Rights and responsibility in Lynn

With his detailed knowledge of the city’s public schools, Thomas P. Iarrobino, secretary to the School Committee, succinctly summarized the task facing local voters on March 14. That is the day city residents will be asked to approve or reject spending tax dollars on two new middle schools.

“Public schools are everyone’s right and everyone’s tax responsibility,” Iarrobino said in describing the importance of the spending vote.

Those neatly-encapsulated words bear careful examination given the expense Lynn property owners are going to be asked to bear at a time when city finances are stable but in need of improvement.

Lynn schools, as Iarrobino noted, don’t pick or choose who attends them. This right to an education is fueling a 500-student annual increase in local enrollment. It is up to local educators and city officials, and taxpayers, to find ways to cover the growing cost of local public education.

An obvious offshoot of providing an education for everyone is the need for modern school buildings sufficient in size to educate students. Building new schools in a old, land-poor city like Lynn wedged between an ocean and a woodland preserve is a challenge that educators and residents in many other Massachusetts communities don’t face.

There are people who don’t want land off Parkland Avenue turned into a new middle school. There are people living off Parkland Avenue and in nearby neighborhoods who don’t want the hassle of school traffic.

In both cases, the concerns voiced by school opponents is understandable up to the point their objections are framed against the backdrop of Iarrobino’s words.

Again, “Public schools are everyone’s right” in Lynn. The tradeoff for preserving that right is the responsibility taxpayers shoulder to maintain that right. Paying for schools isn’t just a responsibility that falls on parents with children. It is a responsibility distributed equally to every taxpayer because schools are the investment that draws people to a community and keeps them in a community.

“How good are the schools?” That is the question prospective homebuyers and tenants ask real estate agents when they consider moving into a community. Lynn’s financial health as a municipality depends on people who pay taxes. People will not move to this city if a concerted and bold effort to modernize schools is not undertaken.

A local leader — it might be the mayor, it might be one of the city’s legislators, it might be a concerned parent — has exactly 51 days to step up and galvanize a core of local residents committed to giving broader voice to Iarrobino’s words and making the case for passing the March 14 referendum.

The consequences of defeat are significant and their costs will be borne by the next generation of Lynn residents.

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