In just a few days, voters will be asked to approve having the town borrow money to expand and renovate Lexington’s two middle schools, Clarke and Diamond, and fund two modular spaces each to be installed at currently overcrowded elementary schools: Bowman, Bridge, and Fiske.
School enrollments in our town (similar to neighboring areas) have increased by 10 percent in the last five years, with no slow-down in sight. The result is that Diamond is at capacity and Clarke is already 100 students over, with more students coming -- today’s elementary students plus new students moving to town (e.g. 30 additional eighth graders enrolled at Clarke last August). Bridge, Bowman, and Fiske are likewise over capacity, and modular classrooms are being installed to reinstate space that has been taken over due to overcrowding. The principals and teachers have demonstrated remarkable flexibility to date managing the influx of students, but flexibility only goes so far. The schools desperately need more space, which this debt exclusion will pay for. The increase in taxes due to this loan will be around $310 in the peak year of debt repayment for a home of median value ($786,000), offset in large part by the ongoing decrease in payments for previous debt exclusions. We understand that this increase may pose a hardship for some, options for tax relief can be found here.
Teachers at the elementary and middle schools don’t just teach a subject, they provide social-emotional and academic support to students through formative educational years. When teachers have to manage overenrolled classes, teach in hallways, or spend extra time organizing a lesson plan because it is not in the proper classroom, they cannot focus on their students as needed. In addition, at the middle schools the number of students in orchestra, band, art and drama classes may have to be limited; areas that help kids to de-stress and also create well-rounded individuals. Special Education services may be jeopardized, potentially leading to expensive out of district placements.
The renovation/expansion plans create needed space now while Lexington enjoys a high credit rating (AAA) and interest rates are low. The town is taking the responsible approach, trying to solve this known problem before it becomes a crisis.
Opponents of the debt exclusion do not disagree that middle schools need more space. Rather they allege poor financial management by the town. However, measures proposed by opponents will not result in the stated level of savings as their analyses have not been updated to reflect current conditions and fiscal policies (analysis of health care costs has not been updated since 2010, analysis of classroom space since 2014). Further analysis and movement toward savings measures that are found to have merit can continue in conjunction with creating the space that students need. A no vote will penalize students, not the officials responsible for town financing.
Vote yes on May 3 to allow the town to borrow the money for the expansion and renovation of the middle schools, and to fund the addition of modulars essential to accommodate the growing school population. A yes vote is a vote to maintain excellence in our school system. Our students today will be competing in a global market. Ensuring they receive an education that can carry them and our community into the future is an important investment. Learn more at yes4lex.org.
Nicola Rinaldi and Kathleen Lenihan
Co-chairs, Yes for Lexington
Lawn signs in blue and yellow that say “YES! for Lexington - Vote May 3” are harbingers of spring, but they also convey a more serious message: Vote YES for the debt exclusion to renovate and expand Clarke and Diamond Middle Schools to meet their learning space needs and to provide relief for the burgeoning enrollments at Bowman, Bridge, and Fiske.
Lexington prides itself, rightly so, on the quality of education it provides for all children in the town. The time has arrived once again that a growing student population requires us to look at what we must do to support and preserve our remarkable school system to enable it to provide the kind of education for present and future students that has come to define it. Without renovating and expanding Clarke and Diamond and placing modular classrooms at Bowman, Bridge, and Fiske, educational programs and class size (the number of students in each one) will be adversely affected. As a person whose professional life has been in the public schools and now as a supervisor of student teachers undertaking their practicums, I have experienced and seen first hand how students and staff are impacted when the school building itself cannot and does not fully support educational goals and programs in the manner that they require. Our schools need to have the appropriate number of classrooms so that class size is within accepted parameters and so that art, music, physical education, special education programs, and other vital educational support services that our schools provide and our students deserve are not competing for space.
Vote yes on May 3. Be a “booster” with me of the Lexington Public Schools.
For further information, please go to: www.yes4lex.org.
Paul Revere Road
Time has passed quickly. As twenty-year residents of Lexington, our oldest is about to graduate from LHS and our youngest enter high school. Over the years, we have watched our student population grow, putting ever increasing pressure on our town's schools. Administrators and educators have risen admirably to the challenges created by over-crowded buildings. But at this point we are short on every kind of classroom and enrollment is projected to keep rising. It is abundantly clear that our children and their teachers need more educational space. And so, though we are leaving middle school behind, we will vote Yes on May 3 for the debt exclusion needed for our town to renovate and expand our two middle schools.
