Currently browsing posts filed under "MGRHS Financing"

Follow this category via RSS

Your Alumni Donations at Work

From WAMC:

Some residents of Berkshire County plan to argue Tuesday against the installation of an artificial turf.

Tuesday night, the Mt. Greylock School Committee will hold a forum at the public high school to hear comments on a plan to install an artificial turf field.

“The high school after years of an ancient building finally got the town funding and state funding to move forward with the new building project,” said Anne O’Connor. She has been a member of the Williamstown select board for two terms.

“And that building project is essentially complete now but what could not be funded by the state was anything for the outdoor facilities, as well as for housing of the superintendent, the district office,” explained O’Connor.

Williams College stepped in with a $5 million donation to the school to be used however Mt. Greylock sees fit.

I am not a Williamstown resident. I leave it to them to decide how much money to raise in taxes and how to spend it. Williamstown is a richer than average town in a richer than average state. I am sure they will be fine!

But it drives me crazy that Williams College spends millions of dollars on this nonsense. I don’t give money to Williams so that the College can turn around and give money to Williamstown for a turf field, or any other purpose. I give money to Williams to directly improve the quality of the education that the College provides to its students. A new turf field does not do this.

EphBlog Maxim #9: The best way to predict the behavior of Williams is to imagine that the College is run by a cabal of corrupt insiders who seek to use our endowment to better their own lives. Previous discussion here.

Millions of dollars to Mount Greylock does nothing for Williams students. But it might do quite a bit for Maud’s daughter, currently a MGRHS student . . .

The only way to avoid this conflict is to stop shoveling money at local institutions. If the good people of Williamstown want a turf field, then they should tax themselves to pay for it.

How can Maud, or any Williams administrator, possibly be objective when the topic is: How much money should we transfer from the Williams endowment in order to improve the education of our own children? They can’t! The best solution to this dilemma is for Williams, as a matter of policy, not to give dollars to local non-profits. (I have no problem with donations in-kind, like the use of chemistry labs for enrichment classes for local students.)

Recall (from 2003!):

A one-time, $250,000 gift from Williams College given earlier this year is expected to restore 5.2 of the 10.8 teaching positions cut from the fiscal 2004 budget.

There is no such thing as a “one-time” gift from Williams . . .

And to think that I used to complain about 6 figure gifts! How naive I was . . .

Read the whole article, and note the quotes from friend-of-EphBlog Nick Wright ’57.


Community Support

Three years ago, the local teachers union negotiated an overly generous contract. Details below. Stand by for major controversy this time around.

Read more


School Financing Update

An older reader snarked in a recent thread that we have fallen behind in our coverage of local school financing. Time to fix that! The Eagle reports:

A group of townspeople and officials from Williamstown and Lanesborough have been tapped by the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee to investigate the long-range financial health of the district, and to put together a plan for the future.

Several members are associated with Williams College. They include Williams College Director of Public Affairs James Kolesar, Williams associate provost Keith Finan, and economics professor Stephen Sheppard.

Kolesar and Finan were part of a volunteer group from Williams that last February presented a grim report about the future finances at the school. Their conclusion was that over the next several years, the school’s revenues will probably increase about 2 percent, while costs will grow by 4 percent each year.

“In the final analysis, to project balanced budgets for the school into the medium-range future will require dramatic steps by the school’s policymakers and communities to increase revenues, decrease expenses, or somehow combine the two,” the group wrote in a summary of their findings. “None of the ideas generally floated in public discussions would by itself balance the budget for very long.”

Not true! We floated plenty of ideas here. Basic problem remains that the teachers are overpaid and have ludicrously generous benefits. A majority of Williamstown residents have made it clear that they have no interest in raising taxes. Everyone in Williamstown wishes that the College would just be a nice sugar daddy and distribute money like ACE hands out back-rubs. I will do my best to fight that answer.

If you can’t run a good, even excellent, high school at $12,000 per student, the problem is not the money. The problem is the school administration and the school board which supervises it. A Williamstown resident (and alum) told me last week that the town needs a teacher strike and then to break that strike. Bring it on.


