To the editor:
The Westport Community Schools is seeking an override to level the budget and bring back services that have been cut over recent years.
A $557,939 override would allow the district to hire three teachers and a guidance/school adjustment counselor at each of Westport’s elementary and middle school campuses.
Conversely, the same number of positions could be eliminated if the override fails.
Studies show that communities with strong educational systems are better. They attract more highly educated and financially successful residents who contribute more to the community and stimulate culture. They become more involved in the community, and crime is less. Professional services such as doctors, dentists and accountants are better able to serve the community, and employers have a more qualified employment pool to choose from; therefore unemployment decreases. Real estate prices increase as demand for properties increase. An excellent public school system is one of the most important issues potential families and businesses seek when looking for a home.
Many of us grew up observing our parents fighting to get funding for additional programs to enhance our education. At the time, the paradigm of our country was for parents to give their children a better education than they had; in turn providing the next generation a better life. To some, this paradigm has reversed as the current generation appears willing to sacrifice our children’s future to maintain the current standard of living. In the Westport Community Schools, however, we want to stand on our belief that, “Our Children Come First!”
Having a high-achieving school district is vital to the Town of Westport. Our home values, businesses, and local economy are linked to the success of the Westport Community Schools. The town’s largest employer educates the vast majority of our town’s students. By maintaining a strong school system, we, in return, help maintain a strong community. Education is the foundation for all that is positive and productive in our society. By passing the override, we will be able to maintain the current education model in our schools.
A child usually attends kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, or 3rd grade once. If we do not have the funding to meet our children’s needs every year, this missed opportunity will never be recovered, and it will negatively compound itself year after year. One need only look to nations such as Mexico to understand what a poor education does to a nation. While our enrollment may have decreased, our needs have significantly increased. We have more unfunded mandates than ever before — mandates that we must follow as required by law. We have more English language learners and special education students who by law require specialized staff. If we do not provide the required intervention supports in the early childhood grades, then more of our students will fail as they move through the grades. Additional teachers, trained in specific interventions, can provide needed support when a student requires it rather than waiting for them to fail.
Most middle schools in neighboring communities offer technology education and foreign languages to students. Westport does not and hasn’t for many years. Our children deserve such exposure. We are preparing our students for jobs that probably won’t exist 15-20 years from now instead of preparing them to be flexible and resilient, and innovative and responsive to future needs. We are instructing as if it were still the 20th Century. Class size at the middle school for our specialists averages about 31 students per classroom. If we hire a foreign language teacher and a tech ed teacher we could provide a better quality education to our students and at the same time reduce class size.
In Westport, we have seen a rise in the number of students eligible for free or reduced lunch. Many come to school not yet ready to learn. This year alone we had 65 students in grade five at-risk in reading/language arts.
We have raised our transportation fees, our sports and club fees and our parents are asked to provide a good amount of learning materials and supplies for their children. We are beginning to run a two-tiered educational system — those who can afford it and those who cannot. All our children deserve equal opportunities! This is not a second world country such as Ecuador or a third world nation such as Liberia; this is Westport, Massachusetts in the 21st century.
I encourage you to study the financial data on our website. If you want more information than is provided, an appointment can be set up for you to meet with the superintendent and business manager. They deal with budget issues on a daily basis and can answer all your questions. This town has a choice: with 1,600-plus students in the district, it can provide its children with a valuable first class education or it can give them a substandard future — you choose your legacy. Please take the time to make an informed vote.
Please watch: Meet the Candidate’s night where the override was discussed on http://westport.pegcentral.com
Ann Marie Dargon
Superintendent of Schools