Over-crowding doesn’t just affect class size. It creates significant practical problems. Scheduling classes has become an intricate jigsaw puzzle. Halls and cafeterias are congested. (Stop by a middle school when classes change. These kids will be well-trained for 128 at “rush” hour.) Logistics of who, where and when start to intrude on the real business of the school day; teaching and learning. Not just our children, but also our teachers and administrators deserve better.
Much time and expertise have been put into the development of renovation plans over the past two years. This proposal has the unanimous support of relevant town boards (Appropriations, Capital Expenditures), majority support by the Board of Selectman and the overwhelming support of Town Meeting. It makes pragmatic and responsible choices, not just for our schools, but also for the needs of our community as a whole. Because, ultimately, we all benefit when we make our children and the quality of our schools a community priority.
Learn more at www.yes4lex.org - and join us in voting Yes on May 3.
Ann Boese and David Sheehan
As part of the “older” generation in Lexington who moved here in the 1960s, we”re grateful our four children were educated in these schools.
We knew our taxes alone weren’t paying for our children’s quality Lexington education, but were helped by the taxes of people who did not yet have children in the schools and people whose children graduated. For those in our generation who believe they no longer have a responsibility to pay for the schools because their children have graduated, please remember the debt we owed to those who came before us when our children needed their support. Let’s repay that debt by doing the same for this generation’s children.
In recent years the excellent reputation of Lexington schools encouraged many families to move into town, significantly increasing the school population. Schools are now overcrowded and too many classrooms have 28 to 30 students, way above the recommended number for an optimal learning environment. The two middle schools require renovation and expansion, and three elementary schools need two modular classrooms each.
It saddens us to see a generational division exist in town, because we always viewed Lexington as a “community”; all interest groups working for the good of the entire population. One of Lexington’s strengths has been its ability to unite a diverse public to a sense of communal responsibility.
We realize some elderly in town are unable to pay their taxes. A town program allows seniors who meet income qualifications to defer some payment until their houses are sold. Since property values are largely dependent upon the excellent quality of the schools, supporting the debt exclusion is a wise investment as well.
We owe this generation of students what that elder generation provided our children, nothing less. Please join us in voting “yes” on Tuesday, May 3.
Joe and Judy Leader
We are writing in support of the LPS middle school renovation projects, which will alleviate overcrowding and other issues at both middle schools. As parents of six children who have gone or will go through Diamond in the next few years, we will concentrate on those renovations.
First, a new, larger cafeteria is the cornerstone to improving both the building’s capacity and utilization, as well as core changes to the teaching paradigm:
Second, 16 classrooms will be added, replacing eight modular classrooms, adding a second story, and allowing sixth graders to learn in their own nurturing space. These new classrooms will ease current and expected overcrowding over the next several years.
Finally, a new HVAC system will give the entire school air conditioning, improving working and learning conditions. In these days of global warming and at a school with little or no tree canopy, a comprehensive HVAC system is a necessity, not an option.
We believe these renovations are the best, realistic alternative available to Lexington at this time. We strongly urge our fellow residents to vote Yes for Lexington on the debt exclusion on May 3.
Becky & Curt Barrentine
Bettina McGimsey & Michael Sortor
Opponents of the May 3 debt exclusion vote argue that the town can and should change how it taxes commercial properties, chooses to implement the residential tax exemption and packages employee health benefits before it requests a debt exclusion from voters for the three elementary and two middle school projects. These tax and employee benefits proposals have been floated for many years and are impractical. The Board of Selectmen believe these proposals are bad municipal policy and irrelevant to the May 3 debt exclusion vote.
Lexington follows assessment regulations imposed by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue. Straying from strict adherence to these rules would likely lead the Appellate Tax Board to grant an abatement if a property owner contests the assessment. These abatements include an 8 percent yearly interest payment on all overpayments and represent a significant financial risk for the town.
Opponents contend that Lexington officials should advocate for changes in the DOR regulations to more directly rely on commercial property sales. This is impractical - many communities like Lexington have too few commercial properties sold each year to establish clear values for comparable properties.
The Board seeks to achieve a balance between residential and commercial tax-payers by encouraging sustainable growth in our commercial and industrial zones. We have recently seen construction begin on the first new building in 40 years on Hartwell Avenue and another building is undergoing major renovations. In addition, Lexington takes full advantage of the split tax rate option and imposes a commercial tax rate that is roughly twice the residential tax rate.
The residential exemption allows the Board of Selectmen to exempt up to 20 percent of an owner-occupied residential property’s value from taxation. The exemption applies only to owner-occupied properties. The effect of electing this exemption shifts residential property tax burden onto larger homes, vacant land and rental property. This exemption is used in a small number of communities - mostly cities - where a large inventory of rental or vacation property is located.
