Letters to the Advocate for the 2016 Campaign
- Dan Dunn, Board of Selectman
- Kate Leary
- Julia Ruderman
- Catherine Farrell, Gwen Hooper, Herb Rosenbluth, Paulette Schwartz, Hannah Simon
- Ed Schwartz
- Jeff Thielman and Kirsi Allison-Ampe, M.D., School Committee
- Alex Bilsky
- Kathryn Gandek-Tighe
- Mary and John Deyst
- Paul Schlictman, School Committee
- Lauren Ledger
- Jane Morgan
- Joseph Curro, Board of Selectman
- Clarissa Rowe
- Kate Loosian
Vote Yes on Question 3
On Tuesday, June 14th, Arlington is voting on three debt exclusion questions. I'm voting yes on all three, but my focus today is on Question 3, the rebuilding of Minuteman Regional Vocational and Technical High School. I want to explain why Minuteman needs this new building, and why Arlington needs Minuteman.
Minuteman's building is almost 45 years old, and its main building systems are failing. The roof leaks. A few years ago, the chimney failed inspection when a simple ruler was pushed through the width of the chimney wall! The sprinkler system needs to be replaced, as do the environmental systems, and the handicapped accessibility doesn't meet code. The conditions in the building are so problematic that the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) put Minuteman on Warning Status purely because of facility issues. In all of my discussions about Minuteman over the last several years, I haven't heard anyone disagree with the dismal building conditions.
The building's design is outdated. Minuteman was built for the 1960s, when vocational education was more narrowly aimed at automotive, plumbing, and agriculture. Minuteman today provides a broader set of educational options that train our students for both traditional trades and for the high-tech industry that has taken root in our region. Programs today include biotechnology, HVAC, environmental science, cosmetology, and advanced manufacturing. The lab spaces designed for 1960s are inadequate for today's robotics equipment.
There has been a lot of debate about whether the proposed building project is the "right" one. Some have argued that the proposed school is too large. They would like to see a school of 350 or 400 students, rather than the proposed 628, but a smaller school can't support a broad set of vocational programs. As the school shrinks, programs get cut and students need to be placed at out-of-district schools—with Arlington paying for their tuition. The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) has said it won't support a building smaller than 600 students. Some of the member towns have advocated for a larger school, as many as 800 students. The current proposal for 628 students is a compromise that keeps the educational mission intact while holding costs down.
The follow-on question is whether Minuteman can fill the new school. Minuteman has had 700 or more students every year. The proposed 628 is a smaller school. Several of the sending towns have seen large increases in enrollment—Arlington, Belmont, and Lexington in particular. We have to make the best estimates that we can and move forward. I believe that Minuteman will be full for the years ahead of us.
Another debate has been whether a renovation would be more cost effective than a rebuild. A renovation project would not have the support of the MSBA. The loss of MSBA support hurts twice: not only would we lose the direct financial support from the state, but we would also not be allowed to charge the capital costs of the renovation to out-of-district students. A renovation project can solve the building's physical systems, but it can't fix the design problems. A renovation would have a high price tag and an inferior result.
The Minuteman building project is a serious issue that deserves consideration by the voters of Arlington. A week before Arlington's Town Meeting supported the Minuteman building project, Belmont's Town Meeting rejected it. I'm hopeful that this is not Belmont's final answer. I'm working with Minuteman's leadership and officials and volunteers from Belmont and other towns to persuade Belmont to reconsider. The conversations are ongoing, and over the summer we may get to yes. If and when we get Belmont to yes, Arlington should be ready to move forward with the rest of the district.
Finally, I want to talk about why Arlington needs Minuteman. The simplest answer is that state law requires us to provide a vocational educational option, but that is a cop-out answer. Arlington High School gives a great education, but it isn't a fit for everyone. Every year somewhere between 115 and 175 Arlington students find that Minuteman is a better fit for them. For some it is the time spent in a lab, time spent "learning by doing." For others, it is the promise of a good, well-paying job in the shortest possible time. Ask the parents you know, or the students, or the graduates, and you'll find more Minuteman families in Arlington than you may have known about. They will be able to tell you why Minuteman was the right choice for them.
The Minuteman building project is the right choice. If we say no, we get an expensive, inferior alternative. If we say yes, we get the vocational school that our students deserve. Please join me in voting yes on Question 3.
