Kenneth Swiatek: Williamstown's backward, bullying approach on high school


WILLIAMSTOWN >> No one can dispute that Mount Greylock Regional High Schhool needs fixin.' It has not been properly maintained or remodeled.

Recently, I visited the high school I attended in western New York, similar to Mount Greylock, a little less fancy and a few years older. However, that campus is still going strong. Its major renovation was to build a new, much larger gymnasium and fitness center while retaining the old gym as a multipurpose arts center. The opposite of the MGRHS plans. (The new gym was a brilliant idea.)

Williamstown requires a "new" high school in order for Williams College, in its obsession to be #1, to recruit and keep top level faculty.

The process that has transpired in designing and funding the "new" high school is exactly the opposite of what normal, working class people use when deciding to make a new, "significant" purchase. In the real world, we first look at how much we can afford to spend; then we go shopping. Thus, when I need a new car, I don't look at new BMWs, Mercedes or Audis.

In "The Village Beautiful," however, we do the opposite. When the school and its school committees finally get an idea of what they want, then we finally look at how much the unsuspecting customers will be billed and then make the point that if we don't sign on the dotted line immediately, bad, unthinkable things will happen to us.

The citizens of Lanesborough are trying to take a sensible approach; Williamstown? Not so much.

Rabid gorilla

When Williamstown and its handlers want something, they have perfected the technique of public shaming and bullying to get what they want via its long outmoded Town Meeting system of government, which only works if there is not a rabid, 2,000-pound gorilla extorting the "proper votes."

Fortunately, citizens will have the opportunity to go to the ballot box and secretly vote their consciences and pocket books to decide whether they and all their less fortunate neighbors can afford this new purchase. Sadly, however, bullying and public shaming do negatively affect ballot box votes.

Let's look at the planned school. Would a newer, bigger, more functional gymnasium make good sense, and a possible source of revenue? Have we considered whether the new complex can support holding classes year round if that becomes a new educational trend? Before we sign on the dotted line, the first rule is: Have we designed a school that will not become obsolete, immediately, or in a few years?

What will the new high school cost Lanesborough and Williamstown taxpayers? Using some numbers reported by the press, I did some number crunching. These numbers and interest rates could rise further before any bond is taken out. (The Fed may have to raise rates quickly, so it can use its only tool of lowering interest rates to save the economy in the event of an imminent crash.)

During a bond repayment period of 27 years, property taxes can still rise an additional 2 and 1/2 % annually via Proposition 2 and ½ rules.

If the Williamstown tax rate increases $1.42 per 1,000, then property taxes for a $250K assessed home will increase by $355 a year. A house assessed for $400K will see its taxes go up by $568 a year. This might not seem like much, but it is a lot if you are on a fixed income, like Social Security, which often does not increase. Think of it as 7-11 weeks worth of groceries.

If the 01267 rate increase to $1.60 per 1,000, then taxes for a $250K home catapult by $400 a year, and a $400K home by $640 a year, or 8-13 weeks worth of fixed income groceries.

What about Lanesborough? A $1.61 per 1,000 explosion results in a $402.50 annual increase for a $250K assessed home, and $644 annually for a $400K assessed home.

Were 01237's rates to go up to $1.81 per 1,000 then a $250 assessed home pays $452.50 more per year and a $400K assessed home will shell out an extra $724 per year. Each year, we will be taking away 8-15 weeks worth of groceries from the frugal.

Over the life of the 27 year bond, we could be paying anywhere from $10,000-$20,000 in higher taxes. Oops! There goes that new car!

We are being told to be submissive; we have no choice and are being handed the proverbial Hobson's Choice. We have been painting ourselves into a corner; now, we are stuck.

However, a quick defeat of the tax override at the ballot box could be a wake up call to get the powers that be scrambling to quickly come up with a more sensible solution, and a happier ending for all.

The press also reports that the state will only reimburse us for certain things. Has MGRHS "maximized" spending on reimbursable items to keep costs to taxpayers to a minimum?

Better strategy

Please, no shaming. Please, no bullying. Hopefully, our schools do not tolerate the bullying of its students; similarly, the towns and its citizens should not permit the bullying of its taxpayers.

Here is also a new, alternative funding mechanism. Williamstown raises $6,889,967 annually from property taxes. Total citizens equal 6,000. This amounts to $1,148 each. However, the town also has 2,000 non tax-paying Williams College students. If each student also pays the same $1,148, the town will have an additional $2,298,000 in annual revenue to fund and support the high school.

A sum of $2.3 million is not a highly significant amount for Williams College. It is not an assessed property tax from which Williams is exempt. It is a college student "town user" fee.

Kenneth Swiatek is a former Williamstown Selectman and former North Adams Social Security office manager for 23 years.


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