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Letter: Comments on the Recommendation of the Berkshire County Education Task Force
Letters to the Editor,
01:00PM / Friday, August 04, 2017
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To the Editor:

Like many others, I appreciate the time the members of the Berkshire Educational Task Force have spent on a challenging and important problem. Their recommendation is being discussed in a variety of places, and thus merits a response.

Most recently, at a public forum on July 31 in Lanesborough on the proposed regionalization between Lanesborough and Williamstown, a resident asked if the Mount Greylock Committee has voted on the task force's recommendation. We have not, but I have asked for agenda items on it for future meetings.

The task force concentrated efforts on roughly three options: do nothing, form three regions, form one region. These are just three possibilities on a large spectrum. What about 10 regions, where the unions are formed among geographically close communities that share similar values? I believe it is dangerous to underestimate how important geographical ties are with communities.

As a member of the Mount Greylock Committee, I have had to work with varied constituencies in Lanesborough and Williamstown. I have seen both the rewards from our towns working together and the challenges; the practical issues of one region, one budget, and one committee should give us all pause when considering a "Super Region." Lack of transparency among our committees and the difficulty for some people with concerns to be heard grinds things to a halt. It happens, we are all aware of it. Think of that on a larger scale. What safeguards will be in place when there is just one committee for a region 78 percent the size of Rhode Island with 12 percent its population?

Like the task force, I too am surprised by this recommendation. While the overall goal of raising educational opportunities is a laudable one, it is irresponsible to make a recommendation like this without a significant analysis supporting this option over others. As such a detailed study has not be done (or if done not released), it is too soon to be discussing a Super Region over other possibilities. Instead of making such sweeping one-size-fits-all statement(s) at this time, it would be far more productive to explore all the options. This ranges from close collaborations between towns which could lead to local regions, to sharing of resources.

Sharing resources has already been done successfully in many places and is a natural building point. For example, I am a math professor at Williams College. As a small liberal arts school, we do not have sufficient demands to offer classes that would tremendously benefit a small subset of our students (this problem should sound very familiar!). I and colleagues at other similar schools have been exploring solutions to this for years. Using new technologies (which become cheaper and more accessible each year), we are now sharing courses across campuses. Just last year I taught an advanced problem-solving class with remote students in Amherst and Swarthmore, while next fall other schools will do Graduate Real Analysis and Bayesian Statistics.

Our time is better spent concentrating on sharing resources where appropriate as we investigate the benefits and dangers of each alternative. The Task Force is only an advisory council, and it is erroneous and dangerous to limit our collaborations to just these three possibilities.

Steven Miller

Miller is a Williamstown representative on the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee, but has submitted this letter as an individual. 

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