Hmmm. Up in the little town of Westford (east of Milton, north of the Essexes, population 2086), a curious event has taken place. Right around the deadline for making the Town Meeting agenda, a petition was submitted that calls for the closing of the Westford Elementary School, and the creation of an independent school in its place.
The petition cleared muster, so it’ll be up for a vote at Westford’s Town Meeting on March 3.
As reported by VPR, the petition came as a surprise to the school board:
The board said the petition raises many questions, and school directors will do their best to research the answers. Some of the yet-to-be-answered questions identified by the board are:
— Should we vote to close our school without knowing any of the details about what might replace it?
… — How can we compare the present quality of the school to what might replace it?
— Should the town give up its public school and lose its voice in how the school is run and how much it costs?
… The motivation behind the petition appears to be a desire to divorce the school from the state education funding formula.
According to the town website, a petition must be signed by at least 5% of registered voters. Which, in Westford, means a grand total of 72 valid signatures. So it’s kind of a low bar to surmount, but it does require some coordinated effort.
Now, I have no idea what happened here. It could very well be that a group of dedicated residents is fed up with rising property taxes and wants to force the issue. But I smell something else.
Could this be the start of an organized campaign by state conservatives to spread the gospel of privatization town by town — targeting small towns where a small number of local activists could carry the day at Town Meeting? Again, I have no evidence that such a thing is happening, but it’s certainly not a stretch. Privatization activists have been stymied by Shumlin Administration opposition at the state level; they have a model to imitate in North Bennington’s move to an independent school; and it wouldn’t be the first time that conservative groups targeted small communities and low-profile elections to advance their agenda.
As far as I know, it’s only one town this year. (Question for VPR: is this happening in other towns?) But if it succeeds in Westford, could we see a wave of similar petitions next year? Perhaps targeting small communities that lean conservative anyway? There’s a lot of those.
It’s just a ping on the radar for now. But it might turn out to be something much bigger on the horizon.