January 30, 2023 By Laura LeClair Accettella
Having grown up in Hingham, I always ask people what drew them here. Without fail, I hear two answers: 1) the location, a coastal town in good proximity to Boston, and 2) the schools.
Today, Hingham is at a crossroads. Each one of us needs to pay attention to the devastating cuts that are being proposed at our schools and across municipal departments to compensate for the town’s growing deficit. Last week, we learned that more than 60 full-time school employees could lose their jobs next year. Cuts of this magnitude would impact every student in the district, and our community as a whole.
Residents “take great pride” in Hingham’s schools, with the 2021 Master Plan reporting that “supporting great schools also maximizes Hingham’s residential property values.” Indeed the word “SCHOOL” is prominently featured on our flag, emphasizing education’s importance since the establishment of our town.
But our schools are in dire straits because Hingham has a revenue problem. I’ll leave it to others to explain how we got here, but thanks to the Sustainable Budget Task Force, we know what these problems are. I encourage you to read their 2022 report. (https://www.hingham-ma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/13565/Sustainable-Budget-Task-Force-Final-Report-13122)
Sadly, Hingham has a history of not investing enough in our schools. I am proud and grateful that our entire community came together in November to authorize the construction of a new elementary school to replace Foster, albeit 25 years after that need was identified. The 2022-2025 Strategic Plan gave me hope that much needed reinvestment in our schools would be prioritized. (https://hinghamschools.org/about/superintendents-office/strategic-plan/). This was a town-wide effort that identified over 60 initiatives for improvement across Hingham Public Schools, ultimately focusing on the 20 or so deemed most critical.
However, instead of taking another step forward, we risk decimating the gains that have been made and sending our community backwards. It would be unconscionable to let that happen on our watch. To increase class sizes at all schools. To gut a Student Services department that has begun to improve special education and to address rising mental health challenges. To eliminate electives, including some world languages. To deny teachers access to essential professional development. To dismantle vital arts and athletics programming. To ask our school administrators to take on the roles of positions that would be cut. This is just a fraction of the fallout from the loss of valuable educators, which you can read about in detail here: https://hinghamschools.org/about/business-and-support-services/budget-documents/
Many concerned residents have been asking me: what can I do? So rather than continue with the troubling list above, I’d like to list four actions you can take:
1) Tune into February budget meetings and ask questions. On Wednesday February 1 @ 6pm, building principals will discuss the proposed cuts and the painful impact they would have at each school. On Monday, February 13 @ 6pm, the School Committee will hold a public hearing before they vote on the school budget. On Thursday, February 16, the School Committee will present the budget to both the Select Board and the Advisory Committee. Can’t make it to Town Hall? Simply Zoom in.
Note: Meeting agendas, including Zoom details, are posted to the Town of Hingham’s website 48 hours in advance of the meeting at: https://www.hingham-ma.gov/
2) Email the School Committee. Urge them to approve a budget that is the right size for our schools and supports the 2022-2025 Strategic Plan. Let them know which proposed cuts you fear the most.
Note: Email addresses can be found here: https://hinghamschools.org/about/school-committee/ or go here for a list of liaisons by school and subcommittee: https://hinghamschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/SC-Subcommittee-Assignments-22-23.pdf
3) Email the Select Board. Encourage them to develop a budget that reflects what we value as community. Ask them to propose an override at a level that invests sufficiently in our schools, one that meets our current educational needs and also ensures our schools will continue to attract new homeowners. Warn them against an override that won’t go far enough and merely kicks the can down the road.
Note: Email addresses can be found here: https://www.hingham-ma.gov/224/Select-Board
4) Email the Advisory Committee, particularly the Education Subcommittee (or ACES). Tell them Hingham can not afford not to fully-fund our schools. At its open public meetings — generally on Tuesdays — AdCom elicits input from proponents and opponents on each warrant article, and then recommends (by majority vote) how taxpayers should vote at Town Meeting on Monday, April 24, 2023.
Note: Emails can be sent to AdvisoryCommittee@hingham-ma.gov
NOW is the time to act. Our students and staff have already suffered too much. Remember, years of inadequate funding hindered our students’ return to their classrooms in the fall of 2020, while private schools here in Hingham resumed normal operations. Parents continue to pull their kids from Hingham Public Schools. Just look at our dismal enrollment numbers, numbers I fear will plummet without the right-sized budget.
Hingham is at a crossroads, and we are long overdue for a budget that funds what we value as a community. Let’s work together to make that happen.