There are no income or means tests associated with this exemption. In Lexington, where some residents live in a home that they have transferred to a trust or where the value of the home has appreciated significantly over the years, the residential exemption could have the counter-intuitive effect of raising taxes on residents of limited means.
The board considers this exemption every year and will continue to do so. They are also investigating and encouraging the legislature to adopt other programs that provide means-tested property tax relief. In the meantime, the board encourages residents to explore existing tax-relief programs that can be found on the town’s website, lexingtonma.gov/assessor.
Opponents suggest that reducing the employer percentage contribution for employee health insurance premiums would result in fewer employees electing to take advantage of the benefit. This is based on data from a small number of communities (18) and eliminating half of those from the statistical analysis. This is a questionable methodology.
Lexington has instituted a program in 2015 by which employees can opt out of health care benefits in return for receiving a small cash payment. This program is working well. Lexington provides a total compensation package including salary and benefits negotiated with our employee unions that is competitive with our neighboring and peer communities.
The Board of Selectmen unanimously recommends voting yes on the debt exclusion question on May 3. We don’t believe that the tax and employee benefit policy recommendations being offered by opponents of the debt exclusion are good municipal policy nor are they relevant to the debt exclusion question.
on behalf of the Board of Selectmen
A recent letter claimed that “we have many half-empty classrooms” which is not correct. The elementary enrollment as of Oct. 1 was 3024 and, as of April 1 it is 3117, a gain of 63 students. LPS total enrollment is 6917, up from 6866 in October, an increase of 52 students over the school year. A detailed report of current enrollment is at bit.ly/1SdWQ4m for those who may be skeptical. The housing and economic trend in Lexington is expected to continue to increase enrollment at 2% or greater per year.
Some may say that class size doesn't matter, or that we could implement double sessions. Neither of these solutions cut costs as they will increase the operating budget, which will require either an operating override or cutting other town services. Class size does matter when there are 26 students in a classroom possessing a wide range of abilities, including SPED, since the students who lose are those who are in the middle who could really shine with a bit more attention from the teacher stretched thin by so many students.
Voting no on May 3 will not halt this trend and may precipitate a cut in town services due to the $13m already spent in this planning process which will need to be paid out of the levy instead of being borrowed.
Voting no will not retard future enrollment growth either, it will simply force us to pay for out-of-district placements and for more overmax teachers until we reach the point where we cannot delay capital expansion any longer at a time when it will be much more costly to do so.
Choose your, and our, future carefully on May 3.
The choice to vote “yes” for the debt exclusion on May 3rd is a simple one. All of us who have raised or are raising a family in Lexington know that our children receive an excellent education in our public schools. So it should come as no surprise that more and more families have come to Lexington primarily for the schools. Enrollment has increased at an unprecedented rate these last few years, and is projected to continue doing so.
As a result, most of our schools are over capacity right now, a problem that has become critical at the middle school level. As enrollment continues to go up, the issues that result from overcrowding will only be exacerbated. There is simply not enough room at Clarke or Diamond. Larger class sizes, congestion in common spaces, rushing to eat in a crowded space, classes in hallways, truly outdated building systems - these are the current conditions. All of these take away from the primary focus of the school day: teaching, learning and social development.
We have excellent teachers and administrators who are passionate about what they do. Our kids are exploring their interests, learning about their world, and forming the core of who they will be as adults. The stresses and constraints of overcrowding distract everyone from this important work. It is our responsibility to give our children and our educators what they need so that they can focus on learning and development. They need more space, and they need it now.
As a community, Lexington has arrived at a crucial juncture. If we fail to act, the quality of the education our students receive will suffer as enrollment continues to increase. You moved here for the schools. Vote “YES” on May 3rd - support our town, our schools, our future.
“Teams” are how middle school students are organized to facilitate scheduling and, in some ways, make middle school a little “smaller” for our kids. Optimal capacity at Clarke Middle School is three teams per grade. This school year, it was necessary for Clarke to create an additional half team to accommodate a very large incoming sixth grade class, for a school total of nine and a half teams.
The Clarke population grew even more when, in August, we had a large influx of students into the eight-grade class, students who were all new to the district, raising the average eighth-grade team size to about 100 students, well over the desired average. Our teachers and administrators handled this unexpected influx artfully, but it wasn’t easy.
