Saturday, March 12, 2011

Role of the School Building Committee Prescribed by Massachusetts Law

The answer to the question posed by Alex J. Grant in his March 3 editorial, "Who Put the SBC In Charge?" is actually quite simple. When the residents of the Town of Longmeadow voted overwhelmingly at two separate town meetings and at the ballot box to obtain funds from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for preparation of a feasibility study and then for construction of a new high school, we as a community agreed to comply with the terms and conditions of the Commonwealth's school building assistance program. All state funding of school building projects in Massachusetts is overseen by the Massachusetts School Building Authority (the "MSBA"), pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 70B. The MSBA was established by Chapter 70B to promote "the thoughtful planning and construction of school facility space in order to insure safe and adequate plant facilities for the public schools, and to assist towns in meeting the cost thereof." M.G.L. c.70B, §1. All cities and towns seeking funding for school projects from the school building assistance program are required to comply with regulations adopted by the MSBA at 963 CMR 2.00, which provide a clear legal and procedural framework for the design and construction of MSBA-funded projects. The MSBA regulations clearly require the establishment of a school building committee ("SBC") in each municipality seeking such funding, as well as set forth the responsibilities and the membership of a SBC. The regulations require the town to make "a reasonable effort" to include representatives from each of the Select Board and the School Committee, the Town Manager, the Superintendent of Schools, the manager with responsibility for maintenance of the new facility, the school principal of the facility, a local budget official, and community members with experience in architecture, engineering and/or construction, among others.

The establishment of the SBC in Longmeadow followed the letter of the law as set forth in Chapter 70B and in the accompanying MSBA regulations, and complied with our Town Charter. Section 4-4 of the Town Charter gives the Select Board and the School Committee the authority to establish new committees as necessary to conduct town business. The Select Board and the School Committee held joint open meetings on June 16, 2008 and June 23, 2008, to interview and then vote on the proposed community members of the SBC. Those members were thus vetted by publicly elected officials in open session. As noted above, the other members are specifically enumerated in the MSBA regulations. The July 21, 2008 letter from E. Jahn Hart, then-Superintendent of Longmeadow Public Schools, to the MSBA (erroneously cited by Mr. Grant as being sent by the Town Manager) requested approval of the SBC membership as required by the MSBA regulations. Upon such approval by the MSBA, the SBC became the local body with responsibility for shepherding the high school project through the MSBA and town approvals, as well as through the design and construction phases of the project. The SBC is simply a creature of state and local law organized pursuant to applicable regulations.

Lastly, we must take issue with Mr. Grant's assertion that there has been no public involvement or input in the design of new high school, and that no opportunity exists for such input. The SBC is an appointed public body subject to the Commonwealth's open meeting laws, and as such, all meetings are publicly posted in advance. Residents who would like to learn more about the project and offer feedback are always invited to attend. We also remind Mr. Grant of the well-advertised series of public forums held to discuss the design options for the high school project during the months leading up to the May 25, 2010 Town Meeting vote approving the project. In addition, the planning board and zoning board of appeals held publicly noticed hearings on the project in November and December of 2010, respectively. All these meetings and hearings have provided and will continue to provide a multitude of opportunities for public input on decisions still to be made by the SBC. The obligation of the SBC is to the residents of Longmeadow, who so strongly supported the high school project but who will also demand that the project be constructed in a transparent and fiscally responsible way. The members of the SBC promise to continue to work diligently on behalf of our community to plan and construct a high school in which our children can receive the highest quality 21st century education available anywhere.

Respectfully submitted by the Longmeadow School Building Committee, Christine Swanson

1 comment:

Jim Moran, LongmeadowBiz said...


As you know I have attended a number of the recent SBC public meetings to keep informed. For the meetings that I have attended, the SBC agenda has not included a "public comment" period as does the SC and SB meetings. It would be of significant value to include 5-10 minutes at the beginning of each meeting for public comments.

I see that the SBC has posted some recent SBC meeting minutes (but not all) on the SBC website.... thank you.