When the polls close Saturday, will North Reading join its neighbors in accepting millions of dollars from the state for its Middle School/High School project? Or will we find ourselves standing alone, left to fix our aging schools on our own dime without any state funding?
To be sure, North Reading shouldn’t follow the crowd and build schools just because our neighbors are doing it. We should build schools because the need is clearly documented and because it is an opportune time financially. Both of these criteria hold true for North Reading as Saturday’s ballot approaches.
The need is clear. Our schools are overcrowded, with 18 modulars on the two schools combined and a shortage of science labs that requires acrobatics by teachers and students alike to get in adequate lab time. When the high school undergoes New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) review in 2014, such issues will put its accreditation at risk – and a town without an accredited high school cannot remain vibrant nor can it fulfill its responsibilities in public education. The NEASC standards state as accreditation criteria (see page 8): "The community funds and the school implements a long-range plan that addresses: programs and services; enrollment changes and staffing needs; facility needs; technology; and capital improvements. The schools not only are too small, but after 50 years of excellent service, they have deficiencies in technology, energy, electrical, ventilation, and other areas common to buildings a half-century old.
The time is opportune. Despite the poor economy, historically low interest rates and $47 million in state funding mean that North Reading will never get a deal this good again. The state grant comes from one penny of our sales tax – the sales tax North Reading residents pay each time they make a purchase. The MSBA has approved $47 million of these funds to come back to North Reading, but voters have to say yes.
Our neighbors’ High School projects are approved and ready to go:
- Wilmington, $38 million from MSBA
- Danvers, $37 million from MSBA
- Tewksbury, $36 million from MSBA
The MSBA focuses on the right-sized, most fiscally responsible, and educationally appropriate solutions to create safe and sound learning environments. There are no luxuries. In its six-year history, the MSBA has made more than $8 billion in reimbursements to cities, towns, and regional school districts for school construction projects
Whose students and whose property values will North Reading care for next? Will we send our share of state funding to another town, or on Saturday, March 24, will we elect to keep North Reading strong? It’s time to follow the crowd, North Reading, because in this case other cities and towns have gotten it right.