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WVN #61: Voters Guide to the High School Proposal

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  • waylandvoters2
    Wayland Voters Network January 11, 2005 Dear Wayland Voter, Conversations with many voters in recent days indicate there is still confusion over the tax
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 11, 2005
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      Wayland Voters Network
      January 11, 2005

      Dear Wayland Voter,

      Conversations with many voters in recent days indicate there is still
      confusion over the tax override election on January 25 and special
      town meeting on January 27. Some of the confusion appears due to the
      fact that the High School Building Committee's recent town-wide
      mailing makes no mention of the Jan. 25 election. The reason is that
      state law prohibits using public funds to influence the outcome of an
      election. So the HSBC's mailing, paid for by tax dollars, mentions
      only the Jan. 27 town meeting.

      This newsletter includes a guide to the HSBC's mailing. But first,
      the basics:

      The election on Tuesday, Jan. 25, will be held at the usual polling
      places (Middle School and Town Building), 7am-8pm. One question will
      be on the ballot: whether Proposition 2½ tax increase limits should
      be exceeded in order to borrow funds to design the proposed $57.3
      million dollar high school reconstruction project. The School
      Committee is seeking $4.2 million in design funds, but no amount is
      specified in the ballot question. A simple majority is needed for
      the ballot question to pass or fail.

      The town meeting on Thursday, Jan. 25, will be held at night in the
      high school and other locations in the event of an overflow crowd.
      Only Town Meeting can appropriate funds. A two-thirds majority is
      needed to do so. The School Committee's article seeking $4.2 million
      in design funds will be considered first. A petitioners' article
      seeking a freeze on further spending on the high school project until
      certain conditions are met will be considered second. Whether the tax
      override ballot question is approved or defeated on Jan. 25 will have
      a major impact on town meeting on Jan. 27. (Future WVN newsletters
      will provide more information about town meeting.)

      WAYLAND VOTERS NETWORK GUIDE TO THE HIGH SCHOOL PROPOSAL

      The High School Building Committee has sent an eight-page color
      brochure to all households making the case for a proposal estimated
      at $57.3 million. WVN has followed the committee's work and offers
      this information to help citizens evaluate the proposal. The topics
      listed below follow the format of the HSBC mailing.

      THE NEED

      Facility Age. Though older buildings may not be as well maintained as
      those built in the 1970s, all are structurally sound.

      Changing Educational Standards. The HSBC's published table points to
      increased participation in athletics and performing arts since 1970.
      The increases are significant but they didn't occur overnight.
      Voters may ask, if the High School is functioning well now, and still
      ranked among the best in the state, is the extent of expansion a good
      investment?

      Enrollment. The HSBC says Wayland High School should be expanded by
      about 70,000 square feet, largely because enrollment is expected to
      be "900 to 1,000 for many years." In fact, projections based on
      enrollment in lower grades indicate that after a brief population
      bubble peaks in 2009, the enrollment will decline to the low 800's.

      PRELIMINARY DESIGN

      With two large structures replacing seven smaller buildings, the
      collegiate campus atmosphere which students praise would change.
      There would be an 850-seat auditorium, a 500-seat cafeteria and a
      large gymnasium, in addition to renovating the existing Field House.
      Classrooms and labs would account for 31 percent of the
      space. "Faculty-storage-other" would account for 28 percent. Athletic
      space would account for 30 percent.

      The existing cafeteria's lawful occupancy is 600. The HSBC has argued
      that a new cafeteria is needed to avoid overcrowding and multiple
      lunch periods. But administrators' choices seem at least partly
      responsible for the lunch schedule.

      After neighbors complained, the designers agreed to change the
      location of a waste water treatment plant and a gated emergency
      access road. Because the site is environmentally sensitive, near town
      wells and wetlands, it isn't yet known where the road and plant would
      be built.

      BUDGET AND FINANCING

      According to the HSBC, the designers are committed to a $57.3 million
      budget. But the committee has warned that unforeseen delays and
      problems could drive the cost higher.

      The HSBC says that a reasonable estimate of the tax impact of the
      project is $352-$468 added annually for 25-30 years to the tax bill
      for a house assessed at $498,000. But this depends on the state
      paying $18.6-$21.4 million (32-37 percent) of the total cost. The
      state generously supported school building for years, to the point
      that cities and towns (including Wayland) are still owed
      reimbursement for hundreds of projects. The state declared a
      moratorium on school building aid and will not accept new
      applications until July 2007.

      More importantly, the entire mechanism of state aid has changed.
      Massachusetts is making a statewide survey of school needs. New
      standards for aid won't be known until 2006, but it is already clear
      that the percentage of aid will be smaller than in the past and the
      total amount of aid will be limited to $500 million annually to
      start. Will a Wayland project already under construction, including
      demolition of structurally sound buildings and designed for an
      enrollment that may never be reached, be approved before the state
      deals with crumbling, unsafe buildings in other communities?

      When the HSBC says that it "expects" state aid, keep in mind that aid
      is not guaranteed, and that Wayland's previous good record on state
      aid is irrelevant because the new system is different -- administered
      by a new state authority with significant spending limitations.
      Without state aid the total cost to taxpayers could be higher than
      the $686 per year shown in the HSBC table. The HSBC's own figures
      show that without state aid the owner of a house assessed at $498,000
      would pay an additional $780 per year in property taxes ($156 per
      $100,000 of assessed valuation) when long-term financing begins in
      2010. Since total Wayland taxation has risen by more than 30 percent
      in the past five fiscal years, voters may want to estimate what their
      TOTAL tax bill could be five years from now.

      FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

      Several of the questions boil down to: Why now, why not less
      expensive renovation, and what happens if we don't act immediately?
      Other projects, including Shrewsbury and Concord-Carlisle, are being
      delayed until the question of state aid is clearer.

      The HSBC conducted no design competition. The designers who were
      hired arrived at three plans ranging from complete renovation to
      complete reconstruction of all facilities except the Field House. All
      plans would have cost roughly the same. Voters may question whether
      other designers could have come up with more economical solutions.

      How do Wayland's plans compare with existing high schools in other
      towns? A table in the HSBC mailing shows the cost per square foot in
      the middle range as compared with five other high schools. (All were
      completed under the previous, more generous system of state
      reimbursement.) The comparison does not include other schools in
      eastern Massachusetts built for $160 to $190 per square foot in
      recent years, well below the $245 of Wayland's plan. If the HSBC
      table compared cost per student instead of cost per square foot,
      Wayland would rank near the top.

      If voters decide it is prudent to wait for clear answers to the many
      unknowns in this project, relatively inexpensive modulars could
      adequately serve students and teachers during the expected brief
      population bubble.

      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 waylandvoters@... and they will
      be signed up for the listserv. Or, they can sign themselves up by
      sending a blank email to: waylandvotersnetwork-
      subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Click reply and send after receiving an e-
      mail confirming the subscription. If you know anyone who'd rather
      receive information from WVN by regular mail please email their name
      and address to waylandvoters@....

      Wayland Voters Network
      Margo Melnicove, Chair
      Michael Short, Treasurer
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