— Dan Dunn, Board of Selectmen
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Vote Yes June 14
My mother’s family moved to Arlington in 1944, when my grandfather transferred within the postal service. My grandparents thought Arlington would be a nice place to raise a family, and they rented an apartment on Harlow Street, in East Arlington. My grandfather became the neighborhood letter carrier. My mother started kindergarten at the Crosby School in 1951.
The school was gutted by a devastating fire when she was in second grade. Thanks to the quick thinking of the principal and teachers, no lives were lost. My mother learned in double sessions at the Hardy School until her school was rebuilt. She remembers her time at Hardy as an adventure, and she says the community welcomed the displaced students. She says Arlington was always like that.
When my husband and I were looking for a place to settle down and raise our two sons, my mother kept talking about Arlington. She reminisced about how fun it had been to walk to the two movie theaters and take the bus to Harvard Square. She said the people were down to earth and the schools were wonderful. We moved to town in 2012. It had been nearly fifty years since anyone in my family had lived in Arlington, but we were back and delighted to be here. My mother loves to visit. She was right about the people and the schools.
Arlington’s public school system had 6,150 students when my mother started kindergarten. By the time she moved up to the Junior High East, an additional 800 students had entered the system. By the time she started at Arlington High School in 1961, another 700 students had enrolled. The boom didn’t end there. Enrollment peaked in 1970 at 9,723 students.
My older son started kindergarten at the Hardy School in 2013, when the school system had about 4,900 students. This September, three years later, my younger son will enter kindergarten, and the school system is expected to have at least 300 students more than it did when his brother started. Growth is projected to continue. My sons are part of a school enrollment boom in Arlington, just as their grandmother was. Our students need more space.
Arlington has a long history of supporting its students and investing in education. I hope you will join me in voting YES on June 14 to continue Arlington’s legacy.
— Kate Leary
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Vote Yes June 14
Two weeks ago, Arlington Town Meeting voted in favor of funding the new Minuteman High School building. As a student at Minuteman and a Town Meeting Member, I’m very pleased with this outcome. This project has been a very long process, and we are all excited to see it move forward.
However, before the groundbreaking can commence, Arlington still needs to vote on the debt exclusion on June 14. Without a yes vote, the essential repairs and renovations that Minuteman needs will happen within the existing building at an even greater cost. This alternative would take many more years than new construction and would be hugely disruptive, as the work would be done while students are in the building. By delaying the inevitable construction, the students would suffer.
Financially, approving the new Minuteman building makes the most sense. Ask any student what they think is wrong with the building, and you’ll get a myriad of responses: the shops are too small, there’s no room for new equipment or machinery, there’s no space to collaborate with students in other shops, the layout is inefficient, there are very few windows, the hallways are too narrow; the list goes on. These responses are just what the students think- the MSBA and other authorities would point to many other issues with the building, which has been placed on notice of losing its accreditation as a public school. When both the state and the students realize how much is wrong with the building, it’s clear a rebuild is imperative.
The condition of the current building is deteriorating, and is preventing Minuteman from being a top notch vocational technical school. As vocational education becomes more and more relevant in the modern workforce, it’s important for Minuteman to keep up. With a new building, Minuteman’s students would be able to flourish; and by association with Minuteman, so would industries and the community.
Arlington’s students deserve to have the best vocational-technical option for their future. Please vote for Arlington and vote yes on June 14.
— Julia Ruderman
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Senior Citizens Support Debt Exclusions
We are senior citizens and homeowners committed to supporting the diversity, vitality and educational opportunities of Arlington. We are voting Yes to Build Arlington’s Future on June 14. We believe it is important to invest in Arlington schools and therefore we strongly support the proposed debt exclusion. We believe education is crucial to our economy and to a civil society. As homeowners we know that the value of our properties has increased because of the quality of Arlington schools. We cannot maintain the high level of Arlington public education if we allow our school buildings to deteriorate and become increasingly overcrowded. Please join us in voting yes on June 14. Thank you.
— Catherine Farrell, Gwen Hooper, Herb Rosenbluth, Paulette Schwartz, Hannah Simon
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Seniors have options to lessen impact of debt exclusions
On June 14 Arlington will be voting on three questions determining the future of our schools and the quality of education our students will receive. Our school system is experiencing increasing enrollment, overcrowding, and an aging high school building with the possible loss of accreditation.
While seniors living in subsidized housing will not be affected by the increase in taxes that will result from the passage of this debt exclusion bill homeowners will be affected.
