WVN #38: high school ballot question likely in January
- 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 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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SELECTMEN'S MEETING WITH SCHOOL & FINANCE COMMITTEES 9/27/04
RE. TIMING OF VOTE ON HIGH SCHOOL PROPOSAL
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.
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Wayland Voters Network
Margo Melnicove, Chair
Michael Short, Treasurer