While the transparently irrational arguments against the new high school are self rebutting, the economic arguments have at least the appearance of reasonableness. In truth, they are arguments that were thoroughly considered during the lengthy and very open process that has culminated in the commitment of $34 million in state funds and the Longmeadow School Building Committee recommendation that will be on the special town meeting warrant on May 25th and the June 8th ballot.
Some critics argued that “the town can’t afford this project at this time.” Select Board incumbent and candidate Mark Gold continues to maintain this claim. The evidence to support it, however, is difficult to find. A brand new high school, judged appropriate for high quality, state of the art education for many decades to come with a price tag of $78 million would have been unimaginably inexpensive just a couple of years ago. The contribution of $34 million of that amount by the Massachusetts School Building Authority makes a good deal a great opportunity. Mr. Gold suggests that we should have chosen an option that would have been $10-15 million dollars less expensive and recommends that the town should take a much more incremental approach to repairing the high school in several phases over an 8-10 year period. The fact that such an option was thoroughly studied by the School Building Committee, and that the cost of such an option would far exceed that of the proposal on the table, is curiously ignored by Mr. Gold.
Implications by Gold and others that other capital projects should be undertaken before or in tandem with the high school project were equally well considered during the comprehensive development of the high school project and rejected by a committee that included the would be direct beneficiaries of these other capital investment possibilities.
Why does Mr. Gold believe that his analysis is superior to that of the School Building Committee, which has members from across the town government and from every conceivably relevant professional competency? His argument includes no effort to account for the disparity. It does, however, include the claim that the proposed project is sub-optimal and therefore should be scrapped. To justify this argument (without ever mentioning the enormous costs of foregoing both the state aid and favorable financing environment) Gold claims that the Wilbraham-Hampden school project is bigger, better, and less expensive. This is news to the folks in Wilbraham-Hampden as well as the dedicated members of our School Building Committee, who will presently be refuting Mr. Gold’s “fuzzy math.”
Another criticism of the proposed project is that “too many Longmeadow residents cannot afford the additional $600 dollars a year for the life of the bond that this will cost.” The most significant problem with this claim is that it is a private, or individualistic, objection to a public, or collective, investment, the logic of which condemns ALL public investments. The advocates of the proposed project have thoroughly demonstrated the financial prudence of this investment “for the town,” but this argument essentially reframes the issue as an individual taxpayer burden that (its proponents hope) cannot be as easily justified. Particularly vulnerable from this perspective, according to proponents, are the “elderly residents on fixed incomes” for whom the additional tax liability could be overwhelming.
The political force of this argument is magnified if supporters of the project at issue accept this frame and try to argue that the cost is not an unfair or unnecessary burden on economically vulnerable residents. The reality is that no one could ever argue for any capital investment if this individual taxpayer frame is accepted. Were the voters of Longmeadow to allow themselves to see this investment from this perspective and vote against it, they would, at best, be exercising misplaced and very counter-productive compassion because without sound investments in our town’s capital assets each taxpayer’s most valuable capital asset (their home) will continue to lose value, which jeopardizes the financial capacity of both individuals and the town to maintain quality of life standards.
Rather than antagonizing residents who worry about the additional costs to their tax bill, fair-minded voters and supporters of the proposed project should be open to community-based assistance to economically vulnerable tax payers. We really are all in this together, and when a few of us have trouble moving forward it’s up to the rest of us to help everybody keep up, not by stopping and failing to progress, or by leaving anyone behind. Simply saying no to sound investments like the new high school pulls everyone down, which would be the real injustice.
The economic arguments against the new high school simply don’t add up.
Vote YES on May 25th and on June 8th.
Jerold J. Duquette, M.P.A, Ph.D.