YES! For Lexington. Support Our Town, Our Schools, Our Future.

Why Vote Yes?

There have been a number of letters written to the Minuteman in the last few weeks advocating for voting NO on the upcoming election to “send a message” to town leaders. The actual people receiving the “message”, however, will be the middle school students facing three years in schools well beyond their capacity during formative education years. It is worth noting that opponents of the debt exclusion agree that the projects to be funded by the debt exclusion are necessary and worthwhile.

Opponents’ proposals are not new and have been repudiated by the Selectmen time and time again. Moreover, it is doubtful that these proposals will amount to the savings suggested. While some proposals suggested may warrant further investigation, none of them is going to be implemented in a short amount of time. Waiting until all proposals are implemented will leave us with middle schools far beyond their capacity, with the following repercussions according to the principals:

At Clarke and Diamond Middle Schools:

  • We would not be able to add half teams to accommodate the growing enrollment because there are not enough classrooms available for consistent scheduling.
  • Team sizes would increase to 100+ students creating class sizes of 28+ in content areas.
  • Exploratory course enrollments (world language, art music, engineering etc.) will increase to 28+ students (could be over 30 students in a class).
  • Exploratory courses would be taught in inappropriate spaces (i.e. we may have to convert an art or music room to a general education classroom, inadequate spaces for engineering, music and drama as well).
  • We may have to limit the number of students that can take a course such as art, music, orchestra or band due to the size constraints of the instructional spaces.
  • We would have to reconsider our program of studies and the rich variety of exploratory courses that we offer to all students. If we don’t have the space for the courses, they may not be able to be offered.
  • There will be inadequate space for our growing ELL population.
  • Special Education spaces will be compressed which would compromise the services we can offer to students, possibly leading to expensive out of district placements.
  • Although sharing classrooms is expected and valued, teachers and students may be traveling to more than one location during the week due to the inconsistent availability of classrooms for a particular section.

At Diamond Middle School:

  • If the new cafeteria is not built, administration will have to schedule in more lunch periods to accommodate the number of students and time will have to be take from instructional periods to do so.

Therefore, we still need to pass the debt exclusion in order to fund the middle school projects - imagine telling the builder of an addition to your house that you will pay him off over the next twenty years.

Rather than hamper our students’ education, let’s work on both issues at the same time. Allow the town to borrow money to complete the middle school projects; if the other ideas prove fruitful and worth implementing such that the town saves money in a few years, those monies could be used to pay the loan, therefore reducing the tax impact to residents.

To address specific proposals from debt exclusion opponents:

  1. Save “1.5 million dollars a year” by consolidating “half-empty” classrooms to create 15 open classrooms
    1. This is a hyperbolic argument. There are no half-empty clasrooms. As of the latest school enrollment figures, 52% of classrooms are at or above the preferred maximum size. 48% of classrooms are below the maximum preferred size.
      1. These classrooms are under the preferred maximum by a median of two students, average of 2.4.
      2. The preferred maximum is 18 for kindergarten, 20 for first grade and 24 for second grade and above. Thus, the classrooms are 90%+ full, which is a far cry from half-empty.
    2. The superintendent and school committee are working on implementing buffer zones between schools, and a central registration system such that new students moving to town can go to schools with more space. This would allow for movement of new students to empty spaces without the disruption of changing the school of existing students (often moving only one or two kids).
    3. Our opponents’ plan is sadly lacking in details as to how this savings of 15 classrooms would occur. Essentially, at each grade, 1-3 classes would be spread out amongst the remaining sections at the same school bringing all sections to their contractual maximum (two students over the educationally preferred maximum), with any “extra” students transported to a different school.
      1. Fifteen classrooms would remain over the maximum contractually allowed - no provision was made for moving those students to decrease overcrowding.
      2. Sixty-one classes would be at their contractual maximum, meaning that any new student in those classes would incur the cost of an overmax aide.
    4. In two short years since our opponents’ analysis was last performed, the number of possible classroom savings decreased from 15 to 11. With enrollment continuing to increase, the idea that this will save money for more than a few years is unlikely to be true.
    5. Transportation costs were not considered in the statement that $100,000 / classroom would be saved. The following students would have to be transported:
      Harrington to Hastings (6 Kindergarten)
      Harrington to Bowman (2 Kindergarten)
      Bowman to Bridge (10-1st, 1-4th, 1-5th)
      Fiske to Harrington (8-2nd)
      Bridge to Hastings (10-2nd)
      Bridge to Bowman or Harrington or Estabrook (1-2nd)
      Fiske to Estabrook (11-3rd)
      Bowman to Hastings (10-3rd)
      Estabrook to Hastings (1-4th, 1-5th)
      9 vans/buses needed. 62 students moving schools.
    6. The impact to individual students is not considered. Imagine being the sole child, or parent of the sole child from your class or grade moved to a different school?
    7. No details were provided as to how the students to be moved would be selected.
    8. Taking all this into account, you can see that it is NOT a simple solution.
  2. Implement a residential exclusion to shift the tax burden from homes of lower value to homes of higher value and rental properties / non-owner occupied properties, in theory those more able to pay the extra income taxes.
    1. This is evaluated by the selectmen on an annual basis, and can be done while middle school construction occurs.
    2. Other options for decreasing taxes for citizens of lower income are already available, and additional ideas are being considered by the Tax Deferral and Exemption Study committee. See the Property Tax Relief brochure available online at this link.
  3. Reduce the proportion of town employee health care insurance costs paid by the town to 50% from 85% to encourage employees to use spousal / partner health insurance instead, and reimburse employees for added costs to them by a $7,000/year wage increase.
    1. The analysis supporting this idea and savings thereof has not been updated since 2010. In that time, the percentage of town employees health care paid by the town has decreased to between 75-82%. Before any changes are contemplated, the analysis needs to be repeated with current data.
    2. In 2015 the town implemented a payment of $5000 to employees choosing to use a spousal plan, or $2500 to those opting out of an individual plan.
    3. Any changes to health benefits must be negotiated with all of the unions representing town employees through coalition bargaining. The town cannot unilaterally make such a change and would have to offer something significant in return to get agreement from the unions.
    4. Our teachers - and all of our town employees - are highly valued members of our community and their well-being is essential to the overall quality of life in Lexington - from how our children are taught to the basic services we all receive. Any modifications to the health benefits package will need to be a win-win, providing savings to the town while fully meeting the health needs of the town employees.
    5. Any worthwhile changes to health benefits could be evaluated while middle school construction occurs.
  4. Alter the way commercial properties are assessed to bring their assessments in line with building value instead of business income.
    1. The way commercial properties are assessed is mandated by the state. If Lexington were to assess properties differently the town runs a risk of appeal to the commonwealth by the businesses, with an 8% annual interest penalty if the business is successful.
    2. Increased property taxes on commercial properties would be passed on to tenants. This would likely mean the only small businesses that could afford to stay in town center would be banks and real estate offices.
    3. Changing the state law on commercial property assessment is a process that will take an absolute minimum of three years, if a bill were ready to go today.
    4. This could be evaluated while middle school construction occurs.

Vote YES on May 3rd to implement the much needed renovations and expansions at our middle schools.