Monday, March 26, 2012

Voices of Franklin: Sean Donahue - Misinformation Corrected

First, let me start this letter by saying there are Franklin residents who have taken the time to ask questions and learn the facts about the new Franklin High School project and have still decided they are against this project. Whatever their reason may be, they are entitled to that opinion.

Unfortunately, however, there are still many people who are basing their opposition to the project on misinformation, or much worse, know the facts but are purposely spreading false information to try to get other residents to vote no. This has been evidenced in some of the recent letters against the school printed in the Milford Daily News and Franklin Matters.

When Franklin voters cast their ballot on Tuesday, they deserve to have accurate information and should be making an educated decision based on what’s true rather than the recent campaign of misinformation. Those making false claims and exaggerations are doing a disservice to their fellow citizens.

First of all, the claim that a vote “yes” is giving the town a blank check is simply untrue. The ballot question does not contain the price because of state regulations ( ), but the cost is still clearly defined by the Town Council’s binding resolution at $104 million with the state contributing $57 million and the town paying $47 million. This resolution can be found right on the Town Clerk’s website  attached to the information on the election ( ).

And yes, that price is binding because of state law, which makes clear that “even though a dollar amount is not included in the referendum question approved by the voters for these projects, the exclusion is not unlimited and does not necessarily cover all cost increases.  An exclusion covers the debt service costs on the borrowing amount  authorized or contemplated for the described purpose or purposes at the time of the referendum vote.  Debt service on any borrowing above that fixed amount is not excluded unless (1) it is a modest amount attributable to inflation, new regulatory requirements or minor project changes, or (2) another exclusion is approved by the voters.” ( )

In other words, outside of a modest increase due to “inflation, new regulatory requirements or minor project changes”, an increase in cost would require another debt exclusion to be brought before the town. Considering the $104 million total price ($47 million cost to the town) includes $4.5 million in contingencies, it is quite likely the high school project could come in under budget as many of the recent model school projects across the state have.

The total price also includes the cost to replace all the fields and tennis courts, furnish the new building, all the new technology, remove the old high school, and everything else needed for this to be a turn-key project. These costs are NOT in addition to the $104 million total price ($47 million cost to the town) as some have implied.

Another recent letter continually referred to the cost to a homeowner as an additional $360 per year. That is only true if your property is valued at $486,500. For the average homeowner ($352,700), the cost is $260 per year until the debt is paid off in 2040. To calculate the effect on your property tax bill beginning July 1, 2016, take your assessed value, divide it by 1,000 and multiply the result by .74. If your property is worth $100,000, the cost is $74 per year. If it’s $200,000, the cost is $148 per year.

One letter said places like “Boston, Worcester, Lawrence, and Lowell” need the state funds from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) more than Franklin. Worcester just completed a new high school using heavy MSBA funding. Boston and Lowell each have five or more current projects using MSBA funds. If Franklin votes not to accept the funds, the funds do not go back to the taxpayers; they go to the next town in line, which could just as easily be Newton, Sharon or Wellesley as it could be Lawrence.

Everyone must weigh the costs of this project, but they should also be mindful that after five years of exploring all possibilities of getting the high school where it needs to be for Franklin’s students, both the state and Franklin School Building Committee agreed the Model School program was the best option for the town after renovation prices, even after MSBA reimbursement estimates, came in at nearly the same cost. Building the model school provides us with a structure designed for the future and avoids the issues and distractions renovating an active school would provide.

A “no” vote does not mean the problems go away. The town would have to either address the problems with no state reimbursement (and spend a much higher sum to renovate than the new model school would cost) or get back in line with the MSBA for funds for renovation or another new school proposal and with no guarantee we would ever see such a great reimbursement rate again. Heading back to the MSBA would take years and in addition to delaying providing our students with a 21st century facility or even just full handicap accessibility, the prices are likely to continue to rise.

If as a town we refuse to provide the money needed to take any of the actions needed to correct the issues with the current high school, we should also remember that when a public school system doesn’t keep up with its peers, those that suffer most are the ones on a tight budget who can’t afford to send their children to private schools or move to another community. We need to weigh that as well when considering the sacrifices everyone has to make due to a temporary – albeit 25 year – tax increase.

As one of Franklin’s most celebrated former residents, Horace Mann, once said, “education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.”

I encourage everyone to vote YES, on Tuesday, March 27th, but if you do vote no, please do so with full knowledge of the facts and don’t be misled by the misinformation.

Sean Donahue

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