Friday, January 27, 2006
MSBA tours CCHS; Fargo and Atkins attend RSC meeting
The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) has started gathering information for a Needs Survey and has hired DeJONG Inc., an educational planning firm, to gather data about the conditions of every public school building in the state. DeJONG has architects and retired educators to perform the inspections. In early January, Dr. Ronald Fitzgerald, a former superintendent of Minuteman Regional High School, took a tour of Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) with Superintendent Brenda Finn, Principal Art Dulong, RSC member Jerry Wedge and Joel Seeley, an architect from SMMA (Symmes, Maini and McKee Associates), who had done much work on the CCHS Feasibility Study in 2005.
The state's preliminary guidelines for school buildings is expected this month, and final guidelines are due in June. In a letter to Superintendent Finn, Katherine Craven, executive director of MSBA, laid out the process. Phase I is the on-site data collection. Inspectors will gather and verify baseline information such as number of buildings, square footage, number of classrooms and condition of the buildings. Phase II is a web-based questionnaire that will allow the district to validate the data collected. The letter states, "The results of this Needs Survey will be instrumental for the MSBA's Board of Directors to determine which facilities will receive funding when the moratorium on acceptance of new applications ends on July 1, 2007. The Board's ability to compare applications for the new program will be based, in part, on the results of this survey."
Where will Concord and Carlisle be on the list of needy towns? This will become a key question. Back in August, Craven said that $500 million would be available for school building construction. Finn commented that would pay for only five high schools the size of CCHS.
The outlook for state reimbursement is not good. On the front page of Sunday's Boston Globe, 1/22/06, was an article titled, "State freezes aid on school construction." Construction costs are skyrocketing and neither the state nor individual towns can readily handle the tremendous increases. Currently there are 428 building projects on the state's waiting list. At least 80 of these will cost more than was originally expected. The figures are staggering; some increases are 50% or more, with a total cost of more than $5.5 billion to the state.
Fargo and Atkins on state aid
State Senator Susan Fargo and State Representative Cory Atkins attended the RSC meeting this week. State money for education was the hot topic. Atkins said, "We have dedicated revenue for school buildings. One percent of the 5% sales tax goes towards this." Fargo lamented, "In the 1990s, we gave up $40 billion in tax cuts. In 2002, the state budget was $3 billion in debt." Atkins added, "There was a 25% decrease in revenue during the recession. Lower taxes relates to these cuts we see" Later she said, "There is some sense of optimism going into budget negotiations now. The recession is subsiding."
Fargo said, "The state can borrow money for bonds at a much better rate than individual towns can," the idea being that the state would borrow money for towns to use in school building projects. RSC member Michael Fitzgerald pointed out, "Towns can't borrow money for more than twenty years. It would be helpful to have 30-year debt." Fargo acknowledged this.
Fitzgerald explained that Concord and Carlisle had supported schools, passing overrides. He asked, "Aren't we penalized for getting overrides passed?" Fargo retorted, "If towns won't pass overrides, why should the state bail them out?"
Another comment by Atkins was that neighboring states are now spending more than Massachusetts on education.
When the RSC was asked what they were doing about building a new CCHS, which was the recommendation of the Feasibility Study done last year, Fitzgerald replied, "It is a reimbursement issue." RSC member Pat Sinnott added, "We expect to be breaking ground in 2009. We'll need design funds a year before that. We need clarity on funding. There is a possible reimbursement of 40%. This needs to be understood." Planning is slowed for now until MSBA guidelines and reimbursement rates are known.
© 2006 The