There is a significant Massachusetts state tax credit that many modest income Arlington seniors are unaware of, but are eligible to receive.
In 2016, a 65-year old, Arlington homeowner (or renter) could receive up to $1,070 from the state to help with their property taxes based on their 2015 income. This credit is equal to the amount that your property tax exceeds 10% of your total income. For the 2015 tax year, total income must be less than $57,000 for a single person or $85,000 for a couple. In addition the assessed value of a homeowner’s house must be less than $693,000. For renters, 25 percent of your rent is considered to be for payment of property taxes. Seniors who receive a federal or state rent subsidy are not eligible for this credit.
For example, in 2015 a single, 65-year old resident living in a home assessed at $400,000, who paid $5,000 in real estate taxes and had total income of $40,000 would be eligible to receive a check from the state of $1,000.
You must file a Massachusetts Income Tax return to receive this credit even if you owe no taxes and are not required to file a MA tax return otherwise. The MA Schedule that must be filed for the credit is titled “Schedule CB Circuit Breaker Credit”. If you learn that you are eligible for this credit and did not file a state return you may still file to request the credit for each of the previous three years. Amended returns can also be completed if you filed in the past three years but did not previously include Schedule CB.
During the March/April tax season there are volunteers from the joint AARP/ IRS TCE (Tax Counseling for the Elderly) program who will provide free assistance in filing for this credit. There are also Town of Arlington tax abatement programs to help the elderly, surviving spouses, disabled veterans, the blind and to assist in cases of hardship. For more information contact the Arlington Council on Aging (781-316-3400).
— Ed Schwartz, Robin Hood Road
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Question 2: The First Step Towards a new Arlington High School
“Is Arlington ready?”
This is what Superintendent Kathleen Bodie was asked in December by Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) officials, as we waited to learn whether Arlington High School’s Statement of Interest would be accepted by the MSBA. By partnering with the MSBA to rebuild or renovate AHS, Arlington can receive between 40 and 50 percent of reimbursable costs of the new facility from state funding, and get technical guidance from an agency that has overseen school building projects in Massachusetts for the past ten years.
In January the MSBA did invite AHS into the first step of its school construction grant program. Now, on June 14th, the Town’s voters get the chance to confirm that Arlington is indeed ready for a new high school.
The MSBA dictates a complete process that must be followed for all projects. The mandated feasibility study and schematic design phase require the town to engage architects, engineers, and other construction and educational experts who will work with Arlington to gather required information.
During the feasibility study, the district must determine the space needed to meet the school’s current and future educational programming, evaluate the existing conditions of the facility, and identify alternatives for AHS so that “the most educationally appropriate and cost-effective solution may be recommended.” In the schematic design phase, an architectural firm designs the new facility with community input and works with an Owner’s Project Manager to develop accurate cost estimates for the project.
By voting “YES” on Question 2, the town’s voters provide funding to commence this process to design a new Arlington High School.
The main building of Arlington High School was constructed in 1914, and over the past century buildings have been added to accommodate student enrollment growth and program needs. The most recent renovation work was done in 1981, but there has never been a top-down whole school renovation. AHS has a confusing and unwelcoming layout, and learning spaces have been reconfigured to accommodate courses and programs not contemplated when the school buildings were constructed. As a result, only 23% of the school’s current general education classrooms meet minimum MSBA square footage requirements.
Science rooms are significantly undersized, large columns exist in the middle of six language classrooms, and another four classrooms are configured in such a way that some students cannot see the front marker board and the teacher cannot see some students. Obstructed and irregularly shaped classrooms make up 20% of the school’s instructional space.
Several departments, including the Music program and Family and Consumer Science program, are distributed through different floors of the building, making collaboration and curriculum coordination more difficult. The school has fewer bathroom facilities than the state requires and inadequate and outdated locker rooms. Additionally, there is an urgent need to repair or replace many mechanical systems that are at or beyond their service lifespan, including the main heating system, hot water system, ventilation and cooling systems, and more.
The New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) was alarmed at what it saw in its 2013 accreditation visit and consequently placed AHS on warning status because of the facility. The NEASC report cited the insufficient number, size and layout of classrooms, poor design and safety issues in the science labs, and general building conditions that impede the staff’s ability to implement the curriculum. The next NEASC accreditation is in 2023, and the surest way to make sure AHS is no longer on warning status by then is to rebuild or renovate it.
