WVN #61: Voters Guide to the High School Proposal
- 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 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.
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
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.
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
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
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Wayland Voters Network
Margo Melnicove, Chair
Michael Short, Treasurer