Photo: Image of the interior of a proposed Minuteman school building.
To the editor:
I’m asking Belmont residents to join me in voting “yes” to support the financing of a new Minuteman school building on Sept. 20.
Some of our local leaders have raised issues about Minuteman. Some say that we can avoid financing the new school and continue to send our kids there. But we won’t be sending our kids to Minuteman if the vote on financing fails. Others say that we can send our kids to other vocational schools. But no specifics have been offered, and there is no plan, just wishful thinking. Some say that Minuteman represents a broken model because many attendees go to college. We want our kids to go to college if they can and to get good jobs if they can’t and this is the role of modern vocational education.
Why does Belmont need to help finance a new school? Minuteman’s current campus was constructed in the 1970’s and needs replacement or costly repairs. Masonry is cracking and buckling. The roof needs to be replaced. The building is not up to ADA compliance standards and is not suited for modern instructional approaches. In fact, the building is at risk of being condemned. If the building is not replaced, repairs are estimated to cost almost as much as the construction of a new building, but would fail to solve many of its problems.
Replacing Minuteman’s school building to meet current enrollment will cost $144 million, of which the state has pledged $44 million. Ten Minuteman district towns, including Belmont, will share the remainder. The state also is imposing a capital fee to ensure that any non-member towns sending kids to Minuteman will pay a fair share. Belmont’s cost is estimated to be $335,000, something that our town can easily afford. One member of our Warrant Committee has suggested that the annual cost to the average Belmont household would be equivalent to ordering a few take-out pizzas.
Some claim that the financing approach carries risk. For example, the other nine Minuteman district towns could all file for bankruptcy, leaving Belmont on the hook for the entire cost. This is as likely as space aliens zapping nine communities out of existence. More realistically, Belmont could face a slightly higher financing cost, perhaps as much as $500,000 a year, if the state does not set the capital fee for non-member towns high enough. We need to lobby the state to make sure this doesn’t happen.
Some argue that the new school will be too big and that it should be radically downsized to exclude non-member towns’ students. There’s just no good argument for this, and the state of Massachusetts will not contribute to a construction plan that does not build to current enrollment.
We need Minuteman to succeed. It’s a critical educational resource. We have to do something for our kids who are not going to college to help them succeed. In fact, the state mandates that we provide vocational education for those wanting it. But Belmont High School just isn’t equipped to provide vocational training, and we cannot afford to provide these kinds of programs on our own. Some kids need more and different kinds of attention and instructional approaches to doing well. Minuteman has a student to teacher ratio about half that of Belmont High School. Belmont High School just isn’t equipped to give that kind of attention to kids who need it.
Won’t you show your support for Minuteman on Sept. 20? Please join me in voting “yes.” Polls open at noon.
Michael F. Crowley
Belmont Town Meeting Member, Precinct 8