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Columnist Lisa Kosanovic: Disappointed in officials over school question



Thursday, March 09, 2017

First, an inconvenient fact: it is simply untrue that the Massachusetts School Building Authority has never accepted a statement of interest from a district after a “no” vote on a school project. Here are the facts.

Only four of the 12 towns that had failed school building votes since 2008 reapplied. One was determined to have “very low needs” by the MSBA, but the other three got back in quickly.

Carver’s statement of interest was accepted the year it was submitted, and the grant was received two years later;

Hopkinton’s statement of interest was accepted the year after it was submitted, and the grant was received two years later;

Granby’s statement of interest was accepted the year after it was submitted, and the grant was received three years later.

Given all the controversy about the proposed school building project, my inconvenient fact would be a great start to a column advocating for a “no” vote. But that’s not what this is.

Rather, I am writing because I am so extremely disappointed with Amherst town officials, starting with those who put voters in a panic by saying or implying that if we don’t vote “yes” on the upcoming vote, we will never get new schools. I am disappointed because it seems to me that some town officials manipulated the process to get a specific outcome.

Manipulation began when town officials ignored the results of a survey commissioned by the School Committee, which polled parents and teachers, and found that the community favored leaving the K-6 configuration (Option B). Instead, town officials chose to put on the ballot the much less supported option, with the reconfigured grades of prekindergarten–1, and 2–6.

Officials made a “yes” vote more likely when, claiming it was too expensive to do otherwise, they put the school question on the November ballot, thereby putting the question to thousands of college students who have no children in the system, but are certainly inclined to support a new school.

Further manipulation occurred when school officials came back from an MSBA meeting to announce that it was either the configuration they had chosen or nothing, creating a situation where they really had the opportunity to say that if we don’t get it now, we can’t get it (this year).

The process was completed Feb. 6, when the School Committee voted not to withdraw their plans for the new school from the MSBA, and instead take the new school plan to a townwide vote March 28. If the new school plan fails, then the earliest Amherst could submit again to MSBA would be 2018. If the school committee had withdrawn from the process by Feb. 7, Amherst could have resubmitted a statement of interest this spring.

So now, with everyone in a panic that we won’t get a new school, we are being asked to vote in a supposedly democratic fashion on the school question.

I am proud to live in a neighborhood where we have all chosen to respectfully argue this question on an email thread, and do our best to provide one another with accurate information.

But I am disappointed in those town officials who have failed to meet that same standard of honesty, by withholding, manipulating and distorting facts. I thought we were better than that.

Lisa Kosanovic, of Amherst, is a Town Meeting csndidate from Precinct 7, and a delegate to the Massachusetts Democratic Convention.