Despite best efforts to absorb these students within the existing schedule, in mid-October our teachers and administrators decided that in order to lower the 8th grade class sizes and optimize instruction, another 8th grade math teacher was needed. A large number of students were informed that their schedules would have to be re-worked to create additional sections in math. For some students, there was anxiety associated with the disruption, and while the math classes have become more balanced in terms of class size, other subjects remain higher than ideal.
The Clarke administration has done everything it can to help solve the over-crowding issue but we need a more permanent plan to contend with the continual flow of new students to Clarke and the other Lexington schools.
We support the upcoming debt exclusion because it will provide our administrators, teachers and students with more space and grant the administrators greater flexibility when additional students arrive in our school every month. We hope you’ll also help our schools by joining us in voting “YES” on May 3rd.
I urge your continued support for Lexington Public Schools by casting your vote for needed funding to relieve the present overcrowding and increasing rapid enrollment by voting “yes” in a ballot question scheduled for May 3rd. I offer sincere thanks for the overwhelming yes vote (152-2) by Town Meeting members at last week’s Special Town Meeting as well as the unanimous support of both the Appropriation and Capital Expenditures Committee in addressing the first phase of this challenge. It is anticipated that the Board of Selectmen will vote the specific language of the ballot question on March 28th. We are grateful for their support as well and for the many meetings that these committees have attended to assist in bringing this request for additional space to the resident voters of Lexington.
The rapid increase in student enrollment in the past nine years and that is anticipated to continue for the foreseeable future has resulted in schools that are currently and will continue to be even more overcrowded without additional space. The ad hoc Space Planning Study Committee began work in the summer of 2014 and continued their work through the fall months, considering grade configurations, land sites, and other aspects to address enrollment growth.
Since that effort the School Committee and school administration have worked closely with many volunteer committees and many individual citizens who have helped tackle the challenge of how best provide for anticipated student enrollment increases.
The literally hundreds of hours of meetings and vetting of proposals has taken us to phase one of what will be a multi-phase process for meeting our needs.
Our students are those who will benefit from your vote. On their behalf I offer sincere thanks for your concern and ask for your continued generous support with a much needed yes vote on May 3.
Chairman, Lexington School Committee
The Lexington public school system, like many other Metrowest districts, has been dealing with a significant increase in enrollment for the last five to 10 years. Administrators, staff, and teachers have demonstrated remarkable flexibility and creativity in meeting the needs of students in the face of this challenge. Examples include repurposing storage spaces, instruction in hallways or other non-classroom areas, and decreasing the size of a teacher lunchroom to create another classroom. Class sizes have also risen to accommodate the growth, necessitating “over-max aides” in many of our schools. But there are limits to what flexibility can achieve. We are reaching a breaking point throughout the school system.
The School Committee and superintendent have spent two years working with architects and space planners to determine how to handle the enrollment increases while minimizing the tax impact on residents. Dozens of ideas were brainstormed and reviewed, resulting in a plan that addresses anticipated enrollment increases without overbuilding. The plan would be implemented in multiple phases, starting with the middle schools and elementary schools, in the shorter term, and the high school at a later date.
The first phase would significantly expand the capacity of the two middle schools by adding 19 classrooms and a teacher planning space at the Diamond School to allow for room sharing, which increases available classroom hours. That phase would also address outstanding needs. Included is the replacement of the 60-year-old heating system at the Diamond school and site work that would increase student safety by separating vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Funding is also being provided for two additional classrooms at three elementary schools.
Monies for these projects have been appropriated by Town Meeting; it remains for voters to have their say and approve the “debt exclusion” to finance the construction. Suggestions that we should reduce residential property taxes and the town’s annual budget prior to approving any debt for capital projects would mean that these projects will not occur now, when they are needed. Making these needed updates to our schools is a long-term effort; we should not hamper our students’ education to save $1 to $2 a day.
Cochair, YES for Lexington
One of the things I love most about the Lexington Public Schools is that they not only teach great academics, but also instill core values. Our three boys, ages 12, 9 and 7, have shared many stories with us about such lessons. Programs like “Hastings Heroes” emphasize responsibility and teach our children to admit their mistakes and take ownership for fixing them.
A few years ago, Lexington made a mistake. We seriously underestimated the growth in school enrollment. Everyone in Lexington - from the Committee that oversaw the error to the average citizen who failed to get informed - bears some responsibility.
And now our schools, and our children, are suffering. 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 10 years. This has led to extreme over-crowding at all school levels and in most of the schools in town. If uncorrected, we’ll see ballooning class sizes, a shortage of classrooms, and a failure to meet the needs of our students and teachers. We’ll be killing the golden goose that makes Lexington such a unique and vibrant place that we all love.
