Shirley Selectman Explains Vote, Urges More Transparency in High School Field Project
As a member of the Shirley Board of Selectmen, I thought it necessary to explain my justification for not supporting Article One at the Special Town Meeting. The request for $7.1 million for an athletic complex, in which Shirley would spend $2.8 million, seemed unreasonable for several reasons.
First, 632 voters from our community sent a strong message in voting down this ballot question issue on Saturday, Oct. 6. I felt my obligation was to listen to the voters.
Shortly after that vote the School Committee, in in an attempt to influence a more favorable outcome, announced that a donation of $500,000 was donated by the Norton Family of Ayer towards the field project. The truth is that the amount was not a donation but a pledge to be delivered over a period of years and thus unable to reduce the present request of $7.1 million. While this donation would be well received, it would never have any effect on the amount of money proposed.
When the community of Ayer voted to support this project, Shirley lost in the total vote tabulation. This approach under the regional school system contract falls under state law (Mass. General Law Chapter 70, Section 16N) allowing a combined vote between Shirley and Ayer to determine the outcome. This can and must be addressed with Mass. General Law Chapter 70 Section 16d, which will separate the votes between the towns giving Shirley voters a fair chance in the decision-making process.
However, this total vote between Ayer and Shirley will not be the case when Shirley voters weigh in on the matter on December 11. If the community fails to support a Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion, the project fails. That process approving an override is strictly up to the Shirley taxpayers.
I believe if the people of Shirley deny this expenditure, the School Committee should immediately move forward with a less expensive athletic complex.
The School Committee noted at the October 15 Special Town Meeting that the future plans to renovate the Page School at a cost of $50 million need to be addressed. The Lura A White Elementary School would not be included in this project. The Department of Education may provide funding for this project but for only one building. My issue at this time is a need for more transparency from the School Committee for the people of Shirley. To prevent future problems such as this issue I would respectfully ask the members of the School Committee to include 16d in the current negotiations with their fellow members from Ayer.