School Choice Program To Continue In Westford Next Year
The program was approved for continuation by a 4-3 vote.
Under Massachusetts law, parents have the ability to enroll their children in public schools outside their home district if an out-of-town school district decides it has enough room.
On Monday night, the Westford School Committee decided that it will indeed have that room for students coming from elsewhere, at least to a certain degree yet to be determined.
Superintendent Bill Olsen began the public hearing on the issue by informing the board that elementary school enrollment had dropped slightly, but overall the number of students that had been enrolled in the school choice program had remained steady at 35 throughout the district, with the number consisting of students at-large and students coming to Westford from other towns due to their parents working in Westford schools.
Olsen also noted to the board that the $110,000 of tuition from other Massachusetts municipalities due to the program was significant for the district’s bottom line.
However, School Committee member Erica Kohl had qualms about the cost benefit of the program due to expected increases in class sizes over the next few years, particularly at the kindergarten and first grade levels, as well as the fact that those increases may actually be higher than expected.
“I see increased risk in several areas,” said Kohl. “Accepting so many students gives me some concern, and I know (Olsen) has spoken with the principals, but still I don’t think we know what we’re getting.”
School Committee member Judith Culver also voiced opposition to the program, opposition she has continued to hold since the program began in the 1990s, feeling as though it was an elitist system that favored certain children over others.
“Back then, it fell upon a child who had parents that had the ability to transport their children to other districts,” said Culver. “That hasn’t changed, and it is still a disturbing part of the program.”
Ultimately, the vote to continue the program passed on a 4-3 vote with Kohl, Culver and Margaret Murray opposing the continuation and the other members supporting the measure.
Further discussion on how many openings will be allowed as part of the program will be discussed at the June 6 School Committee meeting.