WILLIAMSTOWN >> Josh Billings of Lanesborough and Ephriam Williams chatting about schools. Overheard by Bob Barton on New Year's Day.
Josh: Eph, you know I once said, "The less we know, the more we suspect."?
Eph: Aye, it's on one of those roadside signs in Lanesborough.
Josh: Well, I suspect Berkshire County needs to close some schools in the coming years. Do you know anything?
Eph: Aye, it's going to happen; enrollments are way down, costs are up.
Josh: But you're building a new high school anyway?
Eph: We need great schools to make this country strong.
Josh: Will your school be greater than the ones that will close?
Josh: Do you know, or just suspect?
Eph: I know — it's because our town has money, our college people send their kids there, and Williams cares about excellence.
Josh: But you don't have enough kids to fill a great school.
Eph: Aye, but we draw students from New Ashford, Hancock, Lanesborough, Pownal, Pittsfield, Clarksburg, North Adams, and other towns.
Josh: And if you build a great school, even more will come, and it will be a real great school?
Josh: Who will pay to build the real great school?
Eph: My town and Lanesborough.
Josh: Not the others?
Josh: OK, then they will pay extra to send students there?
Eph: No, they will pay less.
Josh: Whaaat! So Lanesborough and Williamstown will build the school, fund it to be great each year, AND give discounts to fill it with students from other towns?
Eph: At the college we call that a financial aid program.
Josh: Is Lanesborough OK paying for this, subsidizing other towns?
Eph: Good question.
Josh: If Lanesborough won't do it, would you wait for a county-wide "great schools" plan?
Eph: No, we don't want to lose the money promised from Boston, AND Greylock could be a model great school in a future county-wide plan, so the college would step in if Lanesborough can't afford it.
Josh: What do you mean "step in?" Before you answer, I must remind you, "The truly brave are always generous."
Eph: We'd think about giving $15 million in capital support, and $3 million per year to be shared county-wide during the first five years of a great schools program.
Josh: How did you come up with those numbers?
Eph: Colleges are untaxed, so the great ones invest in their communities — our close peer Middlebury College did $15 million for projects in their town recently.
Josh: Your idea sounds like a good start Eph, but Middlebury's endowment is only half the size of Williams' — is $15 million for capital projects enough?
Eph: Well, we're thinking of that $15, plus the $3 million per year for five years for the county-wide great schools program, so it's really $30 million overall.
Josh: OK, I get it, and that would be great, but I'm sure you know "To finish is to win."