Letter to the Editor: Forcing DESE’s Hand By Voting No on Minuteman Plan

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To the editor:

A new Minuteman High School is essential for Belmont. That’s why I am voting no in the Sept. 20 election.

A majority NO vote in town is a requirement for Belmont to have the option to withdraw from the Minuteman District. We need this option.

As a member of Town Meeting and the Warrant Committee, I have been studying this issue for months. The biggest problem right now is the failure of DESE, the state agency that oversees all school districts, to make public the “capital charge” it will approve for the Minuteman project.  The capital charge is the amount per student Minuteman will be allowed to charge non-member towns to help pay for the debt to build the new school.  About half of the Minuteman enrollment in the future will come from non-member towns, so this issue is critical.

The conclusion of all reasonable analyses is that a fair capital charge is approximately $8,400 per student.  But there are well-founded fears that DESE will only approve a much lower amount, perhaps around $2,000.  This would place an unfair burden on member towns to subsidize non-members when all benefit equally from the new building.  

Voting NO accomplishes two goals. It tells DESE that it is time to decide on the capital charge. They have been analyzing this issue since the spring and there no reason to prolong this process. Second, by voting no Belmont will have the option through Town Meeting to request leaving the Minuteman district. A special Town Meeting would be held in mid-October for this purpose.

Assuming a majority no vote, my recommendation for Town Meeting will depend on DESE. If they do not make a decision by then or set an unfairly low capital charge, I would support leaving the district.  But if DESE does the right thing and sets a fair capital charge in the neighborhood of $8,400, I would strongly urge Town Meeting to remain in the district.

There are other financial and strategic considerations about Minuteman that have been discussed in town. The Warrant Committee will continue to discuss them and be prepared, if necessary, to explain them to Town Meeting in October.  

But the first step is the election on Sept. 20. The wise course is to turn out and vote no. Then for October we should wait and see how DESE acts.

Roy Epstein

Cushing Avenue

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