GREAT BARRINGTON — In what possibly was a moot decision, the annual Town Meeting on Monday night rejected Great Barrington's share of the $23.3 million Berkshire Hills Regional School District budget.
By a count of 215-176, voters gathered at Monument Mountain Regional High School turned down a $14.46 million assessment; $13.8 million for operating expenses and roughly $636,000 to pay capital costs for the district.
Several opponents said their "no" votes were likely symbolic, anticipating that the other two member towns, Stockbridge and West Stockbridge, would approve their $3 million assessments each. West Stockbridge did so at the annual town meeting last week; Stockbridge votes on school spending next Monday.
Two out of three town approvals are necessary to enact the fiscal 2017 school budget. If Stockbridge says, "yes," Great Barrington would have to hold a special town meeting to accept their assessment.
Many who urged sending a message about the assessment said they weren't anti-education. They instead called for a change in how assessments are calculated. Great Barrington currently pays 70 percent of the Berkshire Hills budget.
"We need to get Stockbridge and West Stockbridge to pay their fair share," said George Beebe.
"The system is unsustainable and broke," added Selectman Daniel Bailly.
Berkshire Hills has formed a committee to review and possibly propose changes to the assessment formula. District officials hope the committee completes its work in time for the 2017 annual town meeting season.
However, proponents of the school budget weren't thrilled with Berkshire Hills students caught in the middle of argumentative adults.
"We're here to vote on a school budget, not here to play politics," said Gene Kalish.
Roselle Chartock was worried about the bottom line dominating the debate.
"We must think about what we'll lose if we chip away at the quality of our education," she said.
Meanwhile, the town's operating budget of $10.9 million passed without discussion along with $2.6 million in borrowing for 10 capital expenditures; the majority set aside for road, sidewalk and bridge repairs.
On the revenue side, town meeting voters agreed to used $2,150,000 in so-called "free cash" surplus funds to help lower the tax impact of the overall municipal spending for fiscal 2017 starting July 1.
The non-money articles were still being discussed and voted on at press time.
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413 496-6233.