Despite the physical challenges, AHS does amazingly well. The school earned the highest designation – Level 1 – on the Massachusetts School Report Card for the second year in a row. Arlington High School received Gold Medal distinction in the U.S. News and World Report Best High School rankings, rising to 16th in Massachusetts and the top 2% nationally. Consistently each year about 95% of AHS students plan to continue their education after high school.
AHS has a great spirit as well. This spring 100 students participated in the production of Hello Dolly! More than half of the student body plays varsity sports, and there are clubs for young people with all sorts of interests. Over the years, the school has added more language, Advanced Placement, and Honors Classes, and students at all levels seem to enjoy AHS.
A “YES” vote on Question 2 tells the MSBA that Arlington is ready to engage in the process to bring Arlington High School into the 21st century. More importantly, though, the vote sends a message to AHS’s students and staff that the town cares about them, recognizes their accomplishments, and believes they deserve a school building that truly fosters education and achievement.
— Jeff Thielman and Kirsi Allison-Ampe, M.D., School Committee
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My wife and I moved to Arlington in 2004 as we were starting a family. We loved the neighborhood feeling in East Arlington, the reputation of Arlington’s schools, and the great sense of community in Arlington.
Since our children began school, Hardy Elementary has surpassed our expectations. Hardy teachers have shown great understanding and caring for our children and have worked to amplify their natural love of learning. This coming fall, we will have children at both Hardy and Ottoson Middle School.
Over the years, we have been impressed that the town and its voters have consistently supported much-needed school building projects and adequate funding for its schools—even during tough economic times, when many state and local governments were cutting back.
As Advocate readers are well aware, our school population is growing. Thompson and Ottoson are already overcrowded, and the situation is projected to become more severe with time. The debt exclusion allows us to invest in our schools and ensure that we have room to provide a high-quality education for all Arlington students. In addition, the vote allows us to address serious problems with the facilities at Arlington High and Minuteman.
Please join me in voting Yes on June 14th to continue strengthening our schools and our community.
— Alex Bilsky
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On June 14th, Arlington will vote on three debt exclusion articles that address our school buildings. As I consider this vote, I am reminded of being a new mother in Arlington. I lived on a block full of parents, but most of their children were adults and had moved out. I was the only parent with a baby.
I remember with great fondness all the kindness, advice, and affection that my son and I received from all those older parents whose diaper days were long behind them. Almost none of my original neighbors still live on my block. They have retired to other places or passed away. My family has changed too. My son just graduated from college this weekend, and his younger two brothers are high schoolers. Now my neighbors are young families, and I am the parent of the older kids.
My first child attended the old Dallin School. It was a school with incredible heart, great teachers and a facility that was crumbling from age. The younger two were lucky enough to go to the new Dallin, which still had a great heart and teachers, but didn’t have a roof that leaked, mold problems, or heat that changed drastically from room to room.
When I was a School Council member at the high school during Charlie Skidmore’s tenure as principal, he discussed the challenges faced by his building. I’m still hearing about those challenges now at School Council meetings with Principal Janger. The high school does an incredible job providing a quality education to our students, but it is in spite of and not because of the building.
I am voting yes on June 14th to fund a strategic plan for the building, because the high school needs the work and this is the first step Arlington must take to be reimbursed for a rebuild by the MSBA. My children won’t attend that new high school. They won’t benefit from the other debt exclusion articles to fund work on the Thompson, Gibbs or Minuteman either, but I am voting yes on those articles too.
My family benefited from the support of Arlington and those older parents, who welcomed me onto their block. Now it’s my turn to do the same for the next generation.
— Kathryn Gandek-Tighe
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We Support the Debt Exclusions
People will often ask, “Were you born in Arlington?”. Well no, but once settled here we elected to stay for more than half of our lives. We believe that the exemplary quality of life in Arlington stems primarily from some key aspects of our town. These include its increasingly diverse population, the volunteerism of our citizens, the Town Meeting form of government, excellent town services and a superb education system of both public and vocational schools.
Both of our children attended Arlington public schools, beginning at the Bishop Elementary School. Our daughter was in the “Satellite Program” in seventh and eighth grades, which at the time was located at the Central School building, because the junior high schools were being renovated. Other seventh and eighth grade classes were held at the Boys and Girls Club. Our son, who is three years younger than our daughter, attended seventh and eighth grades at the Ottoson School. Both children graduated from Arlington High School. Although they experienced many displacements while schools were being renovated in the 1970s and ‘80s, our children enjoyed an outstanding teaching staff and the education they received prepared them very well for college.
