Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Another Select Board Member Weighs in on the SOI Submission

Mark Gold, a member of the Longmeadow Select Board sent the following letter to fellow town residents who have recently asked him to support and approve an updated Statement of Interest to renovate the existing middle schools or build a new school(s) or a combination of both.

Dear Longmeadow Resident,

Thank you for your note asking me, and the rest of the Select Board, to support the School Committee’s middle school Statement of Interest (SOI) to be submitted to the Mass School Building Authority (MSBA).  I believe that there is much about the MSBA’s school project consideration process that was learned from our high school project, and I think it’s important that residents remember what happened with that project.
At the time the high school SOI was submitted, town residents were told, much like we are being told now, that the MSBA received many applications each year, that their waiting list for projects was long, and that it would be several years before the Longmeadow High School project was accepted for action.  It was a short time later that the MSBA notified the school committee that they had accepted the Longmeadow SOI and were ready to move forward with a project.  At the time, the Longmeadow School Committee placed the following statement on their website, a statement at remains posted today:

“…Longmeadow High School was deemed by the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) as a school in need of immediate attention. The MSBA has committed millions of dollars to Longmeadow to assist in the corrective action determined through the feasibility study process.  However, this money comes with strict guidelines. Once the MSBA has approved the project funding scope (scheduled for March 2010), Longmeadow has only 120 days from that date to pass the debt exclusion at Town Meeting in April and at the polls in June. If the town votes the motion down, we will not have a second chance and the MSBA will move on to one of the 400 other towns in need of assistance.  Longmeadow will be placed in the back of line and have to start the process all over again. At that point, there is no guarantee that we will receive funding from the state.” 

The fact that the town was not ready to move forward would be overwhelmed by those who insisted we must move forward with all deliberate speed least we lose the opportunity for partial state funding.

So, in 2009, even when town residents had not sorted through the project details, the school committee moved forward.  Lost in the memory of many residents it the fact that the MSBA’s analysis of the project was that the Longmeadow high school should be renovated, not replaced.  This conclusion was described in a letter dated November 10, 2009 to Longmeadow School Superintendent E. Jahn Hart that stated, “The MSBA and its Consultant have believed that the Longmeadow High School has strong potential for renovation, and the conclusions of your feasibility study have not substantially altered that view.”  On November 16, 2009, just a few days after that letter was received, a hastily gathered delegation of School Committee members, along with State Representative Brian Ashe, visited the MSBA to convince them that a renovation project was inappropriate.   Armed with letters from Congressman Neal, State Senator Candara and others, the rest, as they say, is history.   These letters and minutes of the meeting are now part of the public record.

It was the outcome of that November 16, 2009 meeting between a few “new school” proponents and the MSBA that convinced me that the current argument that the MSBA will help the town find the most appropriate solution to the middle school issue is incorrect at best, and misleading at worst.  The premature submission of an SOI will simply allow those with connections to the MSBA to dictate the direction of the project(s).  The proper methodology, in my opinion, for determining the forward path in this effort is for the town, led by its elected leaders on the School Committee and Select Board, to develop a single proposal for addressing the middle school situation and present that single solution to the MSBA for state assisted funding.
Submitting an SOI without first establishing a consensus on a single forward plan is, in my opinion, putting the cart before the horse.  Additionally, we should not be submitting an SOI in anticipation of not receiving state approval “for several years”.  By doing so, we’re wasting our time and the time of the MSBA.  I am convinced that a properly developed plan, that demonstrates clear and compelling need AND community support, will receive state support and funding in a timely manner.

At the current time I do not believe that a consensus has been reached with respect to any of the following issues:
  1. Whether it is appropriate to repair either or both of the current schools or to replace one or both schools. 
  2. If the decision is to build new, whether or not to combine our two middle schools to a single school or maintain the current two-school structure
  3. Where we would put a single school, on the Glenbrook campus on the Williams Campus
  4. Whether there is sufficient town support to fund the plan that is developed.
Throughout this process, please be assured that I agree that current physical condition of the Longmeadow middle schools merit the attention of our town leaders and residents.  I am familiar with the details of the buildings’ shortcomings as described in architectural studies and reports, but have not participated in discussions on the optimum resolution of those shortcomings.  As Select Board member I will be asked to approve the submission of an SOI to the MSBA.   To my understanding, that document has not yet been written, yet it appears to have the support of a number of residents who also do not know what is contained in that document, what assistance it asks for, or what information it conveys.   My decision to vote in favor of submitting an SOI to the MSBA for financial support to addressing the shortcomings of the Longmeadow middle schools will, to a very large extent, depend on what information that SOI contains, and what actions it seeks.  To ask the MSBA to identify the best way to address the shortcomings of the Longmeadow middle schools is, in my opinion, inappropriate.

Again, my thanks for writing to me on this important topic.  My goal is to meet the expectations of the majority of the residents while providing for the future of our middle school facilities.  I have every reason to believe that we can and will meet both of the objectives of that goal. 

Mark Gold
Longmeadow Select Board

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....
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