Concerns regarding school building project

All three of my kids went to the Douglas School. I was disgusted with its physical condition when my oldest started there in 2006. So, I’m not arguing that the building doesn’t need to be replaced. It does. But I have enough concerns about the process that got us to this point that I will be voting No on Article 1 at the December 10th Special Town Meeting. Here are my main concerns:

1. Why another twin school? Article 2, which seeks funds for a fire station in North Acton, acknowledges the significant growth in that part of town over the last several decades. Why would we not consider putting a school there, as well? A neighborhood school knits a community together, shortens bus rides for students and reduces transportation costs. And let’s face it -- our schools are more alike than different. We should be moving toward neighborhood schools, which would probably be better for kids and families than the current open enrollment system. A twin school in West Acton keeps all of our elementary schools on or just off the Rt 2/111 corridor.

2. Are K-6 schools really the best educational model? Junior high schools starting at grade seven seem to be an anachronism today. Anyone who’s walked their kindergartner into a school building as a group of 6th graders walked by probably shares my belief that 5-year-olds don’t belong in the same building as 12-year-olds. Our neighboring communities have realized this and made middle schools a component of their systems. As part of this planning process, a multi-phase project was considered that would’ve turned the RJ Grey into a middle school. However, an addition to that school would not qualify for MSBA reimbursement and would’ve added about 7 years to the timeline for replacing the dilapidated elementary schools. Obtaining MSBA funding was prioritized over designing the best SYSTEM to best serve our students for the next 50 years. What we have now is a plan that perpetuates an obsolete system.

3. Is this a good deal for Acton taxpayers? In 2014, Acton and Boxborough Town Meetings voted to fully regionalize the district. This was despite widespread concern that the assessment formula was a bad deal for Acton. (The $1 milllion transfer from Boxborough to Acton for the first several years acknowledged this fact.) Since then, many predictions have come to pass.

In 2014, the value of the average single family home (SFH) was nearly the same in both towns. In 2019, the average SFH in Boxborough is about $24K higher than in Acton. And while our property values have risen more slowly than Boxborough’s, our tax bills have increased at a higher rate. The funding for this project estimates a tax increase for Acton taxpayers $450 to $500 annually, but only $300 to $350/annually for Boxborough residents. It makes no sense that an Acton family should pay more than a Boxborough family for a school building in a regionalized district. (For those who argue that this is reasonable because the proposed new school building is in Acton, keep in mind that the breakdown would be the same if we were replacing or renovating the Blanchard School.)

This formula has been broken since its inception. One solution would be to create a district tax rate that would hit all homeowners in the region at the same rate, as is done in some other regionalized school districts. Currently, the taxes on an Acton home are 18% higher than on a similarly valued home in Boxborough. Does this sound right? It’s time to revisit the assessment formula to ensure both towns are paying their fair share of the current system before we take on tens of millions of dollars of debt.

It breaks my heart a little to vote No on this article, but I believe we should take the time to adopt a plan that is best for our children and our community, even if it means delaying this project.

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It's actually a triple school

Corinne, You raise some very interesting points. Some people are surprised to find out that what is being proposed as a twin school is a triple school. The 1st level of the school will be a preschool. So actually 3-year-olds will be in the same school as 12-year-olds. The total student population is projected to be 1100+ students in a 3 story building.