Great Barrington approves renaming middle school for Du Bois, rejects short-term rental registry

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GREAT BARRINGTON — On a cool spring night, many hot buttons were pushed.

Residents at annual town meeting Monday approved renaming Monument Valley Regional Middle School after W.E.B. Du Bois, but not before the matter was hotly debated on the floor due to his foray into communism late in life.

There was little rancor about the budget, however. Voters approved the town's $11.6 million operating budget, $8.6 million capital budget, and $16.7 million in school spending for the Berkshire Hills Regional School District. The total increase to the town from last year was 4 percent.

Nearly four hours after the meeting started, zoning changes were still being considered, and a controversial proposal to repeal a ban on the sale of small plastic water bottles had not yet come up for a vote.  With more articles to go at 10:30 p.m., the meeting was continued until 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Opposed to renaming the middle school for Du Bois, the African-American scholar and early civil rights architect, a handful of residents took to the microphone.

They mostly objected to his turn to communism. One suggested renaming the school for a veteran, instead.

"I can think of numerous veterans ... who died for democracy ... how can we sit here and put one man above another?" said James Bailly.

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Others said they were opposed to naming a school after any person. But Alfred Brewer countered this in support of the renaming. He suggested racism is in play.

"Thomas Jefferson literally owned slaves and there isn't any hesitation about naming things after him," Brewer said. "It's not just about honoring Du Bois — it's about taking pride in someone this town produced."

Stockbridge and West Stockbridge will also have to approve the name change. The final decision will rest with the district School Committee.

Voters did not appear eager to begin regulating short-term rentals. They rejected a move that would require homeowners with short-term rentals to register their homes with the town — a first step at attempting to control the practice locally, and prevent an imbalance that could affect local housing options.

"It is soon a slippery slope to regulating how homeowners can use their own homes ... and adding additional taxes and fees," said Tracy Thornton, who rents her home.

But two other residents said forcing homeowners to register isn't fully articulated and asked that the Select Board come back with a new proposal.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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