In the next few years, the Monomoy Regional School Committee will face some significant decisions about the future of its two elementary schools. As we report this week, Chatham's declining enrollment means that Harwich is subsidizing more and more of the cost of running Chatham Elementary School. If the trend continues — and there's every indication that it will — in just a few years there may be only enough students at the Depot Road school for one classroom per grade. At some point, economies of scale are going to make retaining a separate kindergarten through grade four school in Chatham uneconomical. It's the same dynamic that led Chatham and Harwich to regionalize in the first place.
It will be up to the school committee to show community leadership in determining how to handle the situation. Many Chatham residents have been adamant about retaining the town's elementary school, fighting back a proposal two years ago to change the language in the regional agreement to provide flexibility in grade elementary between Chatham and Harwich elementary schools. Something, however, will have to give; either a change in grade alignment to better balance the two schools or, if Chatham continues to insist on having a standalone elementary school, a shift in financial responsibility so that the town covers more of the cost of keeping the school open.
In next Thursday's annual town election, the only contested race is for two three-year terms on the regional school committee. Incumbents Nancy Scott and Jaqueline Zibrat-Long are being challenged by Robert Hessler and Elizabeth Taylor. Given the critical decisions the committee will be facing regarding the elementary schools as well as the financial challenge engendered by the coronavirus shutdown — not to mention a host of issues related to reopening the schools such as safety measures, schedules and curriculum adjustments — we recommend voters keep the incumbents in office.
Scott, one of the longest-serving members of the two-town committee, has applied both her financial and teaching background to good measure. Zibrat-Long stepped into an unexpired term and has proven to be an able representative of working parents in the district. The committee currently has a productive dynamic that, while sometimes a bit too deferential to the administration, has nonetheless contributed to the evolution of Monomoy into one of the Cape's best school districts.
Both Hessler and Taylor said they decided to run because of the school committee's decision not to surrender jurisdiction over middle school land on Stepping Stones Road, which they support as a site for the town's new senior center. The committee should not have gotten involved in politics and made the decisions prematurely, they say, before the location was fully vetted and voters had a chance to express their preference. While both have backgrounds that would allow them to contribute to the school committee — Taylor as a long-time teacher and Hessler in the corporate world — their motivation in running seems more punitive than productive. Besides, the school committee is a political body, and as we noted above, the critical decisions it faces in the future are inherently political.
Next Thursday's election will be held at the community center, with polls open from noon to 6 p.m. Those with health concerns are urged to contact the town clerk's office to obtain an early voting or absentee ballot, which are available until noon on the day before the election.