenon. Such fees are now the norm across Massachusetts, including my own lovely town of Newton. Perhaps these fees are a bad thing (representing the decline of public education in America). Perhaps they are a good thing (charging people for the resources that they use). But, in either case, they are, essentially, universal.

Neither Sheppard nor Kwitter nor the nameless professor-that-Williams-wants-to-hire have a lot of other options, at least in Massachusetts, that would avoid sports-fees, budget battles and the like. And Massachusetts is not the only state where this is going on.

As always, if you are a Williams professor — especially one, like Schapiro, Bradburd, Sheppard and (I think) Kwitter with students in MGRHS right now — the optimal answer is that the College spend a large amount of money immediately. Any deleterious effect that this had on the endowment or on fundraising would never affect you.

Note that this is also the best answer if you are just a resident of Williamstown. Threaten the College with a low school budget and watch it pony up some extra money.

Everybody wins!

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#1 Comment By Williams Towner On April 6, 2004 @ 4:23 pm

You’re clearly missing the point here. The costs of running a school are going up. The Greylock school committee proposed a budget that would cost Williamstown taxpayers $637,572 more than last year to run the school district. Now, this budget request has been referred to as “irresponsible” by many town officers and others and will likely come down somewhat. Still, in the end the members of the community will have to decide whether or not they want to vote to increase their own taxes to help pay for the school. Last year, by an overwhelming majority, residents of Williamstown did just that.

Williams donation last year certainly helped to ease the tax burden placed on residents and was I’m sure appreciated. Should the college consider themselves outside the community? What possible “deleterious effect” on fundraising or the endowment would occur if such a donation were to happen again?

#2 Comment By Williams Towner On April 6, 2004 @ 4:32 pm

One more thing. If you use the MCAS as a measuring tool (which I personally see as awful but, oh well, this is where we are) you can see Mt. Greylocks performance over the last few years here: