On second attempt, Great Barrington residents approve school budget assessment

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GREAT BARRINGTON — By a resounding voice vote, residents on Monday night approved the town's share of next year's regional school budget.

About 250 registered voters attended the meeting at Monument Mountain Regional High School

The approval came in stark contrast to first vote on the budget, which went down 218-176 at the annual town meeting last month.

At the time, many voters were taken aback by the $500,000 increase in the $14.46 million assessment in the district's fiscal 2017.

This time, many residents who opposed the budget now supported it, including Fred Clark, a member of the Berkshire Hills Regional School Committee. Clark said he believed the school district and town officials have heard the message sent by townspeople: Keep the increases in check.

Donald "Chip" Elitzer, one of the principal architects of a uniform taxation proposal for the district's three member towns, agreed, saying that he believes in public education but he also believes that the rising school budget is unsustainable. Elitzer said a change in the district assessment method would require state approval, adding that the state needs to be involved.

Several residents urged the audience to oppose the budget again, suggesting that residents need to create a crisis that could force action by the state Department of Education.

"We need a crisis to wake up the state," said George Beebe, "Otherwise this will just happen again next year."

But former School Committee member Richard Coons countered that turning down the budget would create a crisis for town officials — not the state or school district.

"The budget has already passed," said Coons, noting that member towns Stockbridge and West Stockbridge have approved it. "All we're doing tonight is deciding if we'll approve it or pass this problem on to [the Select Board and Finance Committee]."

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.


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