Our endorsements come from some of the most respected citizens of our community, representing a range of generations and town precincts.
February 27, 2020
Say "No" To Three-School Plan
A referendum question will appear on the Town’s March 17th election ballot asking Wellesley residents to support rebuilding and keeping open all three of the Hardy, Hunnewell and Upham (HHU) elementary schools, rather than redistricting and consolidating to build two new schools now, and the third when enrollment warrants it.
The only sensible, fiscally prudent course of action is that recommended by the HHU Master Planning Committee (MPC) in 2017 and supported by the current School Building Committee (SBC): build Hunnewell and either Upham or Hardy now, and the third school when enrollment rises.
The School Committee and others have been addressing obsolete facilities issues for more than 20 years. Education of the Town’s children in safe and appropriate learning spaces is one of Wellesley’s highest priorities. The Town must have space that supports current educational delivery methods and accommodates as many children as possible in special education programs. New schools must be built as soon as possible and students must be moved from buildings that no longer support the full range of educational needs.
WHY SAY NO TO THE THREE-SCHOOL PLAN?
Enrollment Does Not Justify Building Three Schools: Enrollment has more than 400 students in the past decade and the independent enrollment consultant projected that it would further decline by 134 students over the next five years and by 183 over the next ten years.
Staggering, Unnecessary Increased Costs:
The Town’s Facilities Management Department (FMD) extrapolated from projected costs for the Hunnewell and Hardy/Upham plans for two 18-section schools and estimated the project costs for three smaller schools. The projected additional cost to build a third school now, which is not needed, is within a projected range of $40-46M.
FMD and the School Business Office estimate that in addition to the project costs, operational costs for the third school would approximate $600,000 per year.
Significant Delays: The current plan will get students into new schools 2-5 years SOONER. Under the current plan, two schools would open in 2023 and 2024; three schools would not likely open until 2025, 2027 and 2029. To modify the plan this far along in the process will require the Town to repeat the entire master planning process, which FMD believes would cause at least a two-year delay.
Potential Loss Of State Funding: The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) school reimbursement program requires strict adherence to module deadlines. Delays of more than a few months in the current schedule could potentially jeopardize the MSBA’s reimbursement of approximately $13M. Wellesley could reapply at a future date, but reacceptance after a withdrawal is not guaranteed.
Resident Tax Impact: With the potential $40-46M additional cost of building the third school, the (median house price of $1.158M) will be between $296 and $341 per year. Loss of the MSBA funding would further increase the tax impact.
Carbon Emissions: Building a third school will create adverse environmental impact; it will add between 33,500 and 40,500 square feet and produce approximately 170-200 additional metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, which corresponds to:
the loss of 220-260 acres of forest; or
the detrimental impacts of building 20-23 new homes per year; or
an 36-40 additional vehicles on the road per year.
IN SUMMARY, BUILDING THREE SCHOOLS WOULD RESULT IN:
building an extra school which past and projected enrollment figures simply do not support;
a two-year delay in opening ANY SCHOOL;
total ADDITIONAL project costs of between approximately $40-46M plus $600k in annual operating costs, AND potential loss of $13M in state funding;
significant additional costs to taxpayers; and
adverse environmental impacts.
The best, most responsible, and most prudent way to get our students into new schools SOONER is to move forward with the MPC/SBC plan: build Hunnewell and either Hardy/Upham now and the third school when enrollment rises to a level that supports it.
Build schools now and spend responsibly and wisely. Vote NO on Referendum Question #1.
Katherine L. Babson, Jr., Precinct E, Former Chair of the High School Building Committee
Barbara Searle, Precinct A
Harriet Warshaw, Precinct G
Former Chairs and Members, Board of Selectmen
February 27, 2020
Vote "No" on Referendum
The number of elementary schools in the Town of Wellesley has fluctuated to meet the needs of the population over the years. At the height of the “baby boom,” there were 12 small neighborhood K-6 elementary schools in Town. As the baby boom children moved on, left behind were empty elementary classrooms with high unneeded operating costs. The Town began to close elementary schools, eventually reducing the number to six schools by 1982 (Kingsbury and Sprague closed in 1975; Perrin and Brown in 1981; Schofield and Phillips in 1982; Warren closed in 1987 when Schofield re-opened following an addition). Lastly, Grade 6 was moved out of the elementary schools in 1982.
In the 1990’s, Wellesley elementary school population experienced dramatic enrollment growth due to families moving into town and a higher birth rate. Initially, the increased enrollment was handled with the addition of 12 modular classrooms, but it became clear there was need for a 7th elementary school. Since the last elementary school had been built in 1964 (Schofield), many aspects of elementary school education had changed. The most significant development were the changes to Special Education which had become a more robust part of the elementary program, providing a wide-range of required services for students on Individual Educational Plans as well as specialized in-district programs serving students with more complex needs. These in-district programs required dedicated spaces within our schools. Previously these students would not have been educated in Town but instead would attend more expensive out-of-district programs.
As options were considered for a 7th school, there was a healthy discussion in the community about the appropriate size school to build, with consideration from 12 to 24 classrooms. The School Committee initially recommended a new school of 24 classrooms at Sprague and eventually settled at 18.
The reasons for building a 18 classroom elementary school (3 sections per grade) were debated in the Town in 1998 at length. With a sense of déjà vu as this issue is once again being debated in Town, the educational reasons for building 3-section schools can be summed up in two words: FLEXIBILITY and COLLABORATION.
