Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Select Board member expresses position on the Middle School(s) SOI

An open letter by Selectman Richard Foster in response to citizens who have requested his view of an SOI (statement of interest) submission to the state regarding a future middle school project in Longmeadow....
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As a Select Board member I am tasked with establishing policy and direction for our entire community. We accomplish this task by acquiring an understanding of past actions taken by our community and guidance obtained from a patchwork assembly of policies, by-laws and general laws used for the management of communities across the Commonwealth. The greatest disservice I could provide to our community would come from being myopic in my decision-making process. In reviewing the history of our community there has been a very clear bias towards our schools stimulated by well-meaning, but often misinformed electorate.

In 1986 the Select Board brought before the town a warrant article to replace our severely deteriorated DPW complex. The price at that time to rebuild this structure was less than $3,000,000. This warrant article was disapproved at our town meeting and never brought before the electorate again. Ironically, in less than two years from that date, our Select Board recommended our community authorize millions of dollars’ worth of work to be performed on Center School.  Our DPW complex still needed replacement, but the Select Board and our community simply turned their backs on this critical need and concentrated on more popular “low hanging fruit” projects.  Our High School, which was recently replaced because it was “worn out” was originally constructed 25 years after the construction of our DPW complex. Again, as a community, we abandoned the other needs in our community and placed a school project ahead of everything.  Presently 97.54% of our General Fund debt in our community is for school projects. We have outstanding school debt of $42,190,000 which will not be totally paid off until 2041.  One would think there would be public outcry claiming dereliction of duty by the Select Board for allowing our DPW complex to deteriorate to its current state.  Instead, I receive emails telling me to do my job and perform my civic duty by approving an SOI. Ironically, when I conferred with individuals in our community who have experience with the SOI process and the work required for public approval, their opinions are unanimous. They all say, “We are not ready at this time for the approval of an SOI for the replacement of our middle schools.”  We have individuals in our community with intimate knowledge of this entire process telling me we are not ready and we have school committee members and residents with limited or no knowledge of this process encouraging me to do my civic duty by approving an SOI. Our school committee has been briefed by these knowledgeable individuals who said Longmeadow is not ready for this submission, and yet, they continue to lobby for this approval while not taking the advice of those who are experienced in this process.

At a recent Select Board meeting I presented a briefing on our water and sewer systems. In this briefing I demonstrated that during the winter months nearly 50% of our sewage flow being sent to Bondi Island is coming from infiltration and inflow and not being generated by our water usage. This comes from leaking pipes and surface water being deposited into our sewer system. Every homeowner in our community is paying for this waste. This could be corrected with ample funding. Some of the newest pipes in our system are 50 to 75 years old. Is anyone ready for a $20,000,000 to $40,000,000 override to work on our sewer system? Or perhaps the same amount for our failing water distribution system? We could easily expend another $15,000,000 on sidewalks replacement, not to mention the staggering amount of money that we could be spending annually on our roadways and parking lots. These estimates are from current engineering studies. The reality of our current form of government is that prioritization of projects is ignored when a special interest single-issue group can override decisions made by the Select Board at our town meetings.  Even with a critically flawed project prioritization system, no one would have ever replaced our High School before replacing our crumbling DPW complex and yet that is exactly what we as a community did. This is the result of single-issue special interest groups overlooking and/or ignoring the overall needs of our community and voting to support issues which are often not being recommended by those elected to represent the best interest of our entire community.

Our school committee talks about the physical needs of our schools, and yet, last year they ignored the recommendations of our Superintendent, Town Manager, Town Chief Financial Officer, and the Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations for the Schools by supporting full funding of tuition-free Full Day Kindergarten as the highest need of the school district while rejecting money-saving proposals offered by our School management team. Instead of supporting the care of our schools, they recommended the adoption of a discretionary program which took hundreds of thousands of dollars away from the town and away from the funding sources used to improve the physical condition of our schools and other town properties while only benefiting approximately 150 families. This was not a onetime removal of these funds, it was a permanent transfer of these funds from discretionary spending to fixed cost. It must be noted that the Chair of the School Committee who was a member of the budget negotiation team did not support the actions of the school committee. Instead she submitted and recommended a phased approach for providing tuition-free Full Day Kindergarten, but this was rejected by some members of the School Committee in favor of their proposal of 100% funding this program immediately. The 100% now funding proposal was not recommended or supported by any of the town or school administrative or management staff.

Will we move forward with an SOI on our middle schools? Yes, when the time is right, and when we as a community, are ready to move forward. Until then, I will continue to do what I was elected to do for our community. To be thorough, impartial, and fair in my evaluation of the needs of our entire community and strive each day to make our community better than it was yesterday. Believe me, your Select Board is here to support all of the needs of our community in a fair and equitable manner.

Richard Foster

2 comments:

Henry Lanouette said...

Well written Mr. Foster. I agree with what you have written, I don't think I have seen all of the facts put together in such a clear and concise manner.

We are lucky in our town to have people like you on our select board.

Thank you for all your hard work, hang in there.

Henry Lanouette
16 Mass Ave

Brian T said...

Thank you for a common sense approach to the real issues. The school committee regularly runs good buildings into the ground and then wants new. Meanwhile they won't fund janitors to make sure what they have been rewarded with already stays in good shape. As a 45 year resident of town I enjoyed an education here and so did my three children . Construction of New buildings were more of a distraction and disruptive to the educational process than they were worth. Enough with the schools folks. They are great as is, if you would like to continue to flush your toilets and have them run under the streets and not on them , then back off and let's make all of longmeadow great again!