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In The Arena

Wrestling with decisions

School committees deal with drama

For fans of the drama that often accompanies the politics of public education, 2013 has been a bit of a push-back year for at least two local school committees.

The Mohawk School Committee, in response to public pressure and despite the protest of a number of officials, restored $80,000 to preserve its high school French and Peer Leadership programs, while their Greenfield counterparts voted 7-0 end the district’s Virtual Academy rather than adhere to a new state law governing those schools.

The difference between the two actions is that the Mohawk committee has stood firm, while the Greenfield board appears to be rethinking things and may very well have overturned its previous vote by the time you are reading this.

Either way, there are going to be questions for the Greenfield committee and school administration that will either continue to deal with angry virtual school parents or find a way to operate both a school district and a virtual school with a separate governing body, as mandated by this new state law, which is unlikely to change.

I look forward to hearing some of those answers in the coming weeks, as, I’m sure, will the people who will ultimately wind up footing the bill.

Mileage tax

Just when we thought the commonwealth had thought of every conceivable way to stick its hands in our pockets comes word of a proposed law that would charge people based on the number of miles they drive on Massachusetts roads.

House Bill 3142 establishes a “pilot program” to assess owners of motor vehicles a user-fee based on the number of miles said vehicles travel on the state’s roads. The bill was filed on Jan. 18 — co-sponsored by 2nd Franklin State Rep. Denise Andrews — and is “intended to help address the need for the commonwealth to identify short- and long-term alternatives and supplements to the motor vehicle fuel tax,” that is going to become less and less of a revenue source as more energy-efficient cars are produced.

This idea has been talked about for a while, but they chose to pull the trigger on it now, in the same year the governor has proposed a $2 billion tax increase to pay for new transportation and education programs. I’m not surprised that Andrews is the only member of the county’s delegation who has chosen to support the measure, because this is one which will hit this area hard just like the gas tax, because western Mass. residents do a disproportionate amount of driving compared to our eastern Mass. counterparts — that’s probably why most of its co-sponsors are from Middlesex County.

Cost concerns

Speaking of the governor’s tax plan, there are a number of Beacon Hill lawmakers who like the idea of pumping more money into roads, bridges and classrooms, but aren’t wild about the price tag associated with it.

“There is still a lot of hesitation and concern,” Senate Majority Leader Stan Rosenberg said. “There was when he first proposed it, and there still is now.”

I would say legislators should be concerned, because while Patrick is out preparing for life after the Statehouse, they going to have to go back and defend this tax increase to constituents who are still struggling with the fallout from the Great Recession.

“Some people say we are out of the recession, some say we are still in it,” Rosenberg said. “But we are at least coming to the end of it, but it is still an uncomfortable economy, and there is enormous pressure to raise as little as we need to do what is absolutely necessary.”

Color me reactionary, but if you don’t know whether a recession is over or not, maybe pulling the trigger on the largest tax increase in state history isn’t the best idea.

In the family

There’s once again a McCarthy in the Greenfield Police Chief’s office — but only temporarily.

Provisional Chief Joe Burge is away, therefore putting the department in the hands of Lt. Detective, and now Acting Chief, Dan McCarthy, the oldest son of retired Greenfield Chief David McCarthy.

“Please don’t make a big deal out of this,” McCarthy said. “It’s only until April 1st.”

How appropriate.

Jokes aside, McCarthy does deserve kudos for his and the department’s work with a number of other agencies in apprehending Richard May, who was arrested in Holyoke Wednesday night after allegedly committing three bank robberies in downtown Greenfield over the past month.

“A lot of guys worked on this, and, in the end, it was just good, old-fashioned street work by the guys in Holyoke which led to the arrest,” McCarthy said.

It was also a pretty good effort by a Greenfield department which isn’t exactly operating under optimal fiscal conditions, and aren’t likely to be any time soon.

Chris Collins is the Franklin County News Bureau Chief for WHAI, WPVQ and WHMP Radio. He is a former staff reporter for The Recorder, and is a Greenfield native.

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