Selfish, Greedy People

By Mickey Friedman
November 9, 2014

The debate about the Monument Mountain HS renovation has sent me back in time. Dreaming my five block walk from Webb Avenue to P.S. 86. A small army of kids streaming from our apartment buildings in rain, snow or shine to our home for the day. Built in 1926, it still stands, serving 1,700. I can’t help but imagine my mother’s reaction if I told her I didn’t like the lighting there. Frivolous complaints weren’t welcome when there was laundry, shopping, dishes, homework to be done. Both parents working, and money always tight.

My imaginary Congressman, Bill Shein, likes to remind me of the great failing of our civilization: conspicuous consumption. The constant waste of precious resources to make and sell things of dubious purpose. How many varieties of breakfast flakes? Cars? Phones? A demand fueled by a constant drone, and the occasionally artful commercial: LeBron James, the Jesus of Cleveland, returns to lead his basketball-loving black/white army of sad city-dwellers to a new glory. So buy Nike sneakers.

Those with money know their children deserve an indoor greenhouse. Those without tremble to see the fuel-oil truck arrive; rejoice when the gas pump reads less than $3.50 a gallon; scour the shelves for Buy One, Get One Free.

School Facts Not Fiction

By Mickey Friedman
October 27, 2014

Michael Wise of the Great Barrington Finance Committee says I’m “unhelpful.” Alan Chartock calls the 955 of his fellow town citizens who voted NO last November “selfish” and “un-American.”

They say the issue is simple: If you vote NO on their $51.2 million renovation of Monument Mountain High School you will pay more to fix the school as things break: “Fixing only essential repairs will cost taxpayers at least 20 percent more than a Renovation Project.” They say there is no practical alternative.

51.2 million dollars reimbursed by the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) with $23.2 million. A reimbursement rate of 48.52 percent. It will cost the district only $28.02 million, and Great Barrington $19.4 million.

To convince you they made a chart: We need $38.6 million worth of necessary repairs. Claiming if we applied to the Accelerated Repair program of the MSBA we’d only get $4.9 million, a reimbursement rate of 12.7 percent. That’s $33.64 million with Great Barrington paying $21.4 million.

So why spend $21.4 million to fix things when for $19.4 million you get it all? Why trade a reimbursement rate of 48.52 percent for a measly 12.7 percent?

That’s the fiction. How about helpful American facts:

Love and Lies

By Mickey Friedman
October 20, 2014

I woke to learn from The Eagle that I’ve been instilling “anger and fear in the most financially vulnerable citizens of our community.” From the Berkshire Edge, I’m “short-sighted and selfish.” And “deceiving you.”

Mr. Bradway of Stockbridge, MA says I’ve been “conspicuously omitting data and facts that would provide for the opportunity of a circumspect and objective viewpoint.”

Quite the mouthful.


NO, then YES

By Mickey Friedman
September 30, 2014

I left the most recent meetings about the Monument Mountain High School renovation with heightened respect for Principal Marianne Young and Superintendent Peter Dillon, yet feeling sad that the School Committee had asked these dedicated educators, their employees, to front their “informational sessions.” Their jobs are difficult enough, and it’s one thing to come to Town Meeting to explain the annual costs of learning but quite another to explain, let alone justify, the strategic choices of the School Committee. Didn’t the School Committee ask to represent us in matters of public education?

And, even after Great Barrington’s overwhelming 955 to 596 NO vote, it’s the School Committee asking us to vote for a $51.2 million renovation of Monument.

Our New Fire-To-Farm-To-Table House

By Mickey Friedman
September 18, 2014

Remember being told the old firehouse was a serious hazard to the town employees who worked there and the citizens who came to consult them?

So why are our town employees are still working there?

Being told we should get rid of the building. So that we wouldn’t have to heat and maintain it?

Now we’re renting space there for $2,500 a month for at least five years. That’s $150,000.

Walk a Black Mile

By Mickey Friedman
September 2, 2014

Kevin Durant, young, gifted, and black is the second-best basketball player in the world.

Michael Brown, eighteen, quite possibly gifted in other ways, was black, now dead. While Kajieme Powell, twenty-three, black, quite possibly mentally ill, was shot dead by two white policemen three miles from Brown.

That Kevin Durant was offered more than two hundred forty-five million dollars to wear Under Armour sneakers while Michael Brown and Kajieme Powell will never see another day in St. Louis County is just one of the complex realities of race in America today.

Kevin Durant is safe for now because we pay serious money to watch him fly from the foul line, soar, then jam the ball home. Then buy sneakers that bear his name. And so most whites would recognize him.

But for every KD there are many thousands of people of color in danger merely because they are darker than most of you reading this. Darker than me.


By Mickey Friedman
August 30, 2014

When I was a kid I hated the hospital. And in the throes of youthful fear, I wasn’t too crazy about doctors. Seems I was allergic to dust, dirt, grass, just about everything. And once a week I got a shot for each of my enemies.

My dentist once stuffed my mouth with those weird white cotton rolls, then took a fifteen minute phone call. When I needed braces, my broke parents sent me to the clinic at Columbia Presbyterian where my mouth taught a new generation of dental students.

The One Room Compromise

By Mickey Friedman
August 16, 2014

Monterey’s one-room schoolhouse is just miles from the much larger Monument Mountain Regional High School, but the expected operating costs of less than $162,000 for 2015 seems to engender as much controversy as the planned $51 million dollar renovation of Monument.

