Friday, January 21, 2005
Managing the 40B tsunami
With a proposed 66-unit condo development on Concord Street, the fear that big 40B developers will come to Carlisle moves from a possible threat to a present reality. Avoiding 40B is no longer an option. With very high land prices, high-density housing is the most profitable strategy for many developers, and the state is determined to back them up to the full extent of the Chapter 40B statute.
The strategy now must be to get to the mandated 10% of affordable housing, or 170 units, with the minimum possible growth in population and land development. Long term, looking beyond the current project to place 26 units on the Benfield Land, Carlisle must build more affordable housing. If we don't find the land, the money, the partnerships and the will, commercial developers will do it for us, with projects that consist of 25% affordable and 75% market rate units. This will result in four times the population and housing growth and will be more expensive to the community in the long run.
In the immediate future, we must deal with 40B applications as effectively and constructively as possible, and seek temporary protection from unfriendly developers. First, the Board of Appeals, which alone grants the comprehensive permit for a 40B project, needs help in responding to applications. The BOA needs to tap into the experience and expertise of its fellow boards, including the Planning Board, Conservation Commission, Board of Health, Fire Department, Building Inspector, and others, to identify key issues in an application and suggest practical compromises as quickly and effectively as possible. The Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee need to find the dollars necessary to support the BOA with specialized engineers, lawyers, traffic consultants, and anyone else that can help us build the housing while preserving the community's character and resources. Town boards need to find the time to meet together and pool their wisdom.
We must also rapidly seek temporary protection from further 40B mega-projects. The 26 Benfield units can potentially provide two years' respite, if we meet other state requirements. A town can deny an application for a comprehensive permit for one year if 1) the town adopts an Affordable Housing Plan; 2) the plan is approved by the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD); 3) the town approves permits equal to at least one half of 1% of the town's required affordable housing stock, or 12 units in Carlisle. The Planning Board needs to complete the Affordable Housing Plan, which stalled last year when two paid consultants left the job unfinished. Again, this will require time and money. The Benfield Task Force, which is planning to present its proposal for affordable housing at the Spring Town Meeting, will need citizen support to move ahead rapidly. This time we cannot nitpick the plans and create delays.
Fortunately, our Selectmen, Planning Board, and Benfield Task Force recognize the urgency and are formulating plans to move quickly. They will need our ideas, feedback, cooperation, and unfortunately, our tax dollars. In lean economic times, it is difficult to fund unpopular projects, but we have no choice. We must learn to manage 40B or become its victim.
The modern Minuteman
We have an image problem. Many of our kids, and so likely some of their parents, think of Minuteman Regional High School as a "plumber's school," not suitable for the college-bound.
I say "we" have a problem because Minuteman is our school, just as Concord-Carlisle Regional High is. And the image is a problem because we are failing to take full advantage of a very rich resource, for students who could be learning there and even for students who attend CCHS and the Carlisle School.
At a time when all schools need to redouble their focus on science and technology, Minuteman could be a valuable partner. They're already doing it. At a time when all schools are trying to figure out how to teach kids with different learning styles, Minuteman is already doing it. And they have been for years.
To dispense with the first part of the plumber's-school myth: 62% of Minuteman graduates go on to college. That compares with about 25% just 15 years ago, according to superintendent William Callahan. As to the second part of the myth, I note first that there are several Carlisleans who've done rather well in the trades, who have prospered in business as well as family and community life, who enjoy and support culture and education.
More important, Minuteman is a comprehensive school. It's not for dummies or academic washouts. It is demanding. It's not enough to have a "knack" for mechanics or carpentry, for instance. Teachers focus on how students can succeed in a competitive and dynamic marketplace.
Minuteman has three divisions, two of them considered college-prep. Its Technology division includes biotech, pre-engineering, electronics, telecommunications, and other disciplines. The Commercial division is business-oriented and offers, among other things, culinary arts, health care, and retail and banking. The Trades division offers technical preparation in automotive work, carpentry, HVAC, electrical, and, yes, plumbing. Many students in the Trades area go on to community college.
Students rotate weekly between academic classes and activities in their major study areas. Whereas public education in general clings to the model of one teacher imparting knowledge to a class in a given subject, Minuteman uses group presentations and options suited to different kinds of learnersauditory, visual, and kinesthetic, or action-oriented. It's not just about gaining knowledge, but about using knowledge, learning how to produce good work, and then improving upon it.
Minuteman teachers also conduct classes at other schools in its 16-district area, and students from some other schools attend classes at Minuteman. "Our role is to help everyone. It's cooperation, not competition," says Callahan. CCHS students could actually take classes at Minuteman ten minutes away. It takes a little creativity to work out the logistics, but why not?
Both Concord-Carlisle Superintendent Brenda Finn and Carlisle Superintendent Marie Doyle speak of the need to offer students more electives, in particular, technology-focused and pre-engineering programs. Such programs will take time to promote and plan, and considerable expenditure on materials, space, curricula, and salaries. Couldn't we, in the meantime and even in the longer term, draw on Minuteman's expertise, faculty, and facilities to enhance our children's science education and hands-on learning experiences?
At any one time, Carlisle has about ten students at Minuteman. Each year, we send some kids to CCHS who might be more engaged at Minuteman. They don't go because they don't know much about it, and perhaps because, at 13 and14, most kids are interested primarily in where their friends will be. Minuteman itself needs to do all it can to make clear what it has to offer. And we parents need to challenge our assumptions.
© 2005 The