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Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School Committee cites reasons for failed debt exclusion vote

Date: 11/13/2014

WILBRAHAM – The Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School Committee cited a lack of voter education and communication as the main reasons for the failed Proposition 2 ½ debt exclusion override for $3.9 million in school reconstruction projects.

The two projects on the Nov. 4 ballot were for the reconstruction of the Wilbraham Middle School (WMS) roof for $2.3 million and window replacements at Soule Road Elementary School for $1.5 million.

Additionally, $130,000 was approved at the Special Town Meeting for feasibility studies and schematic designs for the projects.

The debt exclusion override for the WMS roof project failed by 230 votes and the Soule Road windows project failed by 231 votes.

“We need to continue to push,” School Committee Chair Marc Ducey said at the committee’s Nov. 10 meeting. “We need to respect the rule of the voters but at the same time we have buildings that need repairs and these problems are not going to go away.”

Ducey said the committee was largely criticized in the past for not maintaining the old Minnechaug Regional High School. The new high school’s cost was approximately $69 million. 

“Part of the problem is, this is not our decision,” he added. “These are not our buildings. We’re not responsible for maintenance. So, we can’t be telling the town how to spend that money.”

Superintendent of Schools M. Martin O’Shea said neither project could likely be completed under the school or town budget. The debt exclusion was a piece of the puzzle for completing the repairs.

“We will continue within our own operating budgets to maintain the roof at [WMS],” he added. “So, we’ll patch it as necessary and replace windows at Soule Road as needed.”

The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) had an agreement with the district to pay a 53 percent reimbursement the project under its Accelerated Repair Program, School Committee member Peter Salerno said.

“People that I talked to had no knowledge of [the MSBA reimbursement],” he added. “There was no real communication as to what that meant. Now, if they want to pay 100 cents on the dollar, I respect that too.”

Assistant Superintendent for Business Beth Regulbuto said a letter must be sent within 10 business days after Nov. 4 to the MSBA detailing the voter results, the reasons for the failed, and potential remedies for the failed vote.    

Ducey said he thinks the Nov. 4 election result was unusual because the Special Town Meeting occurred three months prior to the referendum vote.

“I’m not making excuses about it,” he added. “Shame on us for not being a little proactive and shame on the town for not being a little proactive.”

In other business, Ducey said members of the school committee recently attended the Massachusetts Association of School Committees’ (MASC) Annual Joint Conference.

“What happens here; the MASC takes these issues, takes these resolutions and drafts them in the form of legislation and then begins to speak to DESE (The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) on it,” he added.

A resolution, Resolution 7, calling for a DESE reexamination of the Common Core State Standards and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) was approved by 69 to 23 with three school committees abstaining, Ducey said.

Before the resolution was amended, it called for the suspension of the Common Core state standards and PARCC, he noted. The Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School Committee voted in favor of the resolution.

“I think we have an obligation, since we’ve voted for it, since we’ve supported this resolution to get some specificity out of the [DESE] bureaucracy as to what [the resolution] means [in relation to the Common Core and PARCC timeline],” Salerno said.

The committee voted unanimously to send a letter regarding Resolution 7 to organizations and individuals such as Gov.-elect Charlie Baker, DESE, state Reps. Angelo Puppolo Jr. and Brian Ashe, and state Sen.-elect Eric Lesser.

“It means local control of our education; it means local input; it means our teachers being heralded, not being told what to do,” Salerno added. “Teachers need time to teach.”

The letter would likely be ready to be sent by the next school committee meeting on Nov. 24, Ducey said.

“I would like our letter to be a model that could go out to others because Wilbraham [is] not going to control a dialogue with the governor,” Salerno said. “So, if there’s significant, legitimate, and dignified pressure built up we might just have a chance.”