A: On May 3, the Town of Lexington will be asked to vote to approve a debt exclusion to pay for needed renovations, additions, and site work at Clarke and Diamond middle schools and to finance six modular classrooms, two each at Bridge, Bowman, and Fiske elementary schools.
A: Enrollment in the Lexington Public Schools has increased by 11% since 2009, and continued growth is expected, for a total 21% increase in system-wide enrollment in just over 10 years. This has led to extreme overcrowding at all school levels and in most of the schools in town.
Diamond and Clarke Middle Schools are both currently overcrowded, and will not have space to accommodate the significant enrollment increases anticipated over the next several years. Work needs to be done at both schools to address both the immediate maintenance and capacity issues, as well as to expand the capacity to meet anticipated enrollment.
A: The tax impact of these projects on a residence of average value is expected to be approximately $310 in peak year (2024), and would drop to about $170 per year in the last full year of debt service (2046). Note that:
The following graph shows the impact on a home of median value during the first ten years of the loans.
A: In the middle schools, enrollment will continue to exceed the capacity of the schools. This would result in ballooning team and class sizes, and a shortage of every kind of classroom - general education, science labs, special education, English Language Learner, music, drama, and art. Lexington will have two middle schools that are inadequate to meet the needs of its students.
In the elementary schools, if the town does not vote to approve the debt exclusion on May 3, costs for the modulars will be financed from the operating budget, and cuts may have to be made elsewhere to compensate.
A: A debt exclusion is a way for the town to raise property tax revenue to fund specific capital projects. It allows tax revenue to be temporarily increased beyond a limit set by state statute, known as the levy limit1, to pay the debt service on the projects. A debt exclusion must be approved by a majority of voters, and the authorization to increase revenue beyond the levy limit lasts only until the debt is paid off.
A full explanation of Proposition 2½ may be found here.
1The levy limit described above is defined in a state statute known as Proposition 2½. The levy limit increases from one year to the next by 2.5% plus any increase in tax revenue from new growth (e.g. new construction). The Town’s total property tax revenue may not exceed the levy limit unless the voters have approved a debt exclusion.
A: A debt exclusion raises taxes for a specific project on a temporary basis. The duration depends on the term of the bonds, and may be up to 30 years. An override raises taxes permanently, increasing the levy limit, and may be used to cover any legitimate expenses of the municipality.
A: While it may seem like the property tax rate in Lexington is high, the residential tax rate is lower than most towns in Massachusetts. In 2013, Lexington ranked 212th in residential tax rates, out of 345 cities. In addition, the percentage of household income spent on property tax is lower in Lexington than in many similar towns.
Source: Massachusetts Department of Revenue
A: Assuming 30-year bonds for the middle schools and 10-year bonds for the modular classrooms, an interest rate of 4%, and contributions from the Capital Stabilization Fund2, the tax impact of these projects on a residence of average value would be in the range of $250 to $350 in peak years, and would drop to about $170 per year in the last full year of debt service.
2The Town has set aside funds in a Capital Stabilization account in order to help reduce the taxpayer impact of important capital projects like these. It is likely these monies will be targeted to reduce the rate of tax increases and to reduce the amounts of the tax increases in the peak impact years from the projects to be voted on May 3, 2016, and from future successful debt exclusions.
A: There are several state and local programs that offer tax relief - exemptions or deferrals - to qualifying property owners. These include, but are not limited to, certain exemptions for the elderly, low-income households, and disabled veterans.
Information about these programs is given in a brochure issued by the Town of Lexington that may be found at this link.
A: Diamond and Clarke Middle Schools are both currently overcrowded and significant enrollment increases are anticipated over the next several years. Work needs to be done at both schools to address immediate maintenance and capacity issues, as well as to expand the capacity to meet anticipated enrollment.
Current Clarke enrollment is 864, about 100 students over capacity. This means:
Current Diamond enrollment is 782, which is at the limit of its capacity, and core spaces are undersized. This means:
Additionally, the site plans of both middle schools need fixing to address serious safety and traffic issues.
