War of Words Continues Over Fields Proposal
SHIRLEY -- Selectman Enrico Cappucci last week deplored what he said was uncivil behavior toward Ayer Shirley Regional School Committee member Jim Quinty at a recent public forum.
Quinty, who represents the town on the six-member Regional School Committee and served on a fields subcommittee proposing a $7 million makeover for the high school athletic fields, spoke at the last presentation on the project, which failed as it faced its final hurdle with a debt-exclusion ballot question in each member town on Tuesday. Shirley voters rejected the measure.
Sketching out details of his own, alternative, fields improvement plan, which the rest of the 9-member Regional School Committee subgroup had already rejected, Quinty was still speaking when “members of his own committee ... walked out,” Cappucci said. “That’s not right.”
Cappucci said Quinty should have been allowed to speak but was cut off when the forum was “shut down” and SPACO stopped filming.
At the selectmen’s meeting this week, Regional School Committee Chairman Jonathan Deforge disputed those accusations.
“Mr. Quinty did speak ... for 24 minutes,” at the forum, he said. And like others who spoke, people asked him questions. “School Committee members did not walk out,” he said.
Nor did the event end early and Deforge stood at the podium throughout Quinty’s speech, he said, at one point calling for order when audience participation got too raucous.
Setting the record straight on a related matter, Deforge said the $500,000 pledge from the Norton Foundation that Cappucci said in a recent letter to the editor was not a “donation” and would not reduce the debt taxpayers would face for the $7 million project, had, indeed, been applied, since it would have, in fact, become a donation if the project moved forward.
In that case, the total borrowed would have been $6.5 million, he said, and the Regional School Committee voted on it.
Another point in the letter that Deforge disputed relates to the regional school district’s two elementary schools, Lura A. White in Shirley and Page Hilltop in Ayer. There is no plan in the works to revamp or replace either of them, Deforge said.
The Regional School Committee commissioned an analysis of both buildings to determine what needs to be done and what it would cost, but that’s it for now, he said.
As for Cappucci’s speculative scenario, in which the Regional School Committee would submit a proposal to the Mass School Building Assistance program (MSBA) for Page Hilltop, Deforge said there’s no substance to that, either.
“The only action we’ve taken is to have a professional assessment of both buildings,” he said.
“You said MSBA would only approve one (school building project) at a time ... would it be Page?” Cappucci asked. “I think it should be Lura White.”
In his letter, Cappucci said that with one or more elementary school projects on the horizon that would add another $50 million to the tax burden, he recommended a no vote on the Dec. 11 debt-exclusion ballot.
“I’m looking at the tax rate,” he said.
From the audience, resident Michelle Scally said she gets where Cappucci is coming from but that’s not the issue on the table now. “This has to do with this vote,” not a future one, she said.