, Newburyport, MA

April 24, 2013

Brand Amesbury by investing in our schools

Newburyport Daily News

---- — To the editor:

There has been a lot of talk in Amesbury recently about using “branding” to overcome the city’s image problem that makes it difficult to attract business development and has left our home values depressed. An editorial in this paper last month noted that”any attempt to brand Amesbury has to deal with the powerful perception that its tax rate is among the highest in the state,” but it left out entirely the equally important fact that our school system does not rank on par with our tax rate. We would feel a lot better about having the eighth highest tax rate if our school system was the eighth best in the state, wouldn’t we? But, then again, if our school system was the eighth best in the state, our town would be much more attractive and our tax rate would be considerably lower.

The quality of a town’s school system is the foundation of its “brand.” No glossy logo, catchy slogan or amount of marketing can make people want to live and invest in a town that does not support, even demand, excellent schools. Good public schools are not only the cornerstone of our democracy and the responsibility of all members of our community, they increase property values and attract investment.

Unfortunately, the Amesbury Public Schools have faced budget crisis after budget crisis for as long as I can remember. As we struggle each year to pass a budget that meets our minimum mandates, we increasingly leave behind our most promising students — the students who would be capable of enhancing our brand by achieving high test scores, gaining admittance to top colleges and succeeding — and giving back — in their post-graduation lives.

This year, the high school band, a vital part of the Amesbury community and, yes, Amesbury’s brand, is in danger of being eliminated. No more Memorial Day, Veterans Day or Santa parades. No more pep band to build spirit at football games. This would be yet another layer of disservice to our best, brightest and hardest working kids. Class sizes for non-special education students are big, our teachers are demoralized, and it is difficult for students at the high school level to find appropriate classes to fill their schedules.

Indeed, the typical student in Amesbury is not afforded a “free and appropriate” education. Our very limited Advanced Placement offerings are often simply a row of students who are given extra homework in a class otherwise filled with non-AP students. Even worse, AHS has students attempting to learn advanced curriculum through a self-study plan or paying tuition to a local college. This is not a good set-up for high-level outcomes. Almost none of our students can compete to get into the best colleges — but it’s not their fault. We are failing them.

It is time for us to demand that all of our students be afforded an appropriate education. It is only then that our brand will rise and our tax rate will go down.

Vickie Piercey