While the dream of a two-state solution for the Israelis and Palestinians seems more elusive than ever, perhaps here at home there’s a more likely one-room compromise.

I’m rooting for Monterey. And the small schools of Egremont and New Marlborough.

In the late seventies I found in Monterey a renewed sense of purpose and possibility, rekindling my faith that people from different places, with greatly varying points of view could find common ground. I learned much from Millie Walsh, my Republican friend and owner of the first, maybe last, health food gas station hair salon, the farmers, the fire company, and so many others as we brought the community together to represent the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in an international energy conservation contest.

Keeping neighbors civil and cooperative is never easy but it helps to have a friendly church, a post office where you see each other, and the Monterey General Store and the Roadside Cafe where second-home owners learn to talk to the folks who plow their driveways and mow their lawns. With once-a-month community dinners. And sending your kids to the Monterey School is just part of that process.

In 1986, there were 24 kindergarten students; today, they’re down to five. The number might be artificially low because there’s constant fear the school will close.

As recently as 1919, there were 190,000 one-room schoolhouses in America. Today there are less than 400. We’ve got one in Monterey and another in Egremont.

Shouldn’t we advertise we have really small, local schools for our small people? And that they benefit from such a personal touch.

The one-room schoolhouse harkens back to a less mobile America, a life more rural. When I first made it to the Berkshires, there were two supermarkets in downtown Great Barrington: Aldo’s and the A&P, and the smaller Gorham and Norton. People routinely walked to shop. The kids walked to the Bryant and Searles Schools. Housatonic kids walked to their school.

For some folks there are one hundred and sixty thousand reasons to close the Monterey School. They imagine the money they’ll save ending a too-expensive, and out-of-date oddity. But some see a precious learning environment that must be preserved.

To address these issues, the Southern Berkshire Regional School District (SBRSD) prepared a breakdown of both its student population and the financial costs for educating them. As of October 2012, there were 895 students residing in the District. Thirty-nine come from Alford; 119 from Egremont; 94 from Monterey; 180 from New Marlborough, and 463 from Sheffield.

Sheffield’s children go to Undermountain Elementary for K through 6, then next door to Mount Everett Regional High School. Some imagine shifting whatever can be saved from closing the smaller schools in Egremont, New Marlborough, and Monterey, transferring their students, then using those funds to underwrite the costs of Undermountain and Mount Everett.

Part of the tension, much like that found in the Berkshire Hills Regional School District to the north, revolves around the fact that some towns spend more than others. The SBRSD projected budget for 2015 is $14,925,823, with the Commonwealth kicking in $2,297,896 and $577,500 coming from school choice and other sources. That leaves a total obligation of $12,050,427. Sheffield will pay 53.79 percent or $6,481,925. New Marlborough’s 20.8 percent share is $2,506,489. Egremont will pay $1,391,824 or 11.55 percent. Monterey’s portion is $1,268,910 or 10.53 percent. Alford will kick in 3.34 percent or $402,484.

But the School District’s analysis shows there is less to be saved by closing Monterey than one might imagine. Of the $161,571 budget for 2015, there’s an immediate savings of $10,650 for heating, electric, telephone, and water that won’t be necessary. And potential savings of salaries and health insurance of up to $105,089. But there are salary costs of $17,809 that exist wherever the kids go. And fixed busing costs of $28,023. So subtract the no-savings-to-be-gained categories and we’re talking about a maximum of $115,739, but maybe less, depending on enrollment, etc.

When all is said and done, the District estimates it will cost Alford taxpayers $2.25 to keep the Monterey School open in 2015; $4.22 for Monterey taxpayers; $5.34 for Egremont; $7.70 in New Marlborough; and $15.17 in Sheffield. Such a little for such a lot.

Of course, Monterey could take its money and students and go elsewhere. Or even better, start an online Kickstarter fundraising campaign and ask some of its more generous citizens to support the Keep Our Kindergarten Fund. If Millie Walsh was still alive, and I could still afford to live there, we’d organize an annual benefit concert/healthy community dinner/town parade and raise a small fortune. Reduce the tax burden just a bit and create the one-room compromise.

Everybody’s Diary

By Mickey Friedman
July 22, 2014

I had a lovely dinner at the always Pleasant and Main in Housatonic with my dear friend Patricia. I had a delicious pasta and she had the terrific chicken. We talked about a lot of things and then stumbled onto the NSA/government spying stuff.

It doesn’t really seem to bother her. She doesn’t feel like she’s got anything to hide. I wish I was more like Patricia. Because I go nuts about this stuff.

To me, the whole notion of privacy seems to have been turned upside down. I think privacy is sacred unless there is a clear, extraordinarily pressing emergency that justifies sacrificing it.

Goodbye Will, Goodbye Iraq

By Mickey Friedman
July 9, 2014

We Americans love TV. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, American men watch 2.69 hours each weekday and 3.67 hours a day during weekends and holidays. Women watch 2.45 hours a week day and 2.84 hours on weekends and holidays.

And, in case you’re wondering, men read 15 minutes a day; women just a bit more.

So about 10 million Americans watched Will Gardner get shot on “The Good Wife.” A death so sudden and shocking that many viewers took action. Tweeting like mad. Some couldn’t imagine continuing without Will. They vowed to abandon the show. Some, engulfed by grief, turned to therapy.


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An online newsmagazine based in the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts, Red Crow News covers what's happening and what we hope will happen.

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