BREWSTER — There are two contrasting views of the $131,825,665 Nauset Regional High School renovation and addition project.
One supports the multiyear effort to design a 905-student school with significant financial support from the Mass. School Building Authority. School choice students from other districts are a big part of this vision.
Others argue that Nauset has gone too far in filling classrooms through school choice. They call for a smaller school focused on the four district towns (Brewster, Eastham, Orleans, and Wellfleet) that will pay for it.
Both views were voiced at a Feb. 27 forum at the Brewster Ladies’ Library. Brewster has the largest share of students in the district and would be responsible for nearly half ($45.6 million) the cost of the renovation.
After describing the path that led to the current proposal, which is eligible for a maximum state grant of $36.6 million that would reduce the bill to district taxpayers to $95.1 million, building committee chair Greg Levasseur warned that building a smaller school would require “starting all over again. The $36.6 million goes away. A smaller school for 600 to 700 kids would cost $126 million. That amount would have to be borne completely by the four towns.”
Because of the state grant, Levasseur argued, the $131 million design actually saves the district money.
Another panelist, Dave Danish, said he was speaking for “the concerned taxpayers of the Nauset Regional High School renovation program.” That group, he said, “doesn’t question the fact that the school is tired and in need of renovation or replacement.” What it does question is building a larger school when enrollment is declining and basing its size on a steady stream of students from outside the district.
“Of the 921 students attending, only 616 reside in our district,” Danish said. “The rest are from neighboring towns that will not pay one penny toward the $131 million. All that cost is being put on the taxpayers.”
The home districts of the 219 school choice students send $5,000 for each of them to Nauset. Danish noted that amount doesn’t come close to the $20,500 per-pupil cost of educating them. There are also 86 students from Provincetown and Truro whose towns pay much higher tuition.
The state average for school choice enrollment is 1.7 percent, Danish said. “At Nauset, it’s 23.7 percent, 14 times the state average,” he said. “To fill a school built for over 900 students, we will become even more dependent on students from outside our region. … We are not asking for school choice to stop but that Nauset [stay] closer to the state average.”
John O’Reilly, a Brewster member of the Nauset Regional School Committee, said that the school would suffer without choice students and that important programs would not survive.
“The other thing that it provides,” O’Reilly argued, “is a robust and diverse student population.” He said that the district “has been using tuition from school choice to offset the operating budget. The $1.4 million accounts for 22 to 25 teachers. The additional money allows us to open up and provide a much wider program for kids.”
Keeping students from opting out of Nauset is a factor as well. Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson of the state Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education said, “Most districts are finding it worthwhile to bring in kids at $5,000 a head. The bigger concern we hear from local officials is that every time a school choice student leaves, it creates a hole in the district. In areas like Cape Cod and out west, the loss of school choice kids is very problematic. If you lose kids, you lose revenue, you have to cut programs, and you lose more kids. Your neighbors in Dennis-Yarmouth are losing about 400 kids to school choice, one of the largest numbers in the state.”
When the Sturgis Charter School opened in Hyannis, O’Reilly said, Nauset High lost students. By 2014, the district was sending 25 students to Sturgis. That year, he said, the charter school was the only high school on the Cape offering an International Baccalaureate program. Then Nauset added the I.B. option, he noted, and “today there are 13 kids attending Sturgis. We’re pulling the kids back into our high school. … If our program falls behind or is lacking, parents will send their children to Sturgis or choice out to another district.”
For the Nauset renovation project to move forward, all four towns must approve it by a simple majority at town meeting and then pass a debt exclusion at a town election.
Levasseur said taxpayers can go to the building committee’s website (nausetbuildingproject.com) to see the estimated tax impact of the project. Based on an estimated “conservative” 4.25-percent interest rate over 25 years (the school committee will establish the term later this month), the owner of an Eastham property valued at $400,000 would pay an average of $151.12 per year, with payments declining from $200.99 in the first year (Fiscal Year 2025) to $101.46 in the last (FY 2049). A property of the same value in Wellfleet would pay an average of $125.10 per year, with payments dropping from $166.38 in the first year to $83.99 in the last.