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Selectmen oppose ballot question to jump-start Minuteman renovation

Town's rep offers support, raises other questions

UPDATED, July 7: The Minuteman school superintendent is taking steps toward a ballot question aimed at resolving a logjam among the 16 member districts about paying to renovate the high school, and Arlington selectmen have made their opposition to that initiative clear.

Minteman High School logo

Board of Selectmen logo, Jan. 23, 2013Selectman Dan Dunn has characterized the move by Superintendent Edward Bouquillon as a "nuclear option," which could lead to forcing on the town a plan it may not want. "I am stunned. We need to react clearly," he said.

The Minuteman School Committee may continue to discuss Tuesday, July 7, whether to proceed with a ballot question, which would occur within 45 days after it is voted. A vote on that issue is not expected Tuesday.

In response, Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine has sent a letter to the superintendent, his committee, all member towns and Arlington's Beacon Hill delegation that reflects the selectmen's desire for a collaborative dialogue about school-building issues and stands opposed to a districtwide ballot initiative for approving the renovation plan as now proposed.

The 16 member towns must reach consensus about renovation by next June 30, the deadline to qualify for millions of dollars in state reimbursement funds.

In June, Minuteman School Committee members began debate about holding a districtwide ballot among the member towns. The election would occur on the same day at the same time.

The agenda includes a discussion of "the timelines, language and impact" of a ballot question, but Sue Sheffler, Arlington's representative on the Minuteman committee, does not expect a motion on the ballot question until September. A school spokesman said no vote is expected July 7.

Possible vote on amending agreement; opinion poll on agenda

Also on the agenda, she wrote in an email July 5, are a possible vote to terminate any effort to amend the regional agreement as well as a vote to approve the superintendent's recommendation to expend up to $25,000 for a public-opinion survey of 400 "likely voters" who are to be asked about their interest in the building project.

Sheffler made clear she supports town leadership on the ballot question and raised additional points. In a statement, she wrote:

"After serving on the MM SC for a year now, and viewing the situation with "fresh eyes" (i.e. without the frustration of having dealt with all these issues for the last 7 years), I have come to stand firmly with Arlington's leadership on the building issue. That is, we should not incur any new debt for a new building without a revised Regional Agreement-one that is much fairer to Arlington taxpayers and the Arlington community in general.

"In addition, I have serious concerns about the proposed building project itself.

"1. The Advocate article [in June] points to the successful ballot method used to approve a $74M project at Bay Path Reg. Tech School in Charlton. However, Bay Path has 1100 students enrolled. The MM project, as proposed would cost (at least) twice as much ... and MM currently has less than 400 "member town" students enrolled. MM's total (including out-of-district pupils) enrollment has been below the projected 628 enrollment for many years.

"2. The MM projected cost of nearly $150M would cost Arlington (my estimates) about $30M in capital costs alone, assuming the 40% reimbursement comes through. We have 150 students at MM. I can't help but note that this amount of investment would pay for 3 Thompson schools, housing 1000+ students.

"3. I also note that we have 1294 students in a 400,000-square-foot facility at AHS. ('The school is ranked among the top 25 high schools in Massachusetts according to MCAS scores. We are recognized as a U.S. News & World Report gold medal school, a U.S. News & World Report STEM school, and among the nation’s most challenging schools according to the Washington Post. This year, we received a level 1 designation from the state for overall achievement and progress on the MCAS....')

"The AHS complex was built between 1914 and 1980 and last upgraded 34 years ago. A 1993 School Infrastructure Study projected renovation to be needed after the year 2000. A recent evaluation of mechanical systems identified $35 million in needed infrastructure improvements. Our student population is growing, and we face potential loss of accreditation for substandard facilities.

"A new AHS complex which could cost $100 million+, would serve some 1400 students, given (conservative) enrollment growth.

"So while VoTech schools are inherently more expensive to build than standard schools, it seems quite unfair to the 5000+ Arlington student population to fund MM at such a disproportionate level."

The superintendent was asked for comment about the ballot question July 2, but has not responded.

Agreement progress slow

Progress to reach agreement has been slow. Arlington selectmen said June 29 that Bouquillon is working on small changes to try to get resistant member Wayland and Boxboro to come on board. To ramp up the process, the superintendent proposed a ballot question. "It would be a very big deal to Arlington," Chapdelaine said

The board voted, 5-0, to register both support for Minuteman's educational mission and opposition to putting the question to voters. The full text of the letter is published below.

Bouquillon has estimated the cost of an election in the 16 member towns to be about $55,000.