EphBlog Solves MGRHS Deficit!

A long-running interest of EphBlog has been the financing problems facing local schools, especially Mount Greylock Regional High School (MGRHS). Classic posts here, here and here.

The short version of this history is that the College gave $250,000 to MGRHS to help with a temporary financing crunch. The town voted increased taxes to help out one year, but then failed to do so again last year, despite the hard work of Professor Sam Crane. (Note that my prediction that the College would pony up more money was wrong.)

Anyway, the latest update in this saga is a report by several Williams faculty and staff about the future trends in school finances. The report is excellent! Kudos to Dick De Veaux, Cappy Hill, Sue Hogan, Keith Finan and Jim Kolesar. I am glad to see Williams faculty and staff so involved in the well-being of the local community. The report concludes:

In the final analysis, to project balanced budgets for the school into the medium-range future will require dramatic steps by the school’s policy makers and communities to increase revenues, decrease expenses, or somehow combine the two. None of the ideas generally floated in public discussions would by itself balance the budget for very long.

Alas, I haven’t had time to go throw the entire report, but it seems well-done, thorough and depressing. Unless something is done, the school finance gap is doomed to get much larger. The school’s expenses are simply out-of-whack with its revenue under any reasonable forecast.

Fortunately, EphBlog is here to help! The central problem with MGRHS is that expenses are too high. Want to cut expenses in a service business? Cut salaries and benefits. Problem solved.

Now, our more sensitive readers may be shocked by this suggestion. How can we balance the budget on the backs of our no-doubt underpaid and overworked teachers? Yet, before the tears well up in your eyes, please guess (without looking at the report!) what the average teacher salary is at MGRHS. (Note that the school budget crisis has been going on for several years and lots of smart, dedicated people like Professor Ralph Bradburd have done everything they can to reduce costs while maintaining educational quality.)

Got your guess?

Read more


Override Fails

The Eagle reports that:

Voters rejected a Proposition 2 1/2 override in yesterday’s annual town election by a narrow, 80-vote margin in a heavy turnout. The town will now have to cut roughly $530,292 from four major budget areas before next week’s annual town meeting.

I am impressed with the sophistication of the voters of Williamstown. Last year, they voted for the override. One way to interpret this, perhaps, is that they were ready to treat last year as a true (one time) emergency. This year, they felt, collectively, that town officials were not trying hard enough to be frugal. So, now those officials — including Professor Ralph Bradburd — get to try harder. This is precisely how the architects of Proposition 2 1/2 hoped that it would work.

But John Weyers voted against the override. “My personal opinion is that the budget isn’t handled right, and the teachers need to pay more for their medical insurance,” he said after voting in the afternoon.

Like John Weyers, I am suspicious of some of the budgeting at, at least, the high school.

The override failed despite a concerted effort to drum up support from Together for Williamstown, a ballot question committee that was reformed this year to push for an override.

“I thought we were going to win,” said Together for Williamstown Chairman George T. “Sam” Crane. “A lot of people put in a lot of effort.”

“Everybody’s going to get hurt by this, and that’s the shame of it,” he said.

I am sad that all of Sam’s hard work failed to win the vote. I still think that there is a great senior thesis to be written about the efforts of TFW. It’s not too late for a smart ’05’er to start interviewing people and taking surveys.

And now, what says Williams College? Longtime readers will know that the College’s contributions to Mount Greylock Regional High School (MGRHS) have been an interest of mine. [Interest? How about obsession. — ed. No, Barnard/VISTA is an obsession. MGHRS is an interest.]

It is clear that folks from Williamstown would like the College to contribute again. College officials have repeatedly said that last year’s contribution was “one time” in nature. Place your bets.


Funding “Predicament”

The Berkshire Eagle has a nice update on this year’s budget battle in Williamstown. Professor of Political Science Sam Crane seems heavily involved in the push for another Proposition 2 1/2 override. A careful study of the forthcoming campaign, as well as last year’s successful one, would make for a great poltical science thesis.