Over the years Arlington has faced many steep financial challenges. Despite the odds we have made consistent progress. Five years ago we said “Yes for Arlington” in an important tax override. That was the right choice because the town is run efficiently, money is well spent and additional funding was crucial to maintain services. Now, with school enrollment spiking as many new families move into the town, we are once again facing a big challenge. We welcome these new families and we will work with them to expand and improve our high school, middle school and at the regional vocational school as well.
It is important for the future of all of our citizens that we maintain the high standards that we have set and achieved in the past. Education is one of the key elements necessary to maintain our quality of life and education requires adequate facilities. On June 14th there is a referendum to authorize debt exclusions to finance these necessary school projects. We must make the right choice once again by voting yes to all three debt exclusions on June 14th.
— Mary and John Deyst
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When the selectmen voted to place a debt exclusion on the ballot for June 14, they recognized the urgency of our needs to meet the needs for adequate facilities for Arlington's public schools.
Our needs are urgent. Specifically, the fate of our third graders will be decided at the ballot in June. We need a positive vote on this debt exclusion if we have any hope to have additional classrooms for them when they reach the fifth grade in 2018.
The Ottoson Middle School is currently one of the largest middle schools in the state, with 1,127 students (October 1, 2015) in a building that was designed for less than 1000 students. Students are now squeezed into a building that is perched on a very small, steeply sloped lot. It will only get worse.
- In June, the 336 members of the graduating class of 2016 (current eighth graders) will depart Ottoson. The Class of 2016 will be replaced in September by the Class of 2020 (current fifth graders), which currently has 459 students.
- In 2017, the class of 2021 (382 students) would be replaced by the class of 2024 (471 students).
- In 2018, the class of 2022 (409 students) would be replaced by the class of 2025 (456 students).
Even if we stack modular classrooms in the parking lot, we have a site and common areas (cafeteria, gym, library, corridors, offices) designed to meet the needs of no more than 1,000 students. The debt exclusion will allow us to fund an expansion that will meet the needs of our third graders in 2018.
The debt exclusion will also fund the design phase for a new Arlington High School. The current school is held together with duct tape, and we risk losing accreditation if we don't make significant improvements to the facility. The Massachusetts School Building Authority will fund a significant portion of this project, but we need to secure funding for the first step in the rebuilding process.
The debt exclusion will also cover our assessed costs if the Minuteman regional vocational school is rebuilt, which is projected to occur in the next two years.
It is important to note that a debt exclusion is a fiscally responsible path to funding these projects, as the town's levy limit is raised to permit the funding of these projects, and the taxing authority ends as we pay for the projects. If we fail to pass a debt exclusion, the cost of Minuteman will either force a reduction of town services or a permanent Proposition 21Z2 override in order to pay our assessment.
Approving this debt exclusion in June is essential, if we are going to provide adequate classrooms for Arlington students, and maintain town services, in a fiscally responsible manner.
— Paul Schlictman, School Committee
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My two sons are fortunate to go to Thompson Elementary and we have grown to love this school with its smart, dedicated and nurturing teachers and administration. Two years ago I helped start the Arlington EATS program, which provides food for Arlington students (and their families) who are in need. Through my daily work with the program, I get to see just how generous and supportive our Arlington-wide community is. I know that others feel the same way about the schools in Arlington, and because of it, others want to move here and none of us want to leave! This is wonderful, but it’s also causing serious enrollment issues.
At Thompson, we are particularly squeezed. Our two fifth grade classes have 29 and 30 students in them because there were no extra rooms to create a third section. When this fifth grade graduates, it will be replaced by at least four sections of incoming kindergarteners. Town Meeting approved two modular units for the fall, which will help for a year. But unless an addition is built at Thompson, we will once again be two or more classrooms short the following year. This means that the school will need to further condense classes to accommodate these additional students. They will also probably need to turn the art room and possibly other specialist areas into classrooms.
The school's common areas were not designed to support this many kids. Many of our classes have doubled-up gym classes. My kindergartener currently eats lunch at 10:40 because the cafeteria can't accommodate all kids at a normal lunch time.
If the debt exclusion does not pass, what will happen at Thompson when we add an estimated 75 more students to the community over the next few years? How will this impact the quality of education we can provide our kids? Will we be able to attract and retain talented teachers? What will this mean for our most vulnerable students, including many I’ve gotten to know through the EATS program?
