Wednesday, March 21, 2007

TEXT: Sally White casts disssenting vote on MGRHS budget

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. -- Here is the written statement provided by Mount Greylock Regional High School member Sally White by which she explained her decision to vote against the district's fiscal 2008 budget adopted by the school committee on Tuesday night:

Mr. Chairman, I have been a member of the School Committee since 2002 and seen the steady erosion of our budgets over five budget cycles.

This year, as in the past, the administration has diligently devoted many, many hours trying to find ways to solve the problem of matching inadequate funds to the needs of educating the children of our communities. Many departments of the school, including the administration, have been cut. The School Committee has weighed the options presented to it. Much time and care has gone into analyzing every aspect of the operation of our school.

But this budget does not meet the school's needs now or for the future. We must take a stand and adopt a budget which meets those needs.

If public education is a hallmark of our democracy, then let us stand up and bpeak up and say, as citizens, that we care about public education, that we care about our children, and that we will pay to provide an education, a good education, for each and every one of them.

I am certain that, unless changes are made starting now, future students will be deprived of the education that they deserve and for which they are entitled. Mt. Greylock will no longer be known for its excellence and for the richness that it offers it students, but for its large class sizes, its reduced choices in electives and other pinch-penny options that future students will face because the adults who live in their communities will not support adequate public secondary education.

These students are watching multi-million-dollar buildings being constructed and multi-million-dollar homes being bought and sold in their communities, yet they fear that they might not be able to take a foreign language, or participate in a school play, not because our communities are too poor to fund public
education, but because the taxpayers are not being told what the real costs of doing so are.

Will our comfortable citizens feel contented living in pleasant, scenic surroundings while local children attend a Spartan high school that offers limited academic choices and extracurricular activities? Is that the kind of mmunity we want to be?

I doubt that any member of this Committee truly believes that the budget presented tonight is adequate for our students. It will be said that the towns will not support any increase in taxes required to provide for what we need. I say, let informed taxpayers decide -- we should not decide in advance.

It is our duty to be forthright, and to tell our communities that Mt. Greylock needs more money, an amount to provide an education worthy of our towns and of our children.

If this requires an override, then let us seek one.

Anything less will not meet our responsibilities as elected representatives of the people and as spokesmen for the students of our District. The interests of these children are what the School Committee must strongly and vocally advocate to the taxpayers.

Mr. Chairman, I am unable to support the proposed budget and will vote against it.

Sarah B. White
Member Mount Greylock Regional School Committee

Saturday, March 10, 2007

SOURCES: Berkshire Blue print reports; Berkshire Eagle story (copyrighted)


Complete reports (PDF DOWNLOADS)
Berkshires Strategy Project
The Berkshire Blueprint
Berkshire Creative Economy

County road map
$1M report says economy needs diversity
By Scott Stafford, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Berkshire Eagle

Saturday, March 10
PITTSFIELD — Berkshire County's economy should lure entrepreneurs and foster growth for a diverse array of industries while playing up its proximity to major cities via roadways and a high-quality Internet connection.
However, the county is confronted by a steady decline in population, a limited communications infrastructure, schools that don't equip students with the skills local businesses require or that are too expensive, and no unified voice among its industries.

These are among the conclusions of the Berkshire Blueprint, a pair of studies coordinated by the Berkshire Economic Development Corporation that identify the county's strengths, weaknesses, challenges and goals for economic development. The $1 million report, a culmination of the studies that began last spring, was made public yesterday before a crowd of more than 300 at the Colonial Theatre.

BEDC President Tyler Fairbank said the Blueprint is a long-term action plan, one that will change over time and yield the most substantial results five to 10 years from now. Keeping everyone focused and motivated to achieve the same set of goals throughout the multiyear process will be one of the toughest tasks, he said.

"This is how we will collectively grow the region," said David Bruce, chairman of the Berkshire Blueprint Steering Committee and president of Lee Bank. "But we have to prioritize, coordinate and get other players to be proactive on these issues. It's going to take many hands to implement."

» How the Berkshire Blueprint was prepared

Two high-profile consulting groups worked with the Berkshire Economic Development Corporation and the Berkshire Blueprint steering committee on the innovative effort to define and strengthen the region's economy.

The regional strategy was developed by Monitor Group Inc. of Virginia. Mt. Auburn Associates of Somerville defined the strategy for the creative sector.

The first effort of its kind here, it utilized federal, state and local funding to formulate two simultaneous strategies — one for the economy in general and one for the region's 'creative economy.'

The study was funded through a grant of more than $450,000 from the Economic Development Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce, a $300,000 grant from the John Adams Innovation Institute and $100,000 in donations from public and private contributors. Roughly $200,000 was contributed through volunteer services.