However, as happy as I am to see Williams faculty take leadership roles in the local community, I take issue with some of Crane’s comments:

He [Crane] added that the acrimony in the community surrounding such a vote is a result of “the politics of evasion in Boston and Washington,” which puts pressure on communities.

“It’s uncomfortable and no one likes it, but that’s the way it works,” Crane said.

Why is it the fault of “Washington” that Williamstown has a budget deficit? Does Crane think that there is some big pile of money buried under the Lincoln Memorial that could be used to help out Mt. Greylock Regional High School? Crane might have a point in blaming “Boston” since Proposition 2 1/2 does put serious constraints on local communities. But, again, it isn’t “Boston” that created Proposition 2 1/2, it is the voters of Massachusetts. Moreover, the voters of Williamstown can, democratically, decide to set their taxes at whatever level they decide to fund whatever good works they choose.

I suspect that Crane realizes all this and that his talk of “evasion” is a rhetorical ploy to increase the likelihood that the forthcoming override attempt will succeed. In his place, I would do the same.

For all those wondering where the College stands on the issue, we have:

During last year’s crisis, Williams College donated $250,000 to help shore up the situation. Last Wednesday, Williamstown Town Manager Peter Fohlin confirmed in an interview with WNAW Radio that there have been some talks between Mount Greylock officials and the college about this year’s predicament.

The fix is in.

But Williams spokesman James G. Kolesar said no decision has been made. “The college is certainly interested, along with the rest of the community, and concerned about the situation at the high school, and is trying to stay well informed about the situation,” he said.

Kolesar said last year’s donation was out of the ordinary. “The deal was that the situation was so dire it was hoped that a one-time infusion could help buy time for the whole community to work toward a long-term solution,” he said.

Turns out that the community — despite (because of?) the leadership of folks like Crane and Ralph Bradburd — has little interest in working toward a long-term solution. In fact, the community seems to have decided that Williams College will step in to pick up whatever funding MGRHS needs.

Note that the override amount has been set at $530,292. One would think that this amount would be enough to cover whatever shortfalls currently exist at MGRHS. One would be wrong:

But even if voters approve an override, the Mount Greylock Regional School District would still face a $743,549 shortfall in its proposed budget of $9.2 million. If an override fails, the school deficit would increase by another $300,677.

So, the proponents of the override (presumably including folks like Crane and Bradburd) set an amount that is not enough to pay for everything that they want to see at MGRHS. Why would they do this?

1) They think that $500,000 is the most that the voters will approve. This seems implausible since the voters approved last years override of about the same amount by almost 2:1.

2) The school budget request has been padded so that the missing $750,000 won’t be terribly missed. It would be perfectly reasonable for the school committee to pad things in this way, despite their protestations to the contrary.

3) Proponents expect that the College will come through with another $250,000 or even more.

I vote for 3.


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!


Property Values

The Transcipt article on the school budget features Professor of Economics Ralph Bradburd

Committee member Ralph Bradburd defended the committee’s budget saying it had made difficult choices and $139,833 cuts that it would have preferred not to.

“I think we would be foolish and the town’s would be foolish if they didn’t recognize that property value is contingent on the value of the education at the high school,” Bradburd said.

He added that he didn’t believe that townspeople would want to see the value of their home decrease.

No property owner wants to see the value of her house decrease, so Bradburd, in his push for a larger school budget, is smart to appeal to her self-interest. But the good citizens of Williamstown are no doubt hopeful that Williams will come through for them again, as it did last year.

The budget approved Tuesday includes the cost of 5.9 full-time teaching positions currently funded by Williams College and the Greylock Assistance Project Fund, restores 3.6 full-time teaching positions cut from the current budget, adds a special education teacher, restores mid-level administration, funds 50 percent of athletics and activities costs, and includes $60,000 in tuition costs for students enrolling in the Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter School.

