As an educator, a resident tax-payer, and future parent, I’m compelled to share my perspective on the vote to build a new school. This school decision will affect every child in Westport, from Kindergarten to graduating seniors. It will impact the future of the entire town for the better. The new structure is designed for the future of education: it incorporates spaces that support project-based, hands-on learning that will prepare Westport graduates to be competitive in an ever-changing world. It not only is the least expensive solution to the current problems we face, but it is the right thing to do. If we want our children to be able to compete in the 21st century, we must create a school that is built to meet that challenge.
Thus far, the arguments against have been focused on immediate tax and deficit, without looking at the actual costs of voting no. As residents, we should embrace the nominal tax increase required to construct the new school. Projected to be around $30 a month per household, it is a small price to pay for the immense value a new facility will bring to Westport. What new family would want to move into a town that doesn’t believe in its children and their future? Those who oppose the new school, with its modest tax increase, must look at the long-term repercussions of voting no. The high school, built in the 1950’s, is slowly deteriorating. It can only be maintained for so long before it becomes unfit for students and a taxpayer “money-pit.”
A tax increase is inevitable, whether we vote for the new school or not. Long-term solutions will have to be made to rectify the situation in the years to come. Some may claim that one of the future options to address the deteriorating high school is to regionalize with another district. The state has made it clear that regionalizing with Tiverton or Little Compton are off the table, and our neighboring towns’ districts are all full themselves. There are no local districts that we would be able to regionalize with. Even if we could, regionalization would cost us our autonomy and, to be frank, what town would want to regionalize with another town that voted down the future of their own schools? Regionalizing would also cost far more to taxpayers than the mere $30 per month in the current plan and leave Westport vulnerable to outside influence.
Voters must understand the incredible opportunity offered by The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA). This organization will fund upwards of $38 million toward the new project. With the MSBA, only half of the final cost would fall on taxpayers’ shoulders. Voting no will assure this generous partnership from the MSBA will likely never happen again, evidenced by the sad story from the town of Lincoln, MA. The only logical solution is to vote yes for a new school.
Our town has the opportunity of a lifetime — a chance to start a new era. Westport Community Schools could become a district that is admired by families — a town with a reputation for looking toward the bigger picture of the future, and one that knows how to make the prudent and frugal decision when the time is right. Now is the time to act, an opportunity like this may never present itself again.
Our residents and students desperately need a new school. There is no time like the present to ensure this happens. Go to the polls on Feb. 27 and vote "yes" for the future of our town and the future of our children.
Richard Monast lives in Westport.