Bob Barton: Josh, Eph address school funding

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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?

Eph: Aye.

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?

Eph: Aye.

Josh: Who will pay to build the real great school?

Eph: My town and Lanesborough.

Josh: Not the others?

Eph: No.

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."

Bob Barton was a 10-year employee of Williams College, a university VP, member of Lanesborough's Finance Committee, Selectman, chair of the elementary school committee, and in 2015, co-published with Harley Phelps, Jr. the book on Lanesborough's history, "250 Years Blessed by Nature."


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