Now is the time to look forward and focus on our current situation and address the lack of classroom space for our students. I’m grateful that our town government undertook a deliberative and well-reasoned process to deal with these issues and I urge the community to vote YES for all of the questions on the Debt Exclusion ballot on June 14th.
— Lauren Ledger
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On June 14 Arlington residents will be asked to invest in the future of Arlington’s public schools at every level: elementary, middle, high and vocational. Enrollment in Arlington’s public schools has surged in the past five years and is expected to continue to rise as more families choose Arlington, as my husband and I did. As a mother of four children, three of whom are at Stratton, I have watched with great interest as our town leadership has carefully deliberated over the last year on the most appropriate, cost effective and educationally sound solutions to the enrollment surge at all school levels.
Arlington is a town that has consistently and generously invested in public education and in school facilities. My children are watching with amazement and pride as the Stratton renovation project gears up and they look forward to moving into the newly renovated school in the fall of 2017. With the elementary rebuild program complete with Stratton, we must now address our schools that are experiencing the most unsustainable growth.
Ottoson Middle School is already overcrowded and needs additional classroom space as well as more common spaces to serve its growing population. Bringing the Gibbs School back online as a middle school in some configuration is the most educationally appropriate and fiscally responsible solution. Renovating Gibbs School also has strong support from middle school administration and faculty as well as parents. Thompson Elementary School has experienced significant growth since opening in 2013 and it currently does not have sufficient classroom space. A permanent classroom addition will allow Thompson to continue to serve its diverse and growing population.
Our two high schools, the in-town Arlington High School and the regional Minuteman Regional Technical Vocational School both need significant investment and are both in danger of losing their accreditation solely because their facilities need major capital improvements. This vote will fund the initial planning phase of rebuilding AHS, which we will be able to do with the help of the Massachusetts School Building Authority. In addition, it will set aside money for capital investment at Minuteman, protecting Arlington’s operating budget and securing the future for vocational education in Arlington.
Please join me and my family in securing and building Arlington’s future with excellent and appropriately sized facilities for our teachers and students by voting yes on every question on June 14.
— Jane Morgan
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Everything old is new again. Our town’s population is growing, and we must rise to the challenge.
In the twentieth century, Arlington experienced steep growth as our young men returned home from wars abroad and we saw an outflow of people from the cities. Families seeking the comfort and safety of the suburbs and a good place to raise their children built many of the institutions that make Arlington great, including our schools.
If you value the neighborhood schools that endure today, thank the Greatest Generation and their progeny.
Today, Arlington is experiencing another Renaissance. Like much of America, we are seeing a new trend toward urban living and walkable, livable communities. For many families, Arlington fits the bill.
With high-performing schools, easily accessible public transportation and highways, a burgeoning cultural scene, and recreational amenities, competition for homes has gone through the roof. With this development has come pressure on our classrooms and other school facilities.
In the decade of the 1920s, Arlington’s population doubled from 18,000 to 36,000, and the Town decided to build a junior high school in East Arlington. The Junior High School East remained in service as the town grew to over 53,000 people in 1970, which growth necessitated an addition to the structure that is now known as the Gibbs. The building housed our students until 1989, when a rapid population decline rendered it -- and other neighborhood schools -- unneeded.
Following Arlington’s downturn, former public school buildings were sold off for housing and other private uses or transferred permanently to other Town departments.
The story of the Gibbs School is different. For 27 years, the School Committee has periodically declared Gibbs to be temporary surplus space, correctly anticipating that it might one day need to be called back into service. As a former member of the School Committee, I voted for one of those declarations of surplus. During this time, the facility was used by a number of valued public and private providers of educational, recreational, cultural and human services.
Alas! Times have changed.
Enrollment in Arlington Public Schools has increased by 17% in the past decade. A demographic study commissioned by the School Committee last year projects growth of nearly 800 for the next ten years, for a cumulative increase of more than 30% from 2005 levels.
Numbers like these are not sustainable within our current school buildings.
In response to these dire predictions, a task force of Town and School leaders was quickly convened to look at options and chart a course forward. The School Enrollment Task Force and the School Committee conducted public input sessions and considered financial, educational, structural and community concerns.
Two enrollment-related initiatives gained support: expansion of the Thompson Elementary School and reclamation and renovation of the Gibbs School for relief of middle school pressure.
Neither of these decisions was taken lightly.
