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WVN #38: high school ballot question likely in January

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  • waylandvoters2
    Wayland Voters Network September 29, 2004 Dear Wayland Voter: BALLOT QUESTION ON HIGH SCHOOL PROPOSAL LIKELY IN JANUARY 2005 If you re planning a winter
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 29, 2004
      Wayland Voters Network
      September 29, 2004

      Dear Wayland Voter:


      If you're planning a winter vacation or might have trouble getting
      around in bad weather, and if you want to have a voice in the largest
      building proposal in Wayland's history, you'd be well advised to get
      an absentee ballot (contact the Town Clerk).

      At Monday's Board of Selectmen meeting, the School Committee
      recommended that a Special Election be scheduled in January for
      voters to approve or reject $4.2 million to design a new $56 million
      high school to replace the current complex. The High School Building
      Committee also recommended a January vote, despite repeated comments
      by many members of the public to both the School Committee and the
      HSBC, pointing out the obvious: January is the worst possible time
      for an election (unless one of your goals is to have low voter
      turnout.) Details about the discussion at the BOS meeting follow.

      But first, we want to thank everyone who has made a donation to
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      Michael Short, WVN Treasurer
      265 Pelham Island Rd.
      Wayland, MA 01778

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      Selectmen heard conflicting recommendations and deferred a decision
      on when to call a special election on a proposed $56 million high
      school building project. But Chair Betsy Connolly said a date should
      be chosen soon and voters should know about it before the mandatory
      45-day notice. (The BOS is expected to discuss the matter at their
      regular meeting next Monday night.)

      The High School Building Committee recommended asking voters in
      January 2005 to approve or reject the entire project. HSBC Chair Lea
      Anderson said a single vote would make the schedule "less at risk for
      cost overruns or schedule delays."

      But the School Committee, which created the HSBC, recommended
      a "split vote," with the first vote no later than January on $4.2
      million for design fees only. Committee member Jeff Dieffenbach said
      this would increase the likelihood of a Yes vote and build momentum
      for a second special election in late 2005 or early 2006 for the rest
      of the money ($50+ million). Dieffenbach presented the School
      Committee's position as a united one, though it was approved by only
      three members when the SC met prior to the BOS meeting. (Dieffenbach
      and Bob Gordon wanted only one ballot question, on the entire

      What is consistent in the push for a January vote is the assumption
      that it is "critical" in order to meet the Wayland High
      School "educational program" - frequently used terms - to have new
      classrooms ready in September 2007. The plan's backers didn't
      explain why it is considered critical; voters will have to decide
      whether it makes sense to replace everything except the field house
      and expand square footage by 80 percent when enrollment may decline
      after 2007. Earlier studies suggested building new classrooms and
      bringing the rest of the campus up to code for about $20 million.

      After hearing the HSBC and School Committee recommendations,
      Selectman Brian O'Herlihy raised several concerns:

      -- Could the proposed schedule be delayed a year so that we might
      know more about the chances of receiving state aid? Modular
      classrooms are already planned to deal with the expected increase in

      -- If an early vote is so vital, O'Herlihy said he is "quite
      disappointed" that it won't be on the Nov. 2 ballot, when the turnout
      is expected to be huge. A special election in January would "put a
      strain" on voters who might be out of town, he said.

      -- When will voters be able to learn the impact on their property
      taxes? (In about two weeks, said Finance Director Bob Hilliard.
      Nobody has explained why this has taken so long, since the general
      size of the project has been known for many weeks.)

      -- Voters deserve to know the impact on their property taxes if no
      state aid were to be granted. (Tax estimates presented by the HSBC
      to the Finance Committee on 9/13 assume state aid would be granted
      although, in fact, it is not guaranteed.)

      The Finance Committee attended Monday's meeting and endorsed the two-
      vote strategy recommended by the School Committee. The FinCom did
      not discuss its earlier analysis based on a high-end project then
      estimated at $40 million. Eight months ago the FinCom reported that
      a project of even that size would exhaust Wayland's debt capacity.

      When Selectmen asked about state aid, School Committee members
      avoided their previous position (Town Crier 9/16) of saying flatly
      and untruthfully that Wayland would receive it. Still, they
      expressed confidence that Wayland would be taken care of, pointing
      out that Massachusetts has been assisting school construction for
      decades. What this ignores is that the state declared a moratorium
      on grants because the system became unsupportable.

      As citizens have pointed out, in letters to newspapers and elsewhere,
      the state will undertake its first school needs study in many years.
      When the state begins doling out money again, a new body will decide
      who is funded. If, for example, the roof of a school building in
      Lawrence or Fall River is leaking like a sieve, will state
      bureaucrats favor a town that has already undertaken tens of millions
      of dollars in debt and completed a new building?

      To qualify for state aid consideration, Wayland would have to design
      in accordance with School Building Assistance regulations (to be
      issued in January 2006 and put into effect the following July) and
      then apply for aid when the state begins accepting applications in
      July 2007. If rejected, Wayland would have to reapply each year,
      with no guarantee that it would ever win approval over other towns.

      As many WVN readers have suggested, a middle position would be to
      build something like the plan once pegged at $20 million and pursue
      reimbursement aggressively when it is available.

      At the end of the joint session with the Selectmen, School Committee
      member Heather Pineault said there is a need to "think outside the
      box" about tax relief options for some citizens. "We want to
      maintain what little diversity we have," she said. "We don't want to
      force people out." Betsy Connolly said the currently available tax
      breaks could be better explained, but nobody offered new ideas.

      Thank you for reading this WVN newsletter. Please forward it to your
      friends and neighbors in Wayland. If they want to receive their own
      copy, they can send an email to waylandvoters2@... and they
      will be signed up for the listserv. Or, they can sign themselves up
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      mail confirming the subscription. Anyone who'd rather receive
      information from WVN by phone or regular mail should leave a message
      at (508) 358-9171.

      Wayland Voters Network
      Margo Melnicove, Chair
      Michael Short, Treasurer
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