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Mass. Senate President Continues Outreach In Berkshires

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Jim Levulis
/
WAMC
From left to right: BCC Pres. Ellen Kennedy, Mike MacDonald, the unofficial chair of the BCC turf field committee, Mass. Senate Pres. Stan Rosenberg and Senator Ben Downing tour BCC's campus.

Massachusetts Senate President Stan Rosenberg spent Wednesday touring Pittsfield with political, education and businesses leaders. It’s a continuation of the Democrat’s push to get lawmakers to learn more about areas outside their districts.Rosenberg took the helm of the Senate in January after Therese Murray, who was facing a term limit, retired after eight years leading the chamber. Rosenberg has been in the Senate since 1991 after serving in the state House since 1986. Over eight days in February and March, Rosenberg and his fellow senators toured Massachusetts for a host of community events called the Commonwealth Conversation Tour. The Amherst Democrat says despite being a small state, Massachusetts is multifaceted.

“We are still a very diverse state in many, many different ways,” Rosenberg said. “The regional economies that are built and the extraordinary assets you find in different places. Not the least of which is this [Berkshires] is really the summer home of people in Massachusetts along with Cape Cod.”

After touring Berkshire Community College, where a $32 million renovation of academic buildings, parking lots and driveways is under way, Rosenberg sat down with the mayors of Pittsfield and North Adams, State Senator Ben Downing and college president Ellen Kennedy. The conversation focused on figuring out a solution for rising school budgets in Berkshire County, an area with multiple districts facing a shrinking population.

“We can’t look at ourselves in the mirror or I can’t look myself in the mirror and say ‘It makes sense as a county to lose what we are going to lose this year, which is between 50 and 70 teachers based on where budgets are at right now, but preserve 13 to 19 administrative bureaucracies,’” Downing said. “That’s the choice. I know it’s not as simple as that getting there. But it is in many ways as simple as that.”

Working with the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, Berkshire lawmakers recently brought together school representatives from across the county to talk about a sustainable path forward. Rosenberg says he went through a similar two- to three-year process in Franklin County. Although sweeping changes didn’t happen, he says a study showed consolidating administrations could save a significant amount of money. He says if Berkshire County can figure it out, it could be a model for other regions.

“The local communities want to maintain the control of those unique assets and for many it’s the only real thing that’s going in town and there’s such pride around the school,” Rosenberg said. “Not only the building, but also the people and the programs of the schools. So I hope you can find some new vision for how we might be able to respect that, but also get the efficiencies that are needed.”

North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright says education spending is the only investment in his city’s annual budgets.

“Local education and districts just are not long-term sustainable economically, systemically, they’re just not viable,” Alcombright said. “So we do have to find a way. Senator Downing hit it on the head, if we had to build it today we wouldn’t build it this way. In North Adams, we’re geographically the size of Springfield with a third of the people with seven distinct districts.”

Senator Downing says making sure the Berkshire education system is strong is important for economic development and curbing poverty. Meanwhile, he says the state hasn’t been able to figure out how to better fund rural transportation.

“Especially in an urban and growing more urban state,” Downing said. “Berkshire County was 140,000 people when the state was 3.5 million [people]. The state is 6.8 million and Berkshire County is 130,000 people. So the divergence in those trends highlights the need, but we don’t have the framework yet to do that and the needs only growing.”

Rosenberg says he plans to continue the commonwealth conversations including talks about municipal issues with the state’s mayors.

“We’ll work with Ben [Senator Downing} and our colleagues in the House to identify the priorities for this region so you can keep growing and developing here maintaining your quality of life, but also ensuring that you people here have a way of supporting themselves and their families.”

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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