In May, School Committee members approved construction of a new high school building as the best option for the district, at an estimated cost of $144.9 million. Reimbursement of construction costs from the Massachusetts School Building Authority is estimated at as much as $86.9 million.

Bay Path Regional Vocational Technical High School in Charlton, which has 10 member towns, used the ballot method successfully in 2012. That $73.8 million project is nearing completion.

Several years ago, the district made an effort to revise the district agreement, which was tied to a new school building, through the traditional Town Meeting route. Only 10 of the member towns have approved the new agreement, and Wayland, at Town Meeting in April, voted to withdraw from the district.

Ford Spalding, a member from Dover and the chairman of the School Building Committee, said approval by the state School Building Authority is a must.

July 1 letter from Adam W. Chapdelaine

It was sent to members of the Minuteman School Committee, Bouquillon, Minuteman district member town managers/Administrators; Maureen Valente, chief executive officer of the MSBA; state Senator Kenneth Donnelly; state Representative Sean Garballey and state Representative Dave Rogers.

In light of recent public comments by the Superintendent of the Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical High School District regarding the initiation of a district wide ballot initiative to support a school building project, the Arlington Board of Selectmen hereby adopts the following position statement:

1) The Arlington Board of Selectmen has long supported vocational and technical academic opportunities in partnership with the Minuteman School District.

2) Representatives of Arlington’s Board of Selectmen, Finance Committee and other Town officials have worked tirelessly for the past several years to revise the regional agreement to allow for a collaborative approach among member towns’ leadership to approving a school building project. This collaborative approach was also evidenced by the Board’s approval of the Needham resolution.

3) These Representatives remain committed to such a collaborative process focused on a revised agreement that will augment district sustainability and equity.

4) As a direct referendum bypasses each Town’s elected representatives who have spent many month and years working to improve Minuteman’s physical and operational capacity, the Arlington Board of Selectmen is steadfastly opposed to the Minuteman School Committee pursuing the initiation of the district wide ballot initiative regarding the proposed school building project. Pursuing such a path is not compatible with a collaborative process and undermines trust between Town leadership and the leadership of the regional school district.

5) The Arlington Board of Selectmen does not believe that an adequate analysis and resulting methodology has been offered to support the school enrollment figure currently being proposed.

6) The Arlington Board of Selectmen does not currently support the proposed building project as the conditions outlined by both the Board and the Finance Committee in 2012 have not been met.

These conditions are as follows:

 Amend the MSBA statute to allow for a greater reimbursement for the Minuteman project. This may come in the form of a change in the formula that recognizes the higher costs of building a vocational school, a change in the formula that recognizes the demographics of all enrollees in the school, not just the member town enrollees, or a change that allows for 100% capital reimbursement for non-member students. Arlington is also interested in the possibility of a non-MSBA state appropriation that could be directed to the project.

 Make the following changes to the regional agreement:

A. Adopt a Capital Apportionment Model that provides a fair share of the project be paid by Arlington. That model might include a common share, wealth factors described in the DESE “Combined Effort” and enrollment; use of other funding sources; or other creative solutions.

B. Adoption/Voting Formula – A change to the regional agreement that would require Minuteman’s annual operating budget to be approved by 11 town legislative bodies that represent at least two-thirds of the in-district enrollment.

C. Exit Provision – A change to the regional agreement that would allow for member communities to exit the district without unanimous consent of all member communities. This proposed provision would require any member community interested in exiting to pay capital costs for a pre-determined amount of time after their exit.

'Needham resolution'

On July 2, Chapdelaine explained the "Needham resolution," adopted by the Board of Selectmen April 28, 2014:

Resolved: That in the event of ratification of the revised the Minuteman Regional Vocational School District agreement as approved by the Regional School Committee on March 11, 2014, and in the event of notice of desire to withdraw by one or more members of the District given within one year of the effective date of the revised Agreement, the Board of Selectmen will not place a warrant article disapproving such withdrawal in a Town Meeting warrant, unless required by law, and will oppose such a disapproval article or motion in any event.

This resolution was suggested and promoted by a member of the Needham Board of Selectmen, and therefore earned the name "Needham resolution." The reason behind this was to grant assurance to district members who were suspicious that we might block their exit from the district following the passage of the revised agreement.

Opinion, May 20, 2015: Minuteman plans advance, but what are there chances?

Feb. 16, 2015: Selectmen discuss Minuteman building plan; one expresses doubt on enrollment forecast

Feb. 12, 2015: Open house for students parents March 5

Minuteman assessments explained >> 

Feb. 10, 2015: First look at cost of a new Minuteman High: $79m to $106m

This report was published Sunday, July 5, 2015, and updated July 7, to change subheadline.

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