SUPPORT FOR RENOVATIONS. Sudbury has been a long time supporter and proponent for repairing and renovating Minuteman for the benefit of its students. Sudbury has also been a strong proponent for a fair and sustainable financial model for both operational and capital expenditures.
PREMATURE. Given that there are member towns that have or will vote on leaving the district, and nonmember towns identified in the past as potential new members such as Waltham and Medford have now publicly stated they have no intention of joining the Minuteman district, the Regional Agreement Amendment Subcommittee proposed changes appear to be premature at best. It would appear the proposed changes are deterring Waltham and Medford from joining the district since at least one of these towns had representatives at the Regional Agreement Amendment Subcommittee meetings. If we have no clear understanding of what the member make-up of the district will be, how will changes made now meet the needs of what may be an entirely different district membership in the near future?
WHY BE FORCED TO LEAVE. The main “positive” feature of the Regional Agreement Amendment Subcommittee changes being promoted by its authors is that it will be easier to leave the district. The proposed changes increase the capital costs for several member towns; many towns’ votes on debt are diminished; debt can be more easily invoked for our town. The only option for not participating in new capital debt would be to try to leave the district. There are only vague promises that the school committee, member towns, and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will permit a town to leave the district.
LOST MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL LAW (MGL) PROTECTIONS. Neither MGL nor the current Regional Agreement make it mandatory that a member town leaves the district when it has decided not to participate in new capital debt. But with the Regional Agreement Amendment Subcommittee proposals re-characterizing Chapter 71 laws to make passage of the Regional Agreement Amendment Subcommittee changes palatable, the distinct is put at risk that the original law as written will be re-imposed by the Legislature leaving towns no recourse after approving the Regional Agreement Amendment Subcommittee changes. All signatories to the Regional Agreement Amendment Subcommittee changes will be forced to accept responsibility for and the liability to pay the new debt imposed by larger towns.
LEAVE VALUABLE EQUITY BEHIND. Under the Regional Agreement Amendment Subcommittee proposals, a town leaving the district must give up its rights to the equity in land acquisitions and buildings it has created over the past 30 years. Member towns should be reimbursed their equity.
SUBSIDIES FOR MEMBER TOWNS. The proposed capital sharing model will have 10 of 16 member towns subsidizing the member students from the other 5 member towns. Arlington will have its capital share reduced by $200,000 annually. This will be paid in part by other member towns. This does not sound fair or equitable.
FURTHER COMMENTS. Those towns that need to leave the district do in fact have acceptable options for providing vocational opportunities for their students. The first is that their students attend Minuteman as tuition students. The other options are two regional vocational high schools nearby that have no waiting list for new students and have capacity for new students.
It is imperative that the reader understand that the Mass School Building Authority never required any changes be made to the current Regional Agreement. The Mass School Building Authority only required that the agreement be reviewed. Not passing the Regional Agreement Amendment Subcommittee proposals should in no way put the Mass School Building Authority grant at risk. Not passing the Regional Agreement Amendment Subcommittee changes should indicate to the Mass School Building Authority that the current regional agreement is still effective and does not favor any one town or towns. There are other issues such as the numerous delays created by needless changes and random decisions that have effected and put the Mass School Building Authority grant at risk.
It should be plain to see that the rush to make last minute and extensive changes to the original Regional Agreement Amendment Subcommittee proposals has created the risk of several unintended negative consequences. The authors should go back and think through the changes to determine which are best and applicable to the district in the clear light of practical realities.
CONCLUSIONS. The Regional Agreement Amendment Subcommittee changes do nothing to address or solve the problem of a large underfunded nonmember tuition enrollment. If anything, the proposed changes institutionalize a money-losing subsidized population making the problem even harder to correct.
If we correct the problems of an underfunded nonmember tuition population; reinstitute accountability and transparency in our finances by eliminating over assessments and waste, no member town will need or want to leave. The district will be better positioned with a sustainable financial plan based on lowered per pupil costs to better attract new member towns that will not require large multi-year subsidies to entice nonmember towns to join our district.
Minuteman member towns must demand that the school be right-sized to benefit member town students.
Member towns must send a clear message they will not accept over assessments used to subsidize 34 nonmember towns that include Boston, Medford and Watertown sending tuition students to Minuteman each year.
Member towns must require that changes to the current regional agreement fairly benefit all member towns.