A: Clarke: Brick and mortar addition, space mining, and site work in order to increase capacity from nine teams to 10.5 teams, adding a total of ten classrooms:
Diamond: Brick and mortar addition, space mining, and site work in order to increase capacity from nine teams to 11 teams, adding a total of 12 classrooms (though removing six modular classrooms that are 18 years old, ending up with a net of six new classrooms):
A: Per Pat Goddard, Directory of Public Facilities:
The school opened in the mid-50’s with steam boilers distributing steam to classrooms. At the classrooms there were unit ventilators that were installed at the exterior walls. The unit ventilators recirculate the air inside the room and also introduce fresh air. The “mixed air” (recirculated and fresh air) goes through a steam coil that is controlled by a room thermostat to heat the room. There is no cooling.
For most of the Diamond classrooms, the indoor environment is controlled by this steam system / unit ventilator. The steam system and many of the unit ventilators are original, though some unit ventilators may have been worked on in the 2002 renovation. Also during the renovation the steam boilers were replaced and a heat exchanger was installed to produce hot water for the addition that was added to Diamond in that project. Also, in 2003, some additional HVAC equipment was installed to create classrooms with lower noise levels for students with hearing impairments. These units have electric heat.
We intend to use the Diamond Middle School for many more years. The unit ventilators and steam system have been used beyond their useful life and need to be replaced. The system that is included in the project will operate much more efficiently that what is operating now, and produce a much better environment for education. The equipment that was installed in 2002 and 2003, which will have operated in many cases for 15 years, will be replaced with equipment that operate at much higher efficiencies. All classrooms will have appropriate acoustics, not just the classrooms with students that have hearing impairments.
A: Both Diamond and Clarke Middle Schools use a “team” model, which means that students are sorted into smaller grade-level groups, each of which share the same core teachers. The team model allows the students to feel connected to a group of peers and teachers, and allows the teachers to get to know and collaborate with each other on a specific group of students. The optimal enrollment for each team is 85 students to allow for appropriate class sizes and scheduling. Additional enrollments create the need for more classroom and lab space to accommodate additional teams, and/or an increased number of students per team, leading to increased class size. A team of 85 students will have classes of 23-25; in a team of 100 students (as is currently the case in some grades at Clarke), class sizes can rise to 28-30 students.
A: Ramifications could include, among other things:
A: Bridge, Bowman, and Fiske schools are significantly overcrowded. Enrollment at Bridge and Bowman exceeds the buildings’ intended capacity, leading to overcrowded common spaces and large class sizes. There is also competition for space for programs like art, music, and PE, with classes overflowing into the gym or cafeteria. Class sizes at Fiske School are larger than the size agreed on in teachers’ contracts requiring additional aides. In addition, the art room has been converted into regular classroom space.
A: To help alleviate some of the overcrowding at Bridge, Bowman, and Fiske, the School Committee has voted to install two new standard modulars at each school this fall.The principal at each school will choose how to use the new spaces to best accommodate student needs.
A: The cost of the six standard modulars is estimated to be $2,920,000. This amount was appropriated at the Special Town Meeting on December 7, 2015. If the town does not vote to approve the debt exclusion on May 3, costs will be financed from the operating budget, and cuts may have to be made elsewhere to compensate.
A: These schools have been dealing with overcrowding for many years. There is not adequate space to accommodate the students who are already there, let alone the forecast rise in enrollment over the next five years.
A: The Town boards have worked for years to try to determine how to address educational space needs while minimizing the financial impact on residents. After much discussion, deliberation, and iteration through plans, there is consensus that it is educationally sound and cost-effective to build additional capacity elsewhere in town where the ‘core capacity’ of the buildings can better accommodate the enrollment., and use standard modulars now to provide relatively quick relief for some of the worst congestion at these schools. Moreover, the use of standard modulars will not necessarily preclude building brick and mortar additions at any of these schools in the future.
A: The Superintendent and district have hired a consulting company, Applied Geographics, to partner with the town in developing a redistricting plan. Phase 1 of the plan includes maximizing the use of one to two available classrooms at Estabrook and one at Hastings to help reduce overcrowding in the short term. However, these three classrooms aren’t enough to alleviate the capacity issues; the modulars are still necessary in the short term to help provide relief at the most crowded schools. The district anticipates a second phase of redistricting when additional capacity is built with a new Hastings school.
A: The School Committee has directed architects to study the feasibility of expanding Harrington Elementary School to accommodate the growing student population, but no decisions have been made at this time.
