To regionalize? An exercise in democracy

Together Chatham and Harwich Face a significant choice

By John Dickson

Voters in Chatham and Harwich this fall have an opportunity to consider the costs and benefits of joining forces to educate their children. The process has involved two years of proposals, town meeting discussions, public forums, and committee work. The issue has been covered and debated extensively in the local media, and the conversation on this topic has been going on for more than 50 years. It wouldn't be fair to call the process rushed.

Together, we can offer a broader education to our students, prepare them for success in a competitive world, and improve our financial foundation. Separately, we risk crisis and decline.

As a teacher at Harwich High School with strong roots in Chatham, I strongly favor this regional approach to our future. Together, we can offer a broader education to our students, prepare them for success in a competitive world, and improve our financial foundation. Separately, we risk crisis and decline.

Both school systems have achieved success due to community support and the efforts of top-notch educators. Both have been repeatedly recognized for their excellence and appeared next to each other in the top 100 schools in the state in MCAS achievement. Together, we can combine our strengths - for example, Chatham's We The People program and Harwich's election debates and exit polls. We can expand AP/IB programs and give our students a better chance to compete for college admissions. This will also be helped by the additional extracurricular and athletic opportunities we could offer.

Separately, both schools are at risk due to the school choice program. Both face a feedback loop where students choosing to attend schools like Nauset force cuts in programs that then make it all the more likely that more students will make the same decision. Chatham is particularly close to a tipping point as now 50 students and a quarter of incoming freshmen are choosing to leave, up from almost none a few years ago. You can expect these numbers to keep growing.

For an alternate view, read blogger Andy Buckley's "Shotgun Regionalization".

This leads to a financial crisis. Chatham is facing an acute shortfall next year, which will force painful cuts. If we combine, we can create savings in overhead and administration and transportation that will shield our classrooms from much of the effects of the unavoidable cuts. There will be some new debt from school building, but that will be combined with Chatham's existing debt and then shared 28% to 72% (for Harwich). And the improved facilities and offerings will keep and attract students, helping shore up our long-term finances.

At this point, we face a historic choice. One option allows us to combine our strengths and resources to improve our schools and communities in a financially sustainable future, the other leaves us to separately navigate these challenges. For those who feel comfortable with the current arrangement, I ask you to look around, because the sands are shifting. The future will not be the same as the present. The question is: which future will we choose?

Ultimately, the towns will decide this matter in the classic democratic format which has guided us since colonial times. The citizens of both towns will gather on December 6 to debate and decide the matter. Some will go with their minds made up, and some may be persuaded by the counsel of their fellow voters. In the end, the majority will decide - just as our civics classes always taught us.

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