GREAT BARRINGTON — I am truly sorry to have to write this column.
The people who voted down the education budget in Great Barrington town meeting are for the most part good people. They are friends and neighbors who truly believed that they did the right thing. It doesn't take much to convince yourself that you are doing the responsible thing even when you are not.
Look, our schools are the most basic building block we have for an endangered society. If our kids are to learn tolerance and humanity, it has to start with teachers. They can impart the information that our children need — information that may lead them to try to save this troubled world. When you consider how truly vital our schools are, you grieve that a community just doesn't get it.
I should have written this column before our town meeting but I never imagined that the town would turn on our wonderful teachers and administrators and most of all, our students who need all the support and help they can get. The support of our public schools has always been part of our American ethic. This is nothing less than a tragedy.
Each person who got up to speak against the budget seemed to start out assuring us that they were all for education. They then went on to rationalize that since Stockbridge and West Stockbridge would vote for the budget, our town would have to have a second town meeting and this would be a proper admonition to the school system.
Most of these people were all too predictable. Some of them did not have children in the schools. Some sent their kids to private schools and some to religious schools. Some were grandparents who think that the taxes are too damn high and some went to Ivy League schools and saw this as a chance to be important.
I am sure that if you administered a lie detector test to most of the "no" voters and asked them whether they really were for education, they would pass. In their own heads they believe they are, even as they voted to defeat the school budget because they thought that Stockbridge and West Stockbridge weren't paying their fair share. If you asked them whether they voted down the budget as a symbol of their "green tea party" membership they would say "yes" and again, they would pass the lie detector test with flying colors.
It was fascinating to watch this coalition of former adversaries get together to do the damage that they will have to live with. There was the guy who gets up at every town meeting to moan about taxes when he is one of the ones most able to pay. Some people have a whole lot of money but just don't get it.
My wonderful Roselle made the point that once you start to chip away at education funding, the damage is done. She's right, of course. A young student stood up and broke a lot hearts in the room as she described what a negative vote would mean.
I think about the fact that we all believe in equality of opportunity and you certainly can't have that if you drain resources from the schools. When inspirational high school Principal Marianne Young, clearly emotional, stood up to speak and announced that this was the first time she had ever addressed a town meeting I thought about the fact that this woman is as good as it gets in public education.
How much would it take, I wondered, for another school district that actually does support its students and teachers to make an offer and grab her away from us? What a disaster that would be.
Some of these people should have this on their conscience for a long time to come.
Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany.