School Choice debate


A big controversy in our community today is whether the School Choice program should continue to exist within the Town of Dartmouth. Some would argue that school choice is a good source of income, a valuable experience for all students, and that it ultimately honors education and fosters community to the greatest extent. The opposition would say that the program is a drain on resources and the influx of new students is detrimental to the growth of Dartmouth’s youth.

The School Choice program is finishing its first year of implementation. In short, students’ home districts pay money, $5,000 per student, to send students to Dartmouth schools. Although per pupil spending is substantially more, that money covers the taxes that aren’t coming in via residency. It can be a source of income for a school that’s struggling financially. Last year, it brought in $150,000.

According to the Department of Education website, per pupil spending in Dartmouth for the 2014-2015 school year was $12,487 per student.

More people are voicing their concerns now that another year of this program has been confirmed by the School Committee in a recent 4-1 vote.

Parent Christie Canastra expressed her feelings on the school choice program at the March 27 School Committee meeting. “Why should children in other towns get the benefit of Dartmouth without living here?” she asked. “We pay taxes here, we support the school system, sports, everything else, while other towns don’t.”

Some parents feel that accepting an external group of students damages the opportunities for the DHS student body.  “Are the Dartmouth students getting the electives they want as opposed to students from other towns getting the classes they want before our own students here?” Canastra asked.

One freshman DHS student has not had a good experience when it comes to other students joining the Dartmouth community. “I believe that the students from other schools have had a negative impact on my high school experience. These kids all have something in common: They are all mainly in honors classes and they all play sports.  I believe that the school of choice students were selected privately, and that school of choice was kept a secret to everyone except select students. There’s no way that only superstar athletes and exceptionally intelligent students desired for a better education.”

Other students have noticed that some of their friends did not make various sports teams because their positions were lost to school choice students.

In the classroom, these students have noticed that the number of students in their classes has grown, causing them to lose one on one time with their teachers.

Senior and Dartmouth resident Stacie Hartman believes that accepting students could put a  strain on scholarships, honors and AP classes, sports teams, and clubs. “The students who apply to school choice are for the most part those who are motivated to become involved and who want to take higher level classes. It is a self selected pool of applicants,” said Hartman.

Hartman adds that she hasn’t personally been affected in any of her classes and that she is, in fact, friends with some school choice students whom she’s met through extracurriculars.

“I am not against the students who come in through school choice because they absolutely are bright students who contribute to the school in various ways. The only issue I have with school choice is that it is unfair to families living in Dartmouth. Families pay higher tax rates to live in Dartmouth than say Westport so they can send their children to our school system. Dartmouth residents should be our top priority,” said Hartman.

There are students, however, who share opposing views. Sophomore and Dartmouth resident Molly Carvalho talked about how she was excited to build new friendships with the school choice students who would be coming in. To address concerns of resources and finances Carvalho said, “I believe that it is a good source of income for the school. When students from the middle school move up to the high school, they may decide to go to other schools besides DHS, and the capacity of DHS goes down. So not only do we have room for the school choice students, but having the school choice students here makes back the money that the district is not making from the students from Dartmouth who have gone to different schools.”

The opinions of school choice students should also be taken into consideration on the matter. Sophomore Roslyn Dobyna, a school choice student hailing from Westport, talked about how the Dartmouth school system is serving her, especially when it comes to the topic of classes she wouldn’t have been able to take elsewhere.

Dobyna elaborates by mentioning that, for example, she would’ve never been able to take the early child care program, a course that is helping her get closer to becoming a teacher.

Another thing that she is thankful for is the friendships she’s made. “Last year I was almost alone with my sister because we were not taken into the ‘family’ that Westport said was open and loving,” Dobyna said. “Ever since I’ve gotten to Dartmouth, I have made so many new relationships with people, and each and every one has accepted me for who I am. It makes me so happy to know that I am truly a part of this community.”

Dobyna shares feeling upset about the way students with a negative view on this are thinking. She said, “They probably haven’t thought about the reasons why school choice kids join their community. The school choice program is not just for people who want to transfer, it’s for kids who want a fresh start with new opportunities.”