Sunday, March 30, 2008

MGRHS board proposes 5.7% budget hike to towns, shedding science post; FinCom member says 4 positions added; mostly in special ed services

Reported by Bill Densmore

Mount Greylock Regional High School would shed a science teaching positionnext year -- but add four posts overall, including four in special-education services -- under a proposed $9.9-million budget – a 5.7 percent increase over this year -- approved by the school board. The figure includes a proposed $23,000 special appropriation which Lanesborough voters will be asked to approve over and above the town's mandated share of the regional district's budget. The board also welcomed a planned gift of 40-60 computers from Williams College. Two members of the Williamstown Finance Committee comment; saying the MGRHS budget is more than 2-percent above the FinCom's target and includes four new positions. (READ THEIR COMMENTS)

Other resource: Earlier iBerkshires story by Derek Mong

At the Wednesday, March 26 meeting where the budget request was approved, 7-0, the board also expressed thanks to Williams College for the planned donation of between 40 and 60 used computers. The special $23,000 from Lanesborough, if approved, will be used to purchase software and other resources for the used machines. While the IBM PC-class computers are three years old when rotated out of Williams, they are considerably newer than the machines they will replace at the high school, said Supt. William Travis.

The science curriculum will lose a teacher as a result of the departure of Peggy Talbot. Board members said a formal layoff will not be necessary because Talbot has planned to leave, but the position will not be filled. The loss will cause a rejuggling of classes and laboratory periods in the sciences. At the same time, a position will be added in Middle School, and four new jobs for special-education services would be added.

Williamstown Town Manager Peter Fohlin said the budget shows total staff proposed of 105 positions -- up from 101 positions in the current year, including 23 special-education paraprofessionals up from 19 and 55.6 teaching full-time equivalents, up from this year's 55.0.

The approved budget now goes to the finance committees and selectmen of each town for a recommendation to their respective town meetings. If approved without change, the Lanesborough’s assessment will rise to $2,157,811 from 2,137,753 -- a 1.0 percent increase. The Williamstown assessment will rise to $4,499,379 from $4,285,355 -- a 5.0 percent increase. A decline in the number of Lanesborough students attending Mount Greylock and a simultaneous projected rise in Williamstown enrollees is the reason for the disparity, which ebbs and flows from year to year. More Lanesborough students are choosing to attend McCann Tech rather than Mount Greylock.

Ron W. Tinkham, long-time board member from Lanesborough, explained that he and fellow Lanesborough board members would be appealing to selectmen to support a special warrant at Lanesborough town meeting for a one-time, special appropriation to Mount Greylock of the $23,000 -- about another 1 percent increase in Lanesborough's overall support for the school. He said such a one-time, non-mandatory, special appropriation would be legal as long as it was "to support a specific task that will improve the school." That task is the technology-improvement program, he said.

The school board voted to include the $23,000 "with gratitude" in its overall budget.

Science department teaching chair Larry Bell expressed concern before the budget approval that losing a science teacher could cause test scores to decline. He worried that parents and the general public watch the schools when they are published and that teachers could be judged negatively. However, members of the school board observed that the school's science test scores are relatively high, and that it was important to continue to focus on -- as board member David Langston said -- "how kids think, not always what they know." In that sense, said Langston, he hopes science faculty will still emphasize laboratory work and as for the score, said, Langston, "If they go down a little bit, they go down a little bit."

Among spending categories, the approved budget shows the largest increase – 11.4 percent -- is in buildings and grounds, followed by employee benefits (up $195,260, or 9.7 percent). The largest absolutely increase -- $150,794, or 4.1 percent, is in regular education instruction – teacher salaries. The district administration budget is set to decline 6.9 percent – or $28,650.

