Friday, October 5, 2007
Finance Committee says wait for MSBA, at least for now
On October 1, the Finance Committee (FinCom) met to vote on whether a Special Town Meeting should be held to approve design funds to begin work on a replacement for the Spalding Building at the Carlisle School. But as the School Building Committee (SBC) described the latest chapter in the saga of the state aid application process, (see "MSBA: Will Carlisle make the short list?" page 4) the FinCom decided to wait for the next episode. The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) recently offered off-line assurances Carlisle is being strongly considered for a round of school building financing to be announced in three weeks. As a result, the SBC withdrew their request for a Special Town Meeting until more is known, and the FinCom voted to endorse the direction the SBC is taking in continuing to seek MSBA funding.
What happens if MSBA gives us the thumbs up? The state would then convene a group of architects and planners, at state expense, to propose a plan, taking into account current needs and solutions for the long term. Once a plan is proposed, a formula determines how much would be funded by the state, from 31% on up, depending on various parameters.
The town would then have 120 days in which to respond. A Town Meeting would have to be planned hastily, but Larry Barton noted, "There's enough reimbursement at risk to go through the aggravation to hit that 120 day mark." If the town accepts the plan, the funds are issued up front, avoiding past problems associated with financing that arrived long after a project was completed.
Could the state propose a solution radically different from what the town wants? The process is meant to be "very interactive," according to Barton. "It's going to take a long period of time and people will have input." While anything is possible, the point of the planning is to avoid past milking of the state cash cow for overbuilt and unneeded facilities. The architects advising the Carlisle SBC have worked for the state, and feedback so far from MSBA authorities has been, "You guys have got the right idea," according to Christy Barbee of the SBC. Superintendent Marie Doyle noted the Carlisle School's Master Plan has been much admired and used as a model for other school districts.
Can Carlisle afford a school even with the 40% hoped-for reimbursement? Said Dave Model, "My concern is less about the merits of a particular approach than how this folds into the larger picture" that includes falling town revenues and rising operating costs. Barbee suggested a backup plan may be needed in case the state doesn't come through or the voters reject the proposal, "We're still going to need a new roof."
FinCom member Barbara Bjornson said "'Can we afford it?' is a strange question," as only the taxpayers can decide what a new school is worth to them. The real questions the FinCom needs to answer, she proposed, are "Has this been thought through? What's it going to cost me?"
Thornton Ash believes, "It's premature to hold a Special Town Meeting. We're talking about a zero-[growth] town budget and now we're asking for big bucks." He said more time is needed to investigate financial solutions, including phased construction, regionalizing K to 8 with Concord and "spreading costs over more than one generation."
David Verrill summarized the FinCom's dilemma in making a recommendation, "We don't know when, and we don't know how much." Said Model, "The issue is, do you want a school the state's going to help you with, or not?
A unanimous vote was taken on a proposal as vaguely-worded as possible, supporting "the pursuit of MSBA funding for a project at the Carlisle School." Does this mean the FinCom will support a concrete proposal if it comes through? Time may tell.
New members introduced
The two new members of the Finance Committee were introduced. They are:
Ed Sullivan, Old East Street, an engineering executive and father of a fourth grader. He is liaison to the Carlisle School Committee this year.
David Guarino, East Street, is a practicing attorney specializing in tax and estate planning, and formerly worked for Deutch Williams, Carlisle's town counsel. He is also father of a fourth grader. He is liaison to the Library, Council on Aging, Planning Board, Personnel Board and Board of Health.
© 2007 The