Editor’s note: The following letter appeared in the Daily Hampshire Gazette on 4/3 and was originally sent to Amherst College President Biddy Martin.
On a sunny spring day in 2014, I was a junior at Amherst Regional High School playing soccer with friends at the Amherst College turf fields. Our hoots, hollers, and multi-colored jerseys revealed the diversity of our families’ origins, including Cape Verde, Kenya, Iran, Italy, Morocco, Portugal, Brazil, Korea, Nepal and more.
After less than 30 minutes of joyous laughter and play, an Amherst College police officer pulled onto the adjacent lot and kicked us off your private property. What that police officer communicated then, as is obvious now, with the iron gates of Amherst College warning “No Visitors due to COVID-19,” is that Amherst College is a private entity that does not serve the broader interests of our community.
Amherst College has an endowment of $2.47 billion, owns 1,000 acres of prime real estate in Amherst center, and pays almost no local taxes except for some employee homes and two businesses: the Lord Jeffery Inn, and Amherst Golf Course.
In 2018, Amherst College completed a $242 million makeover of its East Campus.
Meanwhile, since I graduated from ARHS in 2015, students have lost the opportunity to take courses in wood technology, business, auto mechanics, culinary arts, clothing and fashion design, and child development. These classes, which provided crucial life skills and vocational opportunities, fell victim to budget cuts.
This year, our district is facing a million-dollar budget deficit with proposed cuts including art classes at the middle school, dance classes at the high school, outreach to underserved youth from the Amherst Family Center, English language lLL instruction, and one-on-one support for students with special education plans.
Amherst College should pay its fair share. This is not a pie-in-the-sky idea. In Boston alone, fifteen major universities contribute Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT). Boston University, with an endowment of $2.43 billion, contributed $15.3 million PILOT benefits to Boston in 2020 including $6.3 million in cold hard cash.
President Carolyn Martin, if you truly believe, as your mission states, in educating students that “engage the world around them, and lead principled lives of consequence” then you would lead by example and reinvest $1 million from your $2.47 billion coffers into our public schools.
Gabriel Fontes is a student-teacher at Amherst Regional High School and alumnus of Amherst Regional Middle School and ARHS (’15).