A: Hastings has been accepted into the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) reimbursement program, which means that the town and district are eligible for state reimbursement on the project. The base reimbursement is about 31 percent, but that can increase depending on a number of factors. The next stage, dictated by the state, is a feasibility study to determine the scope of the project; it will review renovation, a new school, or rebuild-renovation combination to determine the most cost effective and sustainable option. Construction is expected to be completed for the 2019-20 school year, and it is anticipated that the new or renovated school will have additional classroom space.
A: Lexington Children’s Place (LCP), the town-run integrated preschool at Harrington, is currently undersized and temporarily using space at the Central Office to compensate. The School Committee has committed to providing either new or expanded space for LCP in the future, but no decisions have been made at this time. It is worth noting that if the program reaches state-mandated per-classroom enrollment limits, any additional special needs students would need to be sent out of district, at significant cost to the Lexington taxpayers.
The student population in Lexington Public Schools has increased by 11% since 2009, and continued growth is expected, for a total 21% increase in system-wide enrollment in just over 10 years. Our current school buildings are struggling to meet today’s enrollment and therefore, ill-equipped to absorb the additional 1300+ students expected by 2020.
Though not unprecedented in terms of absolute numbers, Lexington’s current enrollment spike is notable in that it is happening quickly, at every grade level, and across the region. Consequently, towns like Arlington, Bedford, Brookline, Newton and Lexington have had to develop new methods of forecasting enrollment.
In Lexington, this work was initiated in 2013 by the Enrollment Working Group (EWG), an advisory group made up of five Lexington residents who were charged with developing a new enrollment formula that better predicts future elementary level enrollment. The result of that work is the Housing Demographic model (HDM) which:
On these graphs1,2, the solid blue line reflects known enrollment and the dotted red line is the forecast enrollment for the next five years. The dotted outer lines reflect the potential deviations above and below the mid-point respectively. All capital planning efforts are being undertaken with the mid-point in mind to avoid under- or over-building.
1Data and graphs sourced from a Nov.16, 2015 memo from Maureen Kavanaugh to Superintendent Czajkowski
2Middle School graph refers to CSM which is the Cohort Survival Method which is an accurate predictor of Middle School Enrollment
The enrollment and forecast numbers become more meaningful when compared against our district’s current capacity, which is based on the space available to deliver a sound educational and academic program as mandated by the Lexington Public School District and state. As enrollment numbers exceed capacity, Principals must seek solutions that can compromise program integrity such as larger class sizes, “art on a cart”, and use non academic spaces (e.g. converted storage closets and hallways) as instructional spaces.
The following table depicts the degree to which enrollment exceeds capacity over the next 5 years should the town fail to provide additional space.
|2015/ 2016||2016/ 2017||2017/ 2018||2018/ 2019||2019/ 2020||2020/ 2021|
At both the K-5 and 6-8 grade levels, Lexington schools are over-capacity now - even with redistricting, there is not enough space. If we do nothing in terms of constructing new space, our K-5 enrollment will exceed capacity by roughly an entire 24 section elementary school and our grade 6-8 enrollment will exceed capacity by 3.5 teams.
3Key assumptions to determining elementary school capacity: Total Gen. Ed Capacity: # of students = total # of classrooms (under “right size” conditions) available in a given year X 21.5 class size; “Right Size” Gen Ed Capacity refers to “right size” recommendations from DiNisco Design Partnership for general education space, taking into account other space needs (e.g. special. education, ELL, Art, Music) in each building.
4Key assumptions to determining Middle School capacity: Student and classroom capacity calculations are based on an a team size of 86 students;The Middle School model uses teams to create a smaller and more personal community for students. Each team of students share the same 4 core teachers (English, math, science, and social science) while electives can be rotated (music, drama, foreign language).
The Clarke and Diamond projects will expand the district wide middle school capacity from 18 to 21.5 teams. This will bring the middle school capacity to 1849 students by 2018 and meet projected enrollment levels to 2020.
Redistricting and the addition of 2 standard modular classroom spaces at each of the most overcrowded elementary schools: Bowman, Bridge, and Fiske, will relieve existing overcrowding until more permanent space is created with the anticipated construction of a new Hastings School. The Hastings project is anticipated to receive MSBA funding and, pending voter approval, is slated for completion in 2019.
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Yes for Lexington | Lisa Farrell, Treasurer | 405 Waltham Street, PMB 124 | Lexington, MA 02421