Editorial: Vote Yes On 4; An Investment In Our Shared Future

Photo: An outward expression of our investment in the future of our community, our children and the nation.

A no vote on Question 4 Tuesday to approve a $213 million debt authorization for a new 7th-12th-grade school building is not a rejection of a tax increase but an admission Belmont’s collective futures are not worth the investment.

The numbers and facts concerning the design, cost, and history of the proposed high school (here and here) has been public for several months. Town Meeting spent $1.75 million in a feasibility study that breaks down the project to the cost of the final nut and bolt. The changes in taxes have been calculated by the town treasurer. The school district has forecast a continued increase in students enrolling in the six public schools that requires a large building project. Those are the facts. 

But Tuesday’s vote is more than a series of self-interested personal decisions; it is an opportunity to show how this community views the most important function for all municipal government, educating its children.

Marking the ballot “no” on Tuesday may feel penny wise but it is indeed pound foolish to the extreme. A negative response is not simply a rejection of the future, its a clarion call for the slow decay of the outstanding education system it took nearly five decades to create. 

My standard response to people who ask why people live here is “You don’t move to Belmont for the roads. You come for the schools.” What prospective homeowner would knowingly bring their children into a community that won’t make a commitment to education? Home values will likely begin lag behind surrounding cities and towns which have decided to make education a priority. 

Rejecting a decade of work by committed volunteers and professionals will require Town Meeting to vote over a decade on three ever increasing large debt exclusion measures to house the skyrocketing number of students entering the district for the next decade and extending the life of a fifty-year-old school building that has no business being renovated. How likely will a future Town Meeting be willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on putting lipstick on a pig?

If any of the three debt questions – totaling $50 million more than the debt exclusion being considered Tuesday – is rejected, the outcome would be jammed packed classrooms that will swiftly bring the school district’s accreditation into question. It’s truly an unimaginable conclusion to   

Tuesday’s vote is also an opportunity for Belmont to recommit itself to the great American uniter of public education which has increasingly come under attack by reactionary forces who believe “government schools” – a new pejorative created by the right – are wasteful, run by overpaid bureaucrats who spew progressive messages rather than “real” learning. They call for education to be run as a publicly funded business with vouchers, charter and private schools replacing our shared heritage.

But for communities that take pride in and nurture public schools, the benefits are boundless. Belmont ranks in the top percentile of public schools in a state which leads the country in the quality of schools. While the nation as a whole meanders with lackluster rankings in the core curriculum, Belmont students are on par with the top-ranked education provided in the schools of Europe and Asia. The education our students receive from first-rate teachers and educators provides a world of future options that children from too many communities lack.

And one important component to keeping the stellar standard the Belmont schools have created is for its residents to commit the financial resources in teaching, activities and, yes, modern facilities. There are no other options.

Public education binds us as Americans, it is in our common ethos that an enlightened young is the best path to preserving our country for generations to come.

The time is not to look inward with provincial expectations, but to approve a building project that will become an outward expression of our investment in the future of our community, our children and the nation.

Vote Yes on 4.

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