Putting the Blueprint together was an arduous task as well. There were 130 members of the steering committee, hundreds were interviewed and thousands of survey responses were processed. But as hard as it was to pull the plan together, the real work is yet to be done, and that work begins now, Bruce said.
The Blueprint calls for an improvement to the regional economic climate by supporting entrepreneurship and innovation, launching marketing campaigns inside and outside the county, developing networks for industrial and regional collaboration, reorienting educational systems to regional employment needs, investing in an improvement to the business infrastructure (communications and technology) and reversing the downward population trend.

Bruce noted that getting ongoing cooperation for implementation may not be as hard as it seems.

"There's been a real 'wow' factor as we've been talking with people," he said. "Two things we've been hearing a lot are, 'You're hitting on a lot of things that are important to Berkshire County,' and 'How can I help you?' "

Of all the challenges faced by the region, Fairbank said, "Our number one issue is population loss. It's critical."

The plan suggests stemming the population loss by investing in quality infrastructure for high-tech communication and transportation, and by eliminating blight and beautifying downtowns, among other things. One action item specifically targets population loss through a "sophisticated" marketing campaign to attract new residents and retain the people already living here.

"We have a culturally, environmentally attractive area with lots of appeal," Bruce noted. "We also have high value-added manufacturing, such as plastics and paper. It's not often that you get both of these in the same geographic area, but we've got both of those going for us on parallel tracks. But at the same time, we have people coming into the local colleges, getting smart and leaving — the underlying concept being that there are no opportunities in the Berkshires. But there are."

He said the marketing campaign will be designed to address that concept.

"This is not going to be easy," Fairbank cautioned. "You can't turn the Titanic around in a bathtub. We don't have it all figured out, and this is not a perfect plan. But we do have the best plan we've ever put together as a community. So it's got to be flexible and it's got to be constantly looked at."

At yesterday's announcement, Ellen J. Spear, president and CEO of Hancock Shaker Village, took turns with Laurie Norton Moffatt, director and CEO of the Norman Rockwell Museum, explaining the importance of the creative industry's role in the overall economy, and that it is not limited to cultural venues and museums.
The study clearly indicates that the roughly 6,100 workers in the county's creative economy work in museums and entertainment venues, but there are also creative minds employed in all other sectors of the economy, such as designers, technicians, weavers, architects, home builders and plastics engineers.

"Art means business in the Berkshires," Moffatt said. "The potential of the creative cluster has been clearly defined."

"And the work is frequently embedded in other clusters," Spears said.

William R. Wilson Jr., president and CEO of the Berkshire Visitors Bureau, said the Blueprint notes that tourism has "finally been recognized as a major economic driver that is key to our economic future."

Wilson said the plan calls for "Berkshire County to work together as one community, unite ourselves as one economy. We need to be united under the Berkshire Blueprint for our economic future."

In a previously recorded video presentation, Mary K. Grant, president of MCLA, expressed pleasure that the report "recognizes that we need to be thinking about education as an investment, not an expense. It's wonderful to see what we can do working together to connect the dots."

Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto said the Blueprint signaled that "it's time to put on the work gloves for all the heavy lifting that lies ahead."

"We have branded ourselves as 'a place of culture and innovation,' " said state Rep. Daniel E. Bosley, D-North Adams. "Now we need to brand ourselves as 'opportunity and employment.' The thing that brings it all together is the Blueprint — the thing that brings it all together is collaboration."

» Periodic benchmarks

A number of benchmarks will be checked periodically to determine the success or failure of Berkshire Blueprint initiatives, including:

Population change
Why this will be measured: Signs that the population numbers may have begun to change direction indicate long-term investments in infrastructure.

How this will be measured: U.S. Census information may be coupled with estimates and projections from Decision Data Resources and used to measure changes over time.

Personal income
Why this will be measured: Increased personal income drives consumer spending, creates savings and eases problems such as tax burdens and household debt.

How this will be measured: Through the U.S. Census and U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis' reports on personal income, population and per-capita personal income.

Why this will be measured: Work force supply, work force demand, and training and skills development are interconnected and together lay out the characteristic of the region that will help to guide decisions on plant location, sales and purchases. To compare business and the industry or economy as a whole.

How this will be measured: With data from the state Department of Workforce Development and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Average wage
Why this will be measured: Measures of average wages can be used to determine whether economic development efforts are providing increases in prosperity for the region's residents and whether strategies in cluster development have had effects on the region.

How this will be measured: State Department of Workforce Development, U.S. Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Patents issued per worker
Why this will be measured: Patents are a measure of innovation and creativity. Patents issued per worker can indicate the region's levels of innovation.

How this will be measured: A cluster mapping project.

Cost of doing business
Why this will be measured: Business costs are weighted heavily when companies decide to expand and/or relocate.

How this will be measured: Moody's reports on four business factors: labor, energy, taxes and rent.

Higher degree attainment
Why this will be measured: Because economic growth will depend on increased worker productivity, the educational attainment of today's students raises an important concern for tomorrow's work force.

How this will be measured: U.S. Census and Decision Data resources.

