Reading the news of the upcoming debt exclusion vote for the proposed 7-12 school has brought me back some 24 years to when the Citizens for a New Chenery, which I helped lead in 1994, were advocating for a new middle school with a different grade configuration. Many of the issues at the core of that campaign are the same as for this one such as overcrowding, difficulties in carrying out the educational mission in existing physical plants and, inevitably, anxiety over cost.
BHS tours reveal an outdated infrastructure, a building bursting at the seams with students who sometimes have to pursue their educational projects in hallways as classroom space is insufficient. Expand the view to the middle and elementary schools: overcrowding there is ratcheting up class size and forcing the use of modular classrooms. The unprecedented influx of students over the last decade, with projections of similar annual increases to come, is having a negative impact on the ability of our excellent school system to maintain the quality to which we are accustomed.
Clearly, many of the families moving into Belmont are doing so because of the reputation of our school system. Failure to pay attention to factors that erode its quality may not only hurt our students but render the town itself a less desirable option for new residents.
However, it is the students who should remain our primary focus. I recall with affection during the Chenery campaign those people, young and old, who would approach us and say they were going to support the project because it was what the children needed. The young people of our community deserve the educational surroundings and programs that will foster their mental and physical development.
I understand that the cost of the new 7-12 project seems daunting. But when compared with other nearby cities and towns pursuing similar projects, its per pupil cost will be lower while serving more students. As a resident who has definitely reached senior citizen status I, of course, am not thrilled about paying more in real estate taxes. I firmly believe, however, that the long term benefits of this project — primarily for our children and secondarily for property values — far outweigh the quarterly real estate tax pain.
Thus, I am now one of the senior Belmont residents who will be supporting the debt exclusion on Nov. 6 “for the children.”