Letter: Issue in Lenox goes beyond choice
To the editor of THE EAGLE:
Much is made of the 219 students in Lenox schools who don’t live in Lenox. I guess the problem is generated by the success of Lenox in keeping the town exclusive, ensuring that folks of modest means are not welcome to move in.
When someone of modest means moves away (or passes away), their house often goes on the market at many times what a similar home in a neighboring town would sell for. The lack of rental housing for families, the high cost of entry (at a median sales price of $440,000 there are few who can afford to buy in that town based on wages paid anywhere in the county) keeps even many folks who work for the town from living there.
The Housatonic Street site, which sits vacant awaiting a homeownership project, will always sit vacant, since the real need for middle or working class families is affordable rentals in Lenox. This will prove over time that the school system will become less viable. Families with kids who work in the Berkshires simply cannot afford to move to Lenox unless they have substantial cash earned elsewhere, and then a really good income to cover the high overhead of living in town. That site will never have rentals because the neighborhood objects -- which sounds like they don’t want to live near affordable housing and all of the stereotypes that elicits.
So the roughly $2.2 million that Lenox spends to subsidize out of town kids is really the price to keep a school system at all. A student base of 550 kids spread over 13 grades is just too small to offer a broad spectrum of classes. So talking about ending choice should be removed from the table as a standalone issue. If the town is not willing to share administrative staff and other costs with neighboring districts, explore outright regionalization, or otherwise cut costs and increase student census numbers that are fully paid for by the member towns, then this is the cost of maintaining a high quality district that you control alone.
Since it is unlikely that Lenox will soon become affordable or that there will be a rush of young families moving to town, I suggest the town government move forward and decide exactly what the real issue is and move toward a program that supports what they want. Continuing the status quo really is a viable option if the desire is to maintain a high quality independent district. Cutting $2..2 million from the town budget really won’t cut property taxes that much. But if the issue is really something else, then it’s better to get that out front and discuss it as well.