Job vacancy rate
Why this will be measured: Vacancy rate information will help key stakeholders and decision-makers in the county better understand the dynamics of business work force needs, to identify present and future gaps in the current work force and to make recommendations on the findings.

How this will be measured: The Mass Job Vacancy Survey.

— Source: Berkshire Economic Development Corporation


Scott Stafford can be reached at or at (413) 496-6240.


This article above is copyrighted material, the use of which may not havespecifically authorized by the copyright owner. The material is madeavailable in an effort to advance understanding of political, economic,democracy, First Amendment, technology, journalism, community and justiceissues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' as provided by Section107 of U.S. Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Chapter 1,Section 107, the material above is distributed without profit to those whohave expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information forresearch and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted materialfrom this blog for purposes beyond fair use, you must obtain permission fromthe copyright owner.

NA TRANSCRIPT: Plan for county growth focuses on arts, tourism


Plan for county growth focuses on arts, tourism
By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams TranscriptNorth Adams Transcript

Article Launched:03/10/2007 02:57:32 AM EST

Saturday, March 10

PITTSFIELD — Once dependent on factory work to support its economic base, Berkshire County is looking for a new way to survive, and it's going to take more than museums and ski resorts to bolster the economy, a new countywide strategic plan reports.
Unveiled Friday at The Colonial theater by business and community leaders, the Berkshire Blueprint focuses on capitalizing on the county's untapped artistic resources, investing in education and better marketing of the region both to tourists and businesses.
"This is not a plan for one organization or one company," said Tyler Fairbank, president of the Berkshire Economic Development Corp., which oversaw the creation of the blueprint. "This is a plan for the county — a road map for success. There is no silver bullet, no one elixir. What we offer is silver birdshot, not as a solution but as a beginning.
"Just as you would not attempt to grow a business without a business plan, we cannot expect to grow as a region without a business plan — the Berkshire Blueprint."
The report suggests focusing on three business clusters — creative, plastics and hospitality and tourism — as well as investing in infrastructure, developing a new Berkshire brand, establishing an "angel network" of businesses willing to provide investment capital and finding ways to reverse the population decline.
A two-year, $1 million study, the blueprint is the culmination of two separate economic development projects — the Berkshire Creative Economy Project and the Berkshire Strategy Project — both of which examined challenges and solutions to upgrading the region's business environment.
"The studies reiterated the uniqueness of the region with its natural and cultural amenities, along with specialized manufacturing," David Bruce, president of Lee Bank and chairman of the blueprint's steering committee, said. "The blueprint gives us a new vision of a dynamic, creative and competitive economy."
"In short, art means business in the Berkshires," added Laurie Norton Moffatt, director of the Norman Rockwell Museum and steering committee co-chairwoman. "Until now, the impact of the creative cluster on the Berkshires hasn't been fully understood. It's an area ripe for economic development."
Moffatt and Ellen J. Spear, president of Hancock Shaker Village and steering committee co-chairwoman, headed the Creative Economy Project, which showed that 10 percent of the county's workforce, or 6,000 jobs, are involved in some type of art-related business.
"The creative cluster is an export business that brings millions of dollars into the region each year," Spear said. "But we need to remember the delicate balance this cluster needs — growth is possible, if it is done in a sustainable and balanced way."
One key component connecting the three job clusters is the need to invest in education and align education and training programs with regional employment needs.
"The findings of the Berkshire Blueprint's work validates the need for an educated and skilled workforce," Andy Mick, chairman of the Berkshire Compact for Higher Education and CEO of New England Newspapers Inc., said.
He said the compact is moving forward with programs to inspire area students to think of their educational journey as continuing through college, with the support of the Nellie Mae Foundation and the Donahue Institute.
Donald Dubendorf, Williamstown lawyer and chairman of the John Adams Innovation Institute's board of directors, also supported the blueprint's finding for a need to improve the education of the region's workforce.
"What is so powerfully outlined is that the value of a workforce is no longer the strength of its back but the quality of its minds," he said.
State Rep. Daniel E. Bosley, D-North Adams, challenged the region to move forward with the initiative — promoting education as the key to improving the economy.
"We've branded ourselves as a place of culture," he said. "We've branded ourselves as a place of beauty. We need to brand ourselves as a place of great jobs and great opportunities for growth."
While the plan does not offer specific solutions, it does offer "benchmarks" for success and a basic structure for the implementation of several oversight committees to help steer initiatives.
"This is a way to build a structure," Fairbank said. "It's very complex. Will this happen overnight? No. But it's a plan to help the region so we don't succumb to political whims or the whims of one or two large businesses ever again."

This article above is copyrighted material, the use of which may not havespecifically authorized by the copyright owner. The material is madeavailable in an effort to advance understanding of political, economic,democracy, First Amendment, technology, journalism, community and justiceissues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' as provided by Section107 of U.S. Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Chapter 1,Section 107, the material above is distributed without profit to those whohave expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information forresearch and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted materialfrom this blog for purposes beyond fair use, you must obtain permission fromthe copyright owner.