To the Editor,
As a parent who has been deeply involved over the past few years in efforts to improve the quality of the schools in Watertown, I am writing to express my opposition at this time to Ballot Question #5 on the Community Preservation Act (CPA). While I believe that affordable housing, historic preservation, and open spaces and recreation are all positive things for our community, our priority in the next year or two needs to be focused on the decisions we will make as a community on how to finance the renovation, expansion and updating of all the school buildings in Watertown.
We are facing what I would call a “generational investment” in our public schools to ensure that our children have facilities to support high-quality 21 st Century education over the next 20-30 years. Previous generations of Watertown residents have demonstrated their commitment to high quality public education by paying for the construction and renovation of our educational facilities, and we have reached the moment when it is our turn to show our commitment – both in sustaining the investments that have been made in the past and in ensuring that current and future residents of Watertown will have excellent public education for their children for the next several decades.
Those who are advocating in favor of the CPA are making the case that CPA funding in its mandated areas will enable the town to shift budget lines from those areas s into other areas, including the schools. While this might be true, we are talking about different orders of magnitude – CPA funding is most often in the range of tens to hundreds of THOUSANDS of dollars, while our needs for school renovation are in the range of tens to hundreds of MILLIONS. So regardless of whether some CPA funding will indirectly free up money for schools, we will still need to be making decisions on how to secure dedicated financing for system wide renovation and expansion. This will almost certainly include the need to consider (and vote on) a debt override that will require an increase in the property tax rates.
In my mind, this is about priorities and timing. Given the wide range of economic situations that exist among Watertown residents, we are not a town that has the capacity to easily support a series of tax increases for lots of different initiatives – we need to make some critical choices. At this time, the list of project ideas being shared by CPA advocates are things that would be nice to have in Watertown, but to me none of them reach the level of priority need that we are facing in our school facilities. I don’t want a CPA tax increase (or others) to jeopardize our ability to make this critical investment. This is why I believe we need to put schools before CPA and why I will vote no on Question 5.
(Editor’s Note: the last letters about the Nov. 8 election will be run on Sunday Nov. 6, and must be submitted by Saturday, Nov. 5 at 5 p.m.)