Photo: The new Minuteman Tech High School
To the editor:
In the spring Belmont town meeting voted overwhelmingly to adopt the new Minuteman Regional Agreement and remain in the district. Now that it comes to paying our fair share for a new school building, the same people want to “chicken out” and reverse course to withdraw from the district. They call it “rent” instead of “buy,” which is a bit cheaper in the short term, but also means a lot less control and future access for our students.
Sure, we might save some money by leaving the district. Michael Libenson calculated that amount as anywhere between $200,000-$400,000 per year. This is money that would need to be picked up by the towns remainng in the district (most people would call this free-loading). But in my opinion, Michael’s savings calculation is flawed. It assumes that out-of-district towns will continue to pay lower operating fees and lower or no capital charges for a new building. The Massachusetts Department for Education (DESE) has already committed to charging out-of-district towns the capital fee (exactly how much is still open). In addition to lower operating fees non-member towns have to pay about $4,500 for each student on an IEP (roughly 50 percent of students at Minuteman) and about $1,000 per student for transportation.
Figuring these additional costs into the calculation makes the difference between in-district and out-of-district students shrink to a much smaller number than is widely presented. Common sense implies that over time the differences in fees will disappear or be based on some formula of what each town can afford. By staying in the district, we can work with the state and school towards this goal.
The Selectman and Warrant Committee also claim that we need a debt exclusion vote to be able to afford the extra costs for the new Minuteman school. I have a hard time believing this. Our annual school budget is about $50 million. The additional $200,000-$400,000 expenses that Libenson calculated to stay in the district and pay for the new school would represent less than 1 percent of our school budget. This is a relatively small number, and I believe we could pay this out of the operating budget until we have to do a debt override for a new high school or police station.
The downside of voting No and withdrawing from the district is big: we give up the guaranteed access for our children to a quality vocational education close to town, we give up oversight and control over Minuteman’s management and future direction, and we freeload on our neighboring towns. If this discussion was about Belmont High School, I believe no one would be voting against it to save a few dollars, but it is apparently different for a vocational school.
Stanley Road, TMM Precinct 3