I believe that readers interested in providing charitable gifts to the schools in Williamstown can do so directly via the Greylock Assistance Project (GAP). Cuts out the middleman, I’d say.


Poor Greylock High School

The school committee has voted on a budget for Mt. Greylock Regional High School (attended by students from Williamstown and Lanesboro) and it looks like there may be trouble. Long time readers will recall that the College’s relationship with the local high school is a favorite topic on ephblog.

Read more


Your Alumni Fund Donations at Work

In the “Your-Alumni-Fund-Donations-at-Work” category, it is intersting to read this article in The Transcript. The Greylock Assistance Project (GAP) seems to be private effort to raise money for public school related activities at Mount Greylock High School. Such efforts are common in Massachusetts and help to provide extra funding for things like sports teams, drama and even teaching positions, especially for towns in which a majority of voters don’t want to raise as much in taxes as some citizens think should be spent on the schools. So far, so good. We then read that:

A one-time, $250,000 gift from Williams College given earlier this year is expected to restore 5.2 of the 10.8 teaching positions cut from the fiscal 2004 budget.

The gift from Williams also made it possible for GAP to focus its fundraising efforts athletics and activities, GAP Ad-hoc committee member Lisa Hiley said.

The money raised by GAP for the fall means that football, soccer, cross-country running, extra band activities, the Shakespeare and Co. student production, as well as academic clubs such as the Junior Classical League will be offered to students.

This is somewhat troubling. Why is Williams College giving money to Mount Greylock High School? The latest mailings from the alumni association certainly don’t highlight this use of our contributions. Is Williams really so flush with cash that it can afford to give to other causes, however worthy? Of course, the counter-argument is that Williams is an important part of the local community and that part of being in a community is contributing to the local institutions. This is perfectly reasonable. I certainly feel better about Williams giving to Mount Greylock than giving to some, equally deserving, school in California.

But there is also the potential for a conflict of interest. Who decides where the college donates money? Senior members of the administration. Where do the children of senior members of the administration go to high school? For at least some, the answer is Mount Greylock. Indeed, we can read about the exploits of Matt (son of Morty) Schapiro on the Mount Greylock tennis team here.

So, is it any wonder that Morty Schapiro and other senior people at the college might think that the worthy goal of providing a better education at Mount Greylock High School is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars of the College’s money?

Followers of recent financial scandals on Wall Street will note the similarity to the case of Jack Grubman and Citigroup and the 92nd Street Y. You can read many of the details here, but the relevant part of the puzzle was the alledged use of Citigroup’s corporate philanthropy to facilitate the educational goals of star employee Jack Grubman. The basic claim is that Citigroup gave money to an elite Manhattan pre-school in order to better the odds of admission for Grubman’s twin children.

The central problem for both Citigroup and Williams is that any act of philanthropy is a) good in and of itself; b) potentially useful to the larger goals of the insitution (Williams benefits from having better faculty and better faculty are more likely to come to Williams if the local school system is good); and c) potentially beneficial to specific senior employees with decision-making authority over the philanthropy (Morty Schapiro benefits if his son’s tennis team has nicer facilities).

Of course, we at Williams Blog Central think highly of Morty Schapiro — and not just because we want a job from him some day! — so it is out of the question that Williams might have given to Mount Greylock for reason c). But the conflict of interest doesn’t go away just because one has faith in the specific people involved. If you disagree, ask yourself how things would change if Williams gave $250 thousand every year, or how about $2.5 million, or even $25 million. Whatever the amount, reasons a) and b) would still be true.

Perhaps the safest policy would be for Williams to give no cash contributions of any kind. This doesn’t prevent Williams from being a good neighbor (letting the Mount Greylock tennis team use our courts for its big tournament, for example), but it would certainly decrease any potential for problems.

If it were me, that $250,000 would have instead gone to merit scholarships for under-represented minorities. Surely that is a better use of the College’s limited resources . . .


Currently browsing posts filed under "MGRHS Financing"

Follow this category via RSS