Friday, March 24, 2000
Several Beacon Hill initiatives impact Carlisle; Reps visit selectmen
In what is hoped to be a semi-annual event, state Senator Susan Fargo and Representative Carol Cleven met with the board of selectmen on March 14 to answer questions about developments on Beacon Hill that may affect the town.
An upcoming bill would allow Minuteman Regional High School to admit out-of-district students starting in the ninth grade, rather than starting in the tenth under present law, provided the incoming students cannot attend a similar program in their own vocational district. The primary reason for the change is to attract more students who would pay tuition closer to the actual cost of a Minuteman education.
In order to attract these students, Cleven pointed out, the school plans to add new technology courses, which tend to be costly. Cleven wanted to make sure the selectmen understood that the town may end up with higher costs if these new programs are implemented and not enough new out-of-district students attend.
"I don't want to do anything to get Carlisle into a worse financial situation," said Cleven. Selectman Michael Fitzgerald explained that the town has felt the current method by which Carlisle is assessed for the students it sends to Minuteman seems unfair. It is not calculated on a per student basis, but rather is based on a town growth formula so that, in some years, Carlisle pays far in excess of what other member communities pay per student.
Fargo noted that, from a broader perspective, the planned curriculum changes at Minuteman are positive. "The changes are part of the workforce development we need to be doing for a modern economy," she said.
The selectmen voted to have Cleven and Fargo support the proposed Minuteman legislation.
Proposed cell tower legislation
The Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA) recently submitted proposed legislation relating to the siting of wireless communication facilities which was widely received as an assault on local control. The proposal would circumvent local zoning requirements in favor of a streamlined permitting process for installations on existing structures.
"Everyone was taken by surprise by the MMA proposal and was left wondering why they were paying dues," said Fargo. Cleven added that there is great concern among legislators about this proposal and an overwhelming preference for the local option. Fargo noted that there has already been a rally at the State House against the bill, where she spoke against the proposal.
The committee on government regulations is currently studying the bill, and neither Fargo nor Cleven expects it to be released soon. Town counsel Paul DeRensis, who attended the selectmen's meeting, noted that another good reason to sit on the bill is a recent appeals court decision which held that communications provider Nextel is not a public utility. This decision may remove the original incentive for MMA to compromise with the industrythe ability of public utilities to appeal local denials to the Department of Telecommunications and Energy.
The selectmen voted to instruct Fargo and Cleven not to support the proposal.
The board asked their state legislators why Carlisle, without so much as a bus stop in town, was included in the enlarged assessment district for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). When the full effect of the new law is felt in a few years, Carlisle will owe tens of thousands of dollars annually. Fargo responded that enlarging the district was part of the MBTA's plan to hold down costs while not increasing fees. She further noted that she and Cleven have been trying for years to get the MBTA to be "forward-funded" (that is, make a budget and live with it) rather than to pass on whatever costs it may incur.
DeRensis was able to add some good news. A bill has recently been introduced which would allow a town to deduct the cost of a local van program from its MBTA assessment. The Council on Aging van program would qualify, he said.
The selectmen asked about changes to the school building assistance program (SBAB) and special education funding (SPED).
Regarding the SBAB review, required because the original law had sunset provisions, Cleven stated that the new version will include assistance for modular classrooms and will relax some of the restrictions against refurbishing older school buildings. Cleven also said she is pushing to add more money to this program and that there is some talk of shifting some funding away from heavily subsidized urban areas.
With respect to SPED, the legislators are trying to devise some relief for communities that have very high-cost students, recognizing that this can strain the school budget. If a SPED student moves into the district after the budget is finalized, provisions are being introduced so that the sending district pays a portion of the increased cost.
Community Preservation Act
Open-space advocates have high hopes for the community preservation initiative which would allow local communities to adopt a new means of funding land acquisitions or affordable housing. While both the Senate and House adopted a version of this bill, differences are still being worked out in conference. The major dispute is whether to allow both a real estate transfer tax and a surcharge on the property tax as possible funding sources. Fargo said that she believes the bill should be passed with both funding mechanisms and let the communities decide which method to adopt.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito