Here are the questions asked by Swampscott Patch and the answers provided by Joseph Crimmins, chairman of the School Building Committee:
1. When and where is the special town meeting and how much are you asking for?
The vote is this Monday at 7:30 p.m. at the Swampscott High School.
The amount that the town is being asked to appropriate is $500,000. Although the precise dollar figure is not known for certain at this time, the $500,000 figure was chosen as our best estimate based upon available information from similar study costs for similar towns.
To the extent the cost is less than $500,000, the difference will be returned to the town’s accounts. It is also important to note that the cost of the feasibility and design study will also be 45 percent reimbursed by the state. The town, however, needs to appropriate the full amount now as it is required to pay the costs, and the town will then receive reimbursement from the state. Accordingly, the actual final cost to the Town will be 45% less than the cost of the study.
2. Why is this a Town Meeting question and why is a two-thirds majority vote needed for approval?
Because this is a special appropriation of town funds outside of the budget from last May’s meeting, the Town Meeting members need to approve the request. Because the money is coming outside of available cash, a two-thirds, or super-majority, is required to approve the appropriation.
3. Is this the end of neighborhood schools?
Most certainly not. The feasibility study is simply the first step in allowing Swampscott to be in a position to make a well informed and educated decision on what’s best for Swampscott. The feasibility study will look at all options available to Swampscott, renovation of existing facilities as well as construction of a new facility. The feasibility study is conducted by independent, outside experts who look at Swampscott’s needs and current facilities and make recommendations based on expert analysis, providing the town with an analysis of the costs associated for those different options. Swampscott would then be able to make a well informed determination as to whether Swampscott wants to partner with the state in going forward with the state’s recommendations, whatever those recommendations may be. If the state’s recommendations are different from what Swampscott wants, Swampscott is under no obligation to go forward and can opt out of the program at that time. The issue of whether Swampscott is best served with neighborhood schools or some other configuration is a decision Swampscott will make as a town at a date in the future, not on Oct. 15, and with the benefit of detailed, programmatic, educational and financial information from the feasibility study.
4. What are the next steps if the vote does or doesn’t pass?
If the Town Meeting does not approve the appropriation of funds, Swampscott will be excluded from any further participation in this current round of state funding. Approval of a feasibility study is a regulatory requirement of continued participation in the state program.
While Swampscott would be free, at some later date, to submit a new statement of interest and compete for inclusion in the program at a later date, there is no guarantee when or if Swampscott will ever be invited by the state to join again. It is not known from year to year how much money the state will appropriate for the Mass School Building Authority nor will it be known what other towns Swampscott would be competing with for those funds. Swampscott runs the risk, therefore, of finding itself sometime in the future of wanting to renovate or build new construction but without the state as a partner and leaving Swampscott to finance the entire costs of the project.
If Swampscott does approve the appropriation, it would then work with the state in selecting one of the pre-approved groups, the feasibility and schematic design process set forth in the regulations will go forward, and Swampscott would continue to stay in the MSBA program.
5. What are the strongest arguments the Building Committee has for supporting the feasibility study?
1. The feasibility study is not a referendum on neighborhood schools, new construction versus renovation, or any other ultimate determination of our elementary schools. Instead, the feasibility study is a mechanism by which the town can receive, for half the price, an independent, expertly prepared detailed analysis of Swampscott’s needs, and the current costs to rectify those needs such that Swampscott will be in a position to make an educated decision on its future projects, ultimately a cost Swampscott will have to undertake in any event but now at half the cost.
2. Approval of funding the feasibility study will allow Swampscott to stay in an extremely competitive program and give Swampscott the option, if it decides that the recommendations of the state are what’s best for Swampscott, to go forward with those recommendations consistent with Swampscott’s own determination of what’s best for Swampscott and have 45 percent of the costs paid for.