The budget assumes an 11.2 percent increase in state aid to $2,205,472, including a project 67.8 percent ($172,827) increase in school-bus transportation funding. Chapter 70 state aid – the bread-and-butter state aid for schools – is project to rise 2.9 percent, or a $49,661 increase to $1,776,888.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Pearl packs house with her story of triumph over fear, withdrawal, prejudice

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. -- In the instant when she learned in 2002 that her husband had been beheaded, the widow of Daniel Pearl said she ran from the couple's Karachi, Pakistan, home, where for five weeks she and a team had sought to find the slain Wall Street Journal reporter. She said she grabbed an AK-47 rifle from one of the people who had been guarding the home.

"It's not that hard to kill someone," she said. But she didn't. In that instant, Mariane Pearl realized, "the only act of courage was to put that gun down" and continue on a path which was, she realized, "the only act of revenge that was really possible . . . I had to have this kind of courage facing life."

She said the photographs released of her captive husband, one with a "V" for victory and signal and the other with an obscene finger gesture, showed her that he faced death with courage and defiance, and she resolved to do the same in life after his death.

The free-lance journalist and book author, appearing on Wednesday night in the small city where the slain Wall Street Journal reporter got his professional start, told a story of triumph over fear, cynicism and prejudice in an hour speech to an overflow crowd at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

"You have to go beyond fear yourself if you're going to win," said Pearl, adding that after her captive husband was beheaded by terrorists, "I was already beyond the possibility of finding shelter in hatred of any kind." Instead, she said she resolved not to be silenced and to preserve hope. Terrorism is about manipulation, she said, "what they want is for all of us to survive to live in fear."

The Hardman Family Foundation brought Pearl to MCLA, an 1,800-student state college in a remote city of 14,000 residents where Pearl once worked as a reporter for the North Adams Transcript daily. Her appearance packed a 400-seat hall and required that the school, for the first time in the history of the Hardman lecture series, to set up a downstairs overflow room where another approximately 60 people could watch Pearl on closed-circuit video. The Hardman family once owned The Transcript.

With warmth, almost giddy chuckles, some informal jokes and a thick French accent, Pearl told the story of her life, her marriage to Pearl, their move to the Mideast as fellow reporters, and the five-week ordeal of seeking his fate after his kidnapping, taping a recurring them of tolerance and the avoidance of prejudice. She noted her family heritage. She said her mother was from a poor, black Cuban family. She described her father as a wealthy, Dutch-born "revoluntionary" with advanced mathematics degrees who ultimately committed suicide when she was age 9.
After her husband's death, Pearl recounted visiting world leaders, including U.S. President George Bush, and recounting the heritage of her's and Pearl's family from Iraq, China, France, Holland, Israel, Cuba and Poland. You should have seen Bush's eyes at that list, Pearl joked. The team, depicted in the film "A Mighty Heart," assembled in Islamabad to find her husband after his kidnapping, was part Jewish, part Muslim, part Christian and both men and women, she noted.

"We were all crossing boundaries," she said. "Everyone went beyond their own limitations." But, she added later, "this isn't about heros. We're not talking about heroism here, we're talking about humanism."

The quest for humanism moved Pearl to write her second book after, A Mighty Heart. the book, In Search of Hope: The Global Diaries of Mariane Pearl, saw her travel to 20 destinations around the globe, searching out and interviewing people that she characterized as exhibiting "the exact oppose to terrorism." The book is about woman who are "extraordinary exampls of human resilence," she said, adding: "And I think that is the answer to terrorism."

During a brief question-and-answer question, Pearl commented on the state of the media. She said there is a need for those in journalism "to say, 'What are we doing?' " She added, "I think treating the media like any other business is a big mistake." She called for an effort to use tales of conflict to "create values" because "conflict is part of life."

Pearl's visit brought former North Adams residents from as far as Cape Cod, and many current and retired journalists from the region who had worked with her husband. She joked about sleeping on the couch of former Transcript photographer Nick Noyes' home during a visit with her new husband to the region during the 1990s. Another friend recalled Danny Pearl's periodic returns to the area to play music and party at an annual river festival. Mariane spent the day at MCLA, visiting classes, and was said to have headed back to her New York City home immediately after the evening address.

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