Assessment Up In Harwich, Down In Chatham
Visiting selectmen in Harwich and Chatham Monday, Monomoy Regional Schools Superintendent Scott Carpenter presented a draft FY21 budget representing only a 2.64 percent increase over the current spending plan, which maintains all existing programs and services. The news was well received by the boards, which had asked the schools to keep budget growth under 3 percent.
The $41,826,623 draft budget showed the smallest increase in Carpenter’s tenure as superintendent, he said.
But the assessments paid by Harwich and Chatham, which are determined by a three-year rolling enrollment average and a “required minimum contribution” calculated by the state, show a further shift of the expenses toward Harwich. While Harwich’s projected assessment is up 2.62 percent at $27.3 million, Chatham’s figure is down .68 percent at just under $9.08 million.
While there are no net increases or decreases in staff, some staff hours will be shifted from the elementary schools to the upper grades to reflect an enrollment bubble now in grade 7, he said. That larger cohort of students will be in the high school next year.
“That building was built for a capacity of 700,” and enrollment is expected to hit that level next year, remaining at or above 700 for several years, Carpenter said. Meanwhile, enrollment in the elementary schools is lower, particularly in Chatham, which has seen steady decline in the past several years.
The district continues to offer a high level of service, with many beneficial initiatives and course offerings for students, Carpenter said. A new playground is in place at Chatham Elementary, along with new learning programs for math and other subject areas, and Monomoy Middle School has again been named by the state as the top-rated middle school on the Cape. Students have excellent access to computers, and the advanced placement program has grown considerably at the high school, with most students scoring high enough on the exams to be exempted from some college credits. The district offers a global studies program and travel opportunities for students, along with education in four languages including Latin and Mandarin. Computer science and robotics programs are also growing, along with athletics. The district has a unified sports program for students with intensive special needs, and has hosted the Cape and Islands Special Olympics for the last two years, Carpenter said. Thanks to improvements in mathematics education, a number of Monomoy High students have recently gone on to colleges with prestigious engineering programs, he added.
A key goal of combining the Chatham and Harwich schools was to improve offerings for students, “and I think we’ve done that,” Chatham Selectman Jeffrey Dykens said. Regionalization also helped both districts contain their costs while keeping class sizes reasonable.
In both towns, selectmen seemed to appreciate the 2.64 percent projected increase.
“Thank you for trying to hold the line here,” Harwich Selectman Stephen Ford said.
“It’s very commendable,” Chatham board member Dean Nicastro said.
Some said that in a larger sense, Chatham’s decreased assessment in FY21 is nothing to celebrate.
“It’s not good news that we’re paying less,” Selectman Peter Cocolis said, since it shows that young working families are struggling to survive in town. While Harwich is paying more, that’s because it’s adding young children to the district, Carpenter said.
“There’s a difference between the two towns,” the superintendent said. Boosting enrollment of young children in Chatham means changing zoning and planning regulations and expanding affordable housing to attract young families, he noted.
To further help, the Chatham 365 Task Force recommended reducing families’ childcare costs by offering universal free pre-kindergarten, and selectmen asked the Monomoy district to investigate that possibility. While talks remain ongoing, Carpenter said the district’s attorneys have advised against any move to offer universal preschool only in Chatham. If the regional district did so, it would need to open enrollment to Harwich families as well, “which I don’t necessarily think is what the Chatham board was sort of looking toward,” he said. It may be possible for the district to offer space to a third party preschool provider, an option that’s currently being explored, Carpenter said.
But under the current agreement, it’s not possible to “do one thing for one town that we’re not doing for the other town,” he said.
“Unless we change the [regional school] agreement,” Dykens said. The board plans to hear an update on the Chatham 365 recommendations next Monday.
The draft school budget, available on the home page at www.Monomoy.edu, will be the subject of a public hearing before the school committee on Feb. 11 at 6 p.m. in the high school library. The school committee is expected to vote on the budget on March 12, and will be considered by voters at annual town meetings in May.