High school math

27May22

Let’s start by stipulating that there will be a new Wakefield Memorial High School.

And it will be fabulous.

We know this because the local education lobby is very motivated and highly coordinated. We saw it in the recent Town Election. The three School Committee winners were all educators or former educators. And all three finished within 72 votes of each other. That’s not a coincidence. The top two had almost identical vote counts.

When the time comes to vote for the debt exclusion or override for the new high school, the same forces will again marshal the vote and overwhelm any feeble pushback from the taxpayers, assuming the taxpayers mount any pushback at all. Phyllis Hull and Mike Conley are no longer here to lead the resistance.

The new high school envisioned for Wakefield will cost nearly $220 million, of which the town will be responsible for about $163 million. The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) will pay the remaining $57 million.

Part of the reason that the school will cost nearly a quarter of a billion dollars is escalating construction and labor costs as a result of our deteriorating economy and soaring inflation over the past year.

But the town is also looking to build a school that significantly exceeds MSBA guidelines for square footage in almost every area. When you do that, the MSBA’s usual reimbursement of 50 percent of eligible costs goes down and the town’s share goes up – in this case, to 74 percent.

Footing the bill for this new palace to learning will be each and every Wakefield taxpayer.

And what a bill it will be! The average single family home tax bill will go up $1,058 a year to pay for this new high school, or $88 a month. That’s almost enough for a tank of gas! Seriously, do you think you’ll notice when you have $88 less every month to spend on luxuries like gasoline, groceries and heating your home?

The local education lobby has already created a “space” (as Superintendent Doug Lyons likes to say) where it’s not safe to oppose a new high school. Even suggesting that they cut back and build something a little more in line with MSBA guidelines will get you labelled an old miser, or worse, a “townie.”

The pre-emptive attacks have already begun. On Facebook they’re saying, “Older people in town would prefer to let kids go to crappy schools so they don’t have to pay for them.” In another context, that would be called “ageism,” but all’s fair when you’re trying to shame people into paying a quarter of a billion dollars for a new high school.

Expect to hear that all of the expensive amenities in the plan were requested at the “community listening sessions” that were conducted earlier in the process. Guess who was motivated to attend those sessions: educators and local environmental activists who see the sky as the limit.

A significant component of the huge price tag is the fact that local enviros want a new high school that incorporates insane “sustainability” standards and doesn’t burn a molecule of fossil fuels. That means heating and cooling with electricity even though most electricity is generated by fossil fuels. Apparently as long as we are not doing the actual burning on site, it’s all cool.

A decade ago, when the town went all out to build the state-of-the-art Galvin Middle School, some jokingly dubbed it “Galvin University.”

But the town’s $41 million share of the Galvin project was a drop in the bucket compared to the $163 million taxpayers will be asked to pay for the new high school. The average residential taxpayer is still paying nearly $300 a year for the Galvin. Now they will be asked to shell out another $1,058 a year for a new quarter-billion-dollar high school with all the bells and whistles.

Wakefield is a “W” town but the “W” doesn’t stand for “wealthy.” Wakefield isn’t Wellesley or Winchester. Local taxpayers don’t have an unlimited ability to pay.

As we lurch toward an economic recession, those footing the bill are the ones who will have to step up and set limits. Don’t expect educators to do it.

[This column originally appeared in the May 26, 2022 Wakefield Daily Item.]



4 Responses to “High school math”

  1. 1 Nancy Trimper

    I just hope they don’t build this palace out of cardboard and chewing gum , like the late, unlamented Galvin middle school that had to be replaced much too soon. This is a heck of a time to be building it at all.

    • 2 Dr. Ed

      What parents dont realize is that an expensive new high school will HURT their children’s ability to get into desired colleges.

      Newness and expense of the high school, along with K-12 funding, is used as a metric to determine relative “privilege” between towns. Hence if this new high school is built, several hundred FEWER Wakefield kids will get into the colleges they wish to attend.

  2. 3 Dr. Ed

    The worst school massacre in US history was 95 years ago – perpertrated by a taxpayer upset with the expense of the new school. Just sayin…..

    See: https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2022/05/24/bath-consolidated-school-massacre-uvalde/

    • 4 John terravecchia

      Some years ago I relocated to N H for business and to escape the ever increasing taxes in Mass. Now the same big spenders, over the years have been moving north and bringing their spending habits with them. If building expensive school buildings resulted in better educated students than maybe one may be willing to except a higher tax burden. Maybe what is required is a cost benefit analysis and not by only by those who directly and quickly benefit from the increased taxes.


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