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Minuteman school plans advance, but what are their chances?

Support for mission

"Overall, I’m very pleased," said Ford Spalding, a member of the Minuteman School Committee and chairman of the School Building Committee, said in the news release. "No matter where we travel in the district, we hear strong support for Minuteman and its programs. And we also hear strong support for the idea of building a new school. People understand that this is an investment in our future and in our economy."

Spalding said he is hopeful that the district’s 16 member towns will unite in their support for the project.

That comment is of course the key: The school will not be rebuilt if all member towns don't agree.

It's true that Minuteman has wide support -- for its hands-on mission and practical programs.

As to "strong support" for rebuilding -- that's not so true.

Doubts in Arlington

Following its recent Town Meeting, Arlington saw a wide array of officials cast doubt about rebuilding the high school, primary because of its cost and particularly with the rebuilding of Arlington High School looming.

Selectman Dan Dunn wrote offered this view amid his Town Meeting report about the Minuteman budget

"I believe that Minuteman is in an unsustainable situation. Arlington should not and will not vote for a new building without the district first approving a new regional agreement. Town Meeting, FinCom and the Board of Selectmen have all voted to send that message.

"Unfortunately, several towns have not approved that regional agreement, and in the April meeting the Minuteman School Committee voted to table the pursuit of the agreement 'indefinitely.'

"I am a strong supporter of vocational education, but that support has limits. It isn’t fair for Arlington to shoulder the costs that are outlined in current regional agreement. Unfortunately, I don’t think that the district can negotiate its way to a solution. I believe that state intervention is required."

There is much to weigh in Dunn's comments, which provide balance to the mantra the public hears from Minuteman officials.

Spalding said after Tuesday's meeting: "Minuteman offers high-quality programs that meet the needs of our students and our labor market. The problem is not with our programs. It’s with the building."

Paying for it all

True, but what will be done, and how is it to be paid for?

In touching on those questions, the May 20 Minuteman news release says that in the past two months, the Minuteman School Building Committee gathered input about five possible options: renovation, renovation plus an addition, reconstruction, repairs and repairs with modernized programs.

Results: 89.1 percent preferred construction of a new building, 4.9 percent preferred repairs only, 3 percent preferred renovation only and 3 percent preferred a renovation and addition.

New construction was the least expensive option. A minimum of 40 percent of the estimated $144.9 million project cost would be borne by the state. The maximum estimated district share would be $86.9 million. The annual property-tax impact on a median homeowner in the 16-community district would range from $6.08 to $78.03, depending on the town.

This is where Arlington comes into the numbers.

Our town is not Dover, which sends three students to Minuteman. Arlington sends 152.

More students mean higher cost.

Discord over agreement

Minuteman has worked with member district to try to ease the burden. A proposed agreement changes the annual assessment by basing it on a four-year rolling average of student enrollment, instead of the previous year’s number and shifts the School Committee’s votes to a weighted system.

The new agreement also changes the division of capital costs: Instead of basing them on a single year's enrollment, it divides them, with each town paying 1 percent of the annual total. Of the remaining capital costs, 50 percent would be divided based on a four-year rolling average of enrollment and the rest would be divided based on the factors used in determining Chapter 70 state aid.

But all 16 towns must approve changes to the regional agreement, and six towns have not approved the amendments proposed last year. In five, Town Meetings have voted at least once to pass over the article proposing the new agreement.

The new school would have a design enrollment of 628 students and 16 career and technical education programs. Those programs would be grouped into two career academies: a Life Sciences and Services Academy and an Engineering, Construction and Trades Academy. The school would be designed to foster communication and collaboration between academic subjects and career and technical studies.

That's a worthy vision, but how will Minuteman reach its enrollment goals in the face of members failing to sign on to the revised agreement?

Enrollment question

Selectman Dunn wrote regarding Town Meeting discussion of Minuteman cost and enrollment: "The point was made that per pupil cost is much higher in this budget, even as the budget is smaller.

"There was a question about the proposed building project: she asked what it meant to have 8% annual enrollment increases predicted.

"That was a very astute question! I don’t think the Superintendent really answered it. He certainly didn’t answer how he thinks he can increase enrollment by 36% over 4 years."

In the school news release, Spalding said the state school-building authority is expected to review Minuteman’s proposal at its board of directors meeting July 29. At that time, he said he expects the agency to authorize Minuteman to proceed with the schematic design for a new building based on the proposed educational program plan.

Minuteman High School was built in the 1970s. The building has a host of problems, including a leaking roof, problems with the exterior shell, issues with the electrical and plumbing systems, ventilation issues and handicapped accessibility issues.

In December 2012, the New England Association of Schools & Colleges placed the school on "warning" status solely because of issues with the building.

Arlington High faces its own accreditation issues, and as to Minuteman’s agreement, it's worth repeating a comment by Dunn:

"I believe that state intervention is required."

This viewpoint was published Wednesday, May 20, 2015. The writer is a longtime supporter of Minuteman; one of his daughters graduated from there in 2010.

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Town of Arlington to LGBTQIA+ students: You belong


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