ORLEANS — A letter sent to the Nauset Regional School Committee by a group calling itself the “Concerned Citizens of Orleans, Brewster, Eastham, and Wellfleet” demanded that the committee amend the regional school district agreement to incorporate Truro and Provincetown.
The letter relates to a district-wide vote on Jan. 10 that increased the total budget for the Nauset Regional High School renovation project to $169.1 million. Of that total, $36.6 million will come from the state, while the remaining $132.5 million will be paid over 30 years by property taxpayers in the four towns in the Nauset district.
The “Concerned Citizens” profess to represent a contingent worried about the effect the project will have on property taxes.
“The real estate taxation of a Brewster or Orleans resident for a Truro or Provincetown student to attend public school is without precedent, and an undue burden,” the Dec. 12 letter states. “The other two towns may not receive a free ride to a new $170 million school.”
The letter demands “the immediate take up of the allowed process to amend such Agreement into a six-town school district, to include the towns of Truro and Provincetown.”
But the letter writers fundamentally misunderstand the nature of a district agreement, regional school committee Chair Chris Easley told the Independent.
“Provincetown and Truro have to want to join the region,” Easley said. “That’s what an agreement is.”
Brian Sosner of Orleans sent the letter by email, Easley said, but “there hasn’t been anyone other than him on any email” so far. “I don’t believe there is anyone else besides him,” Easley said.
A Chilly Reception
School committee members and superintendents in Truro and Provincetown were unaware of the letter’s demands. “This is the first I have heard of it,” Provincetown Schools Supt. Gerry Goyette said.
“It’s strange to me that citizens from those four towns would be asking the committee to incorporate our towns without asking us,” said Truro School Committee Chair Kolby Blehm.
Provincetown School Committee Chair Eva Enos said that she is “not aware of any desire among the school committee to join the Nauset Regional School District.”
Blehm said that members of the Truro school community worry that integrating into a larger district would blunt the unique offerings at Truro Central School.
“Everybody has their own opinion on why it is important for Truro Central School to remain independent, whether it’s our unique farm-to-school food program, community outreach, or our connection to the library,” said Blehm. Integrating into a larger district would mean “not having control over those details.”
Currently, Provincetown and Truro have a tuition agreement with Nauset under which they pay the school district approximately $20,000 per pupil per year. The letter from the “Concerned Citizens” says that current budget costs for the district are “closer to $30,000 per district student.”
But according to the state Dept. of Education, the in-district expenditures per pupil were just over $22,000 in 2021.
“Often you have people in a political environment exaggerating fees and costs to bulk up their point,” Easley said. He added that the current tuition number is “good money” for a 50-year-old building.
Easley also said that when the current tuition agreement ends in 2024, the tuition for Truro and Provincetown students will increase to reflect the costs of the renovation. “Once the school is done, they will be paying what the taxpayers of the region are paying,” Easley said.
School officials in Truro and Provincetown are already bracing for a much higher tuition rate after 2024, Goyette said. “Anybody who can read the paper and knows what’s going on should expect it,” he said. “Let’s get real.”
Enos said that Provincetown “does contribute” and that “the current price is not insignificant.”
“It’s not like we are riding free,” she said.
Even if Provincetown and Truro wanted to join the Nauset district, the process of amending the agreement is a “lengthy, complicated, and often expensive,” Easley wrote to Sosner.
Other than the regional school committee voting to amend the agreement — which Easley said it won’t do — the only path forward for the “Concerned Citizens” would be a citizen amendment, which would have to be presented as a petition to the school committee with the signatures of 10 percent of the registered voters in any one of the four member towns — several hundred people.
The petition would then be submitted to the select board of each town and placed on town meeting warrant. All four towns would have to accept the amendment for it to take effect.
According to Easley, no such petition has been submitted. Sosner declined to comment when reached by a reporter.