There is widespread support for organizations like the Arlington Center for the Arts (ACA) that currently lease the Gibbs building. My own children have displayed art at ACA’s Images of Arlington exhibit, and I have worked closely with leadership of the organization on many initiatives.
It will be important for members of our community to rally together around the ACA as they seek new space and strive to remain viable. Work has already begun to help the organization identify other public and private space and potentially to find new, creative ways to cooperate with our schools. Parent leaders and others have publicly pledged to support the ACA as they fundraise to ensure continued survival.
While voting to displace valued community partners is difficult, most Task Force members could not in good conscience support a building plan that would increase the cost of the debt exclusion and make the Ottoson the largest middle school in the state, complicating an already labyrinthine structure, exacerbating area parking and traffic problems, and reducing future flexibility.
School leaders presented evidence supporting the Gibbs option as educationally superior and will consider an educational program this week.
Arlington is fortunate. Just as we plan for our financial future, we have left paths open to meet our enrollment challenges. The newly rebuilt Thompson School was designed to allow expansion, and the Gibbs School was kept in the mix for a day when we might need it.
That day has come.
On June 14th, Arlington voters will be asked to continue the legacy of strong support for public education that has been handed down to us by past generations by: funding the expansion of the Thompson Elementary School and the renovation of the Gibbs School; and advancing rebuild projects at Arlington and Minuteman High Schools to preserve accreditation there and bring the buildings into the 21st century.
Please join me in voting YES on all three ballot questions to Build Arlington’s Future.
— Joseph Curro, Board of Selectman
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Five years ago, Cindy Starks and I ran the “Yes for Arlington” campaign. The voters of Arlington decided to vote yes for the Override that was needed to balance our town and school budgets. That vote was supposed to last three years, but will probably last another five years. This decade long period is made possible by many factors, most importantly, the decision of the Town’s employees to go into the State’s GIC, and the excellent financial management of the Town.
Now with the influx of new families who have bought up the condos and houses at a record pace in these five years, we are faced with a problem. We have outgrown our school facilities. Our own baby boom has meant that the newly renovated Hardy and Thompson Schools are too small and children sit in classrooms of 30 children. The Ottoson Middle School is bursting at the seams. Now, it appears that we will be reopening the Gibbs School again to handle some of the Middle School children. We have known for a decade that our High School need to be renovated, and now we have been accepted into the State’s MSBA program to bring that School up to code. And with a stroke of bad timing, our other High School Minuteman Vocational School also badly needs to be either renovated or rebuilt at the same time.
While this need to rebuild is acute right now, it is important to the future of the Town and to the future of our young Arlington families to vote yes on the Debt Exclusion that will be on the ballot on June 14th. My children are in the 30s now, but, on this Mother’s Day, I remember how welcoming the Bishop School was to them both. We welcome this new baby boom, and I hope other older parents will join me in voting yes for the debt exclusion.
— Clarissa Rowe
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On June 14, Arlington will vote on a debt exclusion that focuses exclusively on funding infrastructure improvements in our schools at all levels: elementary, middle school, and high school. Though Arlington schools have been amazingly successful over the past 20 years, the challenges of increasing overcrowding and declining facility conditions are quickly becoming barriers to a quality education. The debt exclusion vote will address these barriers, and I hope you will join me in voting YES.
By supporting the debt exclusion, we enable solutions to overcrowding at our elementary and middle schools. Infrastructure projects at Thompson and Gibbs will give our students access to right-size classes and classrooms, and to facilities that provide adequate cafeteria, gymnasium, and support spaces. By supporting the debt exclusion, our present and future high school students will be able to graduate from a state accredited high school, currently in question due to facility conditions. If the June 14 debt exclusion is passed, our town will have the opportunity to offset the taxpayers’ cost of high school construction with MSBA funding, an injection of tens of millions of dollars into the cost of the project.
By supporting the debt exclusion, Arlington demonstrates to our students that their education is a collective priority. And in keeping education a funding priority, we reinforce an important foundation of our housing market. The quality of our schools is one of many assets that make Arlington an attractive place to live. By voting in favor of these school projects, we invest in the desirability of our town and in turn the value of our own homes.
As an Arlington resident of 17 years and a town meeting member serving Precinct 20, I’m firmly in favor of the debt exclusion vote to fund our school buildings because in its impact, this vote is equally an investment in our Arlington students and in our collective property values. Please join me in voting YES.
— Kate Loosian
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