BREWSTER — The first of two citizen-petition articles seeking to reduce school choice enrollment in the Nauset Regional Schools was defeated by Brewster voters 144 to 75 at their May 15 annual town meeting. The second article is on the May 22 Orleans town meeting warrant.
“I am speaking for the significant and ever-growing number of citizens in the Nauset Regional School District who are extremely concerned about the high use of school choice in our district and how it affects our taxes,” said Helga Dyer, who presented the article at the Brewster meeting.
Dyer cited a Brewster Finance Committee subcommittee report that asserted the school choice program was costing district taxpayers between $4 million and $5 million a year in subsidies for students coming from outside the district. The school district receives a reimbursement of $5,800 per pupil from the state for most of those students (not including those from Truro and Provincetown). But the actual per-pupil cost far exceeds that amount, critics of school choice argue.
The Nauset Regional School Committee has called that analysis flawed. It claims that school choice reimbursements more than cover the incremental costs of the choice enrollments. According to a report released by the superintendent’s office in January, school choice revenue for the 2020–2021 school year of $1,549,403 exceeded the $646,085 cost of additional teachers required for the choice program.
The regional school committee voted at its April 8 public hearing to maintain school choice enrollments at 258 students for the coming school year.
The article on the Brewster town meeting warrant asked voters to instruct their select board to negotiate an agreement with the school committee that would freeze choice enrollments to those students already accepted in the program and to make no further commitments. Both articles called for school choice numbers to eventually reach 2 percent or less of total enrollment.
Brewster Select Board Member Mary Chaffee spoke in opposition to the article, noting that the board was not authorized under state law to make demands of the school committee.
“If someone submitted a citizens petition asking the Brewster Select Board to declare war on the town of Harwich, we aren’t authorized to do that,” said Chaffee, “and we’re not authorized to do what this petition asks.”
The Brewster Select Board voted 3-1 not to support the article, while the town’s finance committee was split, voting 4-4. The Orleans Select Board has voted 4-0 not to recommend the corresponding article on its warrant, while the Orleans Finance Committee merely cited “no significant fiscal implication” for the proposal.
Regional school committee chair Chris Easley of Wellfleet pointed to the scrutiny school choice received during the recent debate and vote on the high school renovation project in reflecting on the petitioned article’s defeat.
“It’s good when the hood is opened up,” said Easley on May 17.
The two petitioned articles both asked that Provincetown and Truro, which are not part of the Nauset district, pay a share of operating, capital, and debt service costs for the district schools. The two towns have agreements with the school district that run through the 2023-2024 school year. Those agreements allow their grades 7 to 12 students to attend Nauset schools for a tuition fee of about $18,500.
The Orleans article asks that negotiations be reopened to “create a school district which includes Provincetown and Truro with full participation of operating and capital costs including the upcoming school expansion/renovation.”
The Eastham Finance Committee briefly discussed the petitioned articles at its May 12 meeting, at which Town Administrator Jacqui Beebe noted that the Nauset Regional School Committee was the only entity with the authority to make decisions on school choice.
“I think it’s basically a political statement — no more and no less than that,” said finance committee member Russ French.