Opponents of the Nauset Regional High School building project aren’t entirely wrong, but that doesn’t make them right.
If the four district towns were case studies at the Harvard Business School, grad students could develop abstract scenarios focused on an enterprise reaching beyond its grasp by building infrastructure that exceeds the apparent needs of its local consumer base. But education isn’t a matter of widgets; it’s aspirational. It is, or should be, less about stretching dollars and more about stretching minds.
The only Cape high school east of Harwich has built a strong outpost of learning and experience in Eastham, countering the district’s population decline with an influx of school choice students from other communities. Their contribution to date has been gravy, in some years an extra $1.5 million of revenue at about $5,000 a head to spend on more teachers and programs that benefit all, including children from Brewster, Eastham, Orleans, and Wellfleet.
School choice has been a shot in the arm for Nauset. Must it now be seen as a punch in the gut?
In preparing for a renovated high school campus, the district engaged in extensive planning for the “school of the future” and what it should offer by the middle of the 21st century. It could have done more to explain that the project would involve people in the four towns paying to build a school not only for their own children but for hundreds of others, and that by state law the families of the latter would not be required to contribute to the capital costs. That realization has prompted calls to reject the current plan and design a smaller school that matches the district’s declining demographics, regardless of the consequences.
It feels unfair, but what also feels unfair is the woeful condition of the half-century-old high school. Last week, K.C. Myers of the Provincetown Independent went to the source – the students – and heard stories that reporters don’t get on facilities tours with adults, however concerned.
There’s the competition to be first in line for the only girls’ locker room shower that doesn’t dispense brown, rusty water. There’s the architecture classroom that doesn’t have a window. There’s a heating system, powered by the original boilers, that’s “shot,” leaving students “freezing or super-hot.” Sadly, these are far from recent developments.
What’s before voters on March 30 is a $131,825,665 renovation/reconfiguration building program, one that benefits not only students and staff but offers opportunities for greater involvement by the larger community. It’s expected that the Massachusetts School Building Authority will pay for $36,661,305 of that amount, leaving $95,164,360 to be covered by the towns over 25 years based on annual enrollment. The current estimate is that Orleans would pay $30.99 per $100,000 of assessed property value in the first year of servicing the debt.
As parents and guardians, we ask a lot of our students. Now they are asking a lot of us, to give them an excellent place to learn that can support a broad and deep curriculum, even if that means digging deeper to build the aspirational infrastructure for a school that’s big enough to launch them into their best future.