Opponents of the December 4th debt exclusion have raised questions about the size and timing of this debt exclusion.
Opponents argue that the schools should exceed recommended class sizes and ignore the 2.5% enrollment growth our district is experiencing every year. They assert that the Town should change commercial property assessments, offer tax relief, and repackage employee benefits.
These questions have all been duly considered by the elected officials, volunteers, and staff involved in the Town’s master planning work over the last ten years. This page lays out the the Yes! For Lexington position on each of these claims.
1. The school system ignored $2 million in potential savings using flexible student assignment strategies.
The schools have not ignored these supposed savings. Our school leaders just fundamentally disagree with the approach as a matter of education policy, finding the approach is:
Contrary to the ideals set forth in our policies regarding the delivery of our educational programs;
Inaccurate in its accounting as the proposal fails to consider additional costs associated with complex transportation routes and the likely necessity of additional aides when class sizes inevitably exceed our policy limits; and,
Fails to acknowledge that five of our elementary schools are already serving significantly more children than they were designed for.
The School System has taken cost-saving measures to postpone the inevitable necessity of rebuilding Hastings and adding capacity to accommodate our 2.5% annual growth in enrollment. Specifically:
Carving out additional classrooms through careful space-mining in all of our school buildings
Expanding LCP programming into the Central Administration Building despite its being decommissioned as a school
Implementing the Superintendent's plan for Central Registration, which takes available space into consideration when assigning students to a school rather than guaranteeing assignment into one’s “neighborhood school”
These measures have distributed overcrowding more evenly across the schools, but they have not solved the overarching problem: our enrollment continues to grow. Given current and projected enrollment numbers, simply moving children in and out of classrooms cannot reduce the system-wide overcrowding in our schools.
2. Raising Town employee salaries and reducing the Town’s contribution to employee health premiums save $2.5m/year?
The town cannot unilaterally make changes to employee health insurance. Any change would require renegotiation of multiple union contracts, which is neither quick nor simple. Further, the changes proposed don’t directly lead to savings. Instead they operate on the principle that if our resulting health insurance benefit is poor enough, a significant number of employees will abandon the benefit and obtain health insurance elsewhere.
Taking a more practical approach, Lexington instituted a program in 2015 which allows employees to opt out of healthcare benefits in return for a small cash payment. This has realized some savings while maintaining our ability to attract and retain talented professionals.
3. The Town drastically under-assesses large office buildings to the detriment of Town finances.
The Town follows procedures that are established, reviewed, and strictly enforced by the State Department of Revenue. Changing these procedures is completely outside the Town’s authority. Following these procedures protects the Town from potentially costly penalties that could result from following the No Campaign suggestions.
Furthermore, adjusting the relative balance of assessments in Lexington will not generate additional tax revenue. In other words, even if the State Department of Revenue agreed with the No Campaign (which they decidedly do not), this debt exclusion would still be necessary.
4. The Board of Selectmen should implement a "residential exemption" to lower taxes on smaller homes and raise taxes on larger homes.
The State and Town both offer numerous means-tested property tax relief programs to seniors, residents with disabilities, and veterans, including a generous tax deferral option. As the No Campaign acknowledges, the Board of Selectmen is re-examining the use of a residential exemption, but this would not come into effect for at least two years.
And, as with the claim regarding commercial assessments, a residential exemption does not generate additional revenue for the Town, meaning that this debt exclusion is still necessary.
5. The town will move forward with these projects regardless of the vote’s outcome, therefore residents risk nothing by voting No.
The funding for all three projects was approved contingent on a Yes vote for the debt exclusion. None of these projects can proceed without a Yes vote until Town Meeting approves a new appropriation. Any new appropriations would come at the cost of other services and programs valued by residents. Without excluded debt financing, projects would be reduced in scope, resulting in lower benefits to residents. This would also limit the use of the Capital Stabilization Fund for tax mitigation. The single greatest loss to the Town would result from a rejection of the proposed Hastings School, which is slated for $16.5 million in matching funds from the state. If we vote no on this project, we effectively reject a quarter of the cost of rebuilding a much-needed 30-classroom school.
6. If the Town votes No on the Lexington Children's Place, then Hastings can be funded using the Capital Stabilization Fund without a debt exclusion.
This idea would require the Town to complete the funding of Hastings using at least $20 million of "within-levy" debt (debt that is not excluded from Proposition 2 1/2). Aside from a rejection of the benefits created by a new LCP, the argument assumes that the MSBA would agree to such a funding plan, which is a dubious and risky claim. It would also create serious pressure in the Town's operating budget at a time when we should be preparing to handle the unavoidable increases we anticipate in our operating expenses.