Editorial: District shouldn’t lock community out of schools
December was the last month at the Maria L. Baldwin School for Design Hive, the fashion and crafts fair run by Cambridge resident and business owner Valerie Fox.
The rent for a day at the school leaped to more than $1,000, doubling and then some to rates Fox notes would be reasonable for comparable space and time in Harvard Square or Boston’s Newbury Street. That’s too much for Fox, who would have to radically change the nature of the event — free for customers and cheap for vendors — to stay in a Cambridge school and not take a loss.
The district is content to see Design Hive go, officials have said, along with all other nonschool meetings and events. Everything from neighborhood groups to churches needing auditorium space is increasingly unwelcome, even though student fundraisers piggyback on these events.
“We recognize we’ve been subsidizing wear and tear on our property by outside users,” said the school system’s chief operating officer, Jim Maloney. “And you can imagine the energy costs.”
Among vendors and customers who spoke at the last Design Hive, there seemed an obvious destination for the show, one that is nearby, low-cost and welcoming of the arts. In a way, it is a sad answer for Cambridge residents:
The reputation of Cambridge’s neighbor as rougher, gruffer and townier, wary of the different and the newcomer, outlasts the reality. Somerville, home to Brickbottom and an annual writers festival, Diesel and Precinct, has become a haven for gays and lesbians, the poet and the author, the hipster, artist and boutique owner.
Of course it retains elements of the tough, townie mentality. (Natives joke that Somerville streets are confusing so newcomers will stay out.) But another, more embracing community overlays the old Somerville, spreading outward from the Tufts University campus, a Davis Square revived by the red line and students driven over the border by the arbitrary rent premium that comes from having a Cambridge address.
But Cambridge is split as well. It retains a reputation as a liberal, hippie — in fact, communist — haven, even as it is managed with clear- or cold-eyed financial precision into a town of tough decisions and a top credit rating. Tourists who go to Harvard Square expecting to hear the next Tracy Chapman will find few buskers and plenty of bank branches.
And its schools’ management goes the same direction, obviously, which is unfortunate. While educators inculcate students with sentiments of sharing and community, financial overseers and administrators do some cold (if questionable) calculation of cost and inconvenience and withdraw hands once extended to the community. It takes a village to raise a child, some in the district will say, but villagers shouldn’t expect anything beyond a well-raised adult.
Certainly not access to the structures built and paid for by the tax dollars of those villagers, including the ones who don’t have children.
But shut the door in the faces of taxpayers such as Fox, her vendors and customers (as well as to the community groups, churches and clubs described as unwanted by Maloney) and future funding via voter initiative can become a struggle. Parents arguing “we’re all in this together” could be met by other residents answering, “apparently not.”
Ideally Cambridge schools won’t lose money on daily rentals to groups and people such as Fox. But there are other, bigger ways to lose. Some mean a win for more sympathetic communities such as Somerville.
Some mean a loss for everyone.