On May 3, the 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. I know what the wonderful teachers of Lexington would tell our kids. They’d say, “Take responsibility for your mistakes. Own up and fix it.” On May 3, act like we want our kids to act. Please vote Yes for Lexington.
Daniel Ostrower and Coreen McCool
Paul Revere Road
I have a sign in my yard that urges: Vote yes on May 3. My kids are well passed middle school: one in college, one heading there in September, the last has only a few years left at LHS. So, why do I care?
I care because here in Lexington, we have always been proud of our excellent schools and our commitment to education. That’s why our property values continue to increase. People want to live here. Great schools, outstanding services and organizations, civic minded and involved residents, and a beautiful new Community Center. Not to mention the “Birthplace of Liberty.”
But, our school buildings are badly in need of repair and expansion to relieve overcrowding and meet the educational needs of our children. Enrollment continues to grow and there is no end in sight. There is not enough classroom space, cafeteria space or room for art, music and gym. Classes in the middle schools are so large that students don’t receive sufficient individual attention. Teachers have no space to plan and share best practices.
Raising taxes is a decision that no one takes lightly. Our town is managed responsibly. The plan is reasonable and realistic. The middle school projects meet projected space needs without overbuilding and are supported overwhelmingly by Town Meeting, unanimously by both the Appropriations and Capital Expenditures Committees, as well as the majority of the Board of Selectmen.
Massachusetts Proposition 2½ puts a cap on annual property tax increases. This necessitates community votes to approve funding large critical expenditures. Our school buildings are old and simply don’t have enough space to provide adequate learning environments.
It’s time to care. In Lexington, we have always been committed to education and preparing our children for the future. Please join me and vote “yes” on May 3.
Middle School feels so far away in our eyes, but in reality it’s right around the corner. Our oldest is currently in the second-grade, our middle is in kindergarten, and our youngest just 4 years old. We are paying close attention and write to encourage other parents of young children to do the same. Our “YES” vote on the May 3rd debt exclusion vote matters and, our children, more than any other stakeholder group, will be the ultimate beneficiaries. Families with young children need to come together to advocate for and vote for the space our children need to learn and thrive.
We are so grateful to the members of Town Meeting and all of the volunteers who have worked to better understand Lexington’s current enrollment and capacity challenges. Many of these folks no longer even have children in the district! We are lending them our support by voting “yes” on May 3rd.
We live on the west end of town and, our school - Estabrook - has not seen the same influx of students that Bridge, Bowman and Fiske have - yet. We are seeing for sale signs going up in our neighborhood, and those surrounding us every week, and moving trucks filled with toys pulling up every month. And, while my kids are thrilled with this expanded pool of friends, we as parents can’t help but worry about how the Lexington school district is going to accommodate all of these new faces. We see the middle school plan approved by Town Meeting and all of the various committees as an important first step in getting our kids the space they need - operative term, first step.
While we are grateful for the thought that went into the middle school plan, we remain deeply concerned about the over-crowding at our elementary schools and hope to be saying “yes” to future capacity at that level in the not-too-distant future.
As a Town Meeting member, parent of school-aged children, and close observer of the town’s efforts to understand and plan for Lexington’s ballooning enrollment, I voted in support of the School Committee’s request for funding to expand both middle schools and will do so again when asked to vote “Yes” during the May 3 debt exclusion vote.
Is the plan perfect? Possibly not; but in the absence of a crystal ball and given the quickly evolving implications of living in a flat, global and increasingly transient world it is responsible. The project, as proposed, creates much needed space at the middle school level based on what the district can reasonably predict with respect to student enrollment, cognizant of the fact that considerably more will be asked of voters in the very near future to address the effects of ballooning enrollment at pre-K, elementary and high school levels as well as necessary enhancements to our police and fire stations. Frankly, none of these projects, when complete, will likely meet the definition of “perfect”, but conditions are such that we must move forward with “best possible” given the larger context of regional growth and the town’s meaningful and concurrent capital needs.
Put simply, our principals and students are out of space. There is no headroom now for more students, so we must build to what we can reasonably predict. For the middle schools, the Enrollment Working Group and Superintendent’s office have told us that figure is more than 200 more students by 2020. The proposed project allows for that growth, creating space for an additional 3.5 instructional teams of roughly 85 students each.
To those who argue the plan doesn’t go far enough, I say we haven’t just run out of space... we’ve run out of time. Please join me in voting “Yes” on May 3.
Vine Brook Road
Yes for Lexington | Lisa Farrell, Treasurer | 405 Waltham Street, PMB 124 | Lexington, MA 02421