A 3-SECTION SCHOOL ALLOWS GREATER FLEXIBILITY IN STUDENT ASSIGNMENT. Enrollment swings can be handled more easily and appropriate placement of children within their grade is enhanced when three sections provide the flexibility to consider learning styles, gender balance and peer issues. The small population within 2-section schools often raises challenges in staying within the established class size guidelines, resulting in classes with as few as 14 students this year at Upham. Conversely, to prevent classes from going above guideline, the School Administration has resorted to a policy of closing grade levels at different elementary schools to new students. The policy forces new families to enroll at a school outside of their neighborhood. This year twenty sections were closed to new arrivals, with an especially hard impact on Grade 2 where all schools except at Bates were closed to new 2nd grade enrollment. Three section schools have a greater ability to handle fluctuations in enrollment in a fiscally sound manner while allowing new arrivals to enroll in their neighborhood school.
COLLABORATION IS INCREASED AMONG THE FACULTY TEACHING IN SCHOOLS THAT HAVE 3 SECTIONS PER GRADE; teachers have access to more colleagues with diverse perspectives and experiences for planning and support. Professional development is enhanced. Specialists are permanently assigned to a single 18 classroom building, rather than traveling to various smaller schools throughout the day and can work more closely with classroom teachers, creating a stronger and more collaborative model.
The March 17th ballot includes a referendum question asking the Town to weigh in on whether the Town should have 6 or 7 elementary schools. As the elementary enrollment has decreased, the Wellesley School Committee has spent 8 years determining the best path forward for the Hardy, Hunnewell and Upham Schools and the Town as a whole. All three school have reached the end of their useable life as schools, and each has such substantial building needs that it makes sense to build anew. Yet, the Town’s elementary student population does not justify rebuilding all three schools and continuing the less desirable model of 2-section schools with their associated operating costs.
We, four former School Committee members, agree with the decision of the current School Committee to move forward with a 2-school option. It is a fiscally responsible and educationally sound decision that is right for Wellesley.
Please join us in voting No on the referendum question on March 17th.
March 5, 2020
Please Vote "No" on Referendum Question 1
As parents of grown children, we understand elementary school parents’ concerns for their children at a time of impending redistricting. Moving from one school to another one is not simple. The Superintendent, faculty, School Committee and residents invest much time and energy in finding the optimum solution to address the greater good and work hard to prepare families prior to and following the move. To be sure, there will be students for whom a transition is more difficult, and families, faculty and administrators will work together to provide support for those children.
Our children went to Wellesley Public Schools for their entire education. Some were redistricted once, some twice. They all navigated the changes extremely well. It made them more resilient and adaptable, introduced them to new friends, and provided an easier transition to the middle school. In hindsight, we, their parents, fretted more about it than they did. They already knew many children from other schools before they moved, from extracurricular activities, houses of worship, family friendships, or community events.
Redistricting should not be characterized as a predetermined psychological trauma to children. Meeting a new cadre of classmates can be an opportunity for growth. Most importantly, all Wellesley students need and deserve schools with safe, modern and appropriate learning spaces rather than remaining in buildings which are obsolete and not suitable for current learning standards and needs, and which cannot be addressed without complete renovation or rebuilding.
Elementary enrollment has dropped by 400 students in the past 10 years and is anticipated to fall by approximately 140 more students over the next five. The district must balance attendance, spend prudently and wisely, and plan for the future. Movement into, out of, and within a school district is dynamic, and one class size prediction at a singular moment in time in one particular school or grade does not mean consistent similar composition. No one knows what specific school class configurations will look like 50-100 years from now. What we DO know is that we do not have enough students now, nor do we anticipating having enough over the next 5-10 years, to justify the additional expense and delay of building a third new school now.
Every public-school student in Wellesley will attend the same Middle School and graduate from the same High School. Every student will transition from elementary to middle school - to a different environment with different adults and different classmates. Students entering kindergarten during the first year of construction will not have prior experience of their “old” school against which to compare. Moreover, in the case of Hunnewell, following the internal swing space period the 4th and 5th graders who left their “old school” will not return to their original school, but rather continue onto the Middle School with their new friends.
The process of redistricting begins far in advance of the change and does not end when students attend their new schools. Much can be done to ease any anxiety for parents as well as students, and there are positive ways in which to welcome new students and their families, such as inviting new families to meet returning families in the school; inviting new parents into their social circle or to neighborhood events; playdates prior to the opening of school; inviting new students to spend time in their new school, taking a tour, and seeing their new classroom, gym, and other spaces; and receiving schools can invite new parents for coffee to socialize for an hour or to ask questions.
Recent claims of widespread, inevitable negative psychological effects on children who are redistricted are irrational and unsupported. Dr. Goldberg, who spent almost 20 years as the Assistant and then Superintendent of the Natick Public Schools and who had to redistrict elementary and middle schools, found that there were little or no instances of childhood hysteria, disorientation or alarm. He also consulted in more than 100 school districts in Massachusetts as well as nationally and never found instances as described above.
The critical issue is that approximately one-third of Wellesley’s elementary students need new schools now. Decreasing enrollment now and for the next 5-10 years does not justify spending $40-46M more (and potentially losing $13M more in state funding) for a school we do not need. The district, administrators, faculty, staff and parents will rally around students attending a new school to help them make an easier transition.
We urge you to vote “NO” on Referendum Question #1 on the March 17 Town election ballot.
Theodore Parker, Precinct C, lifelong Wellesley resident;
Dr. Jerry Goldberg, 40+ year Wellesley resident in Precinct B, recently relocated to Wayland.