by Ann Needle
Those hoping for a new regional agreement for Minuteman High School this year will have to wait. But there is a movement to try to make the proposed agreement more acceptable to some of the vocational school’s 16 member towns.
Though supporters of the proposed new agreement were hoping the document would get the unanimous vote it needs to be passed this year, that won’t happen. At its May town meeting, Minuteman member Wayland voted it down, while another four towns passed it over (Stow voted it in). By passing on a vote, for whatever reason, those towns still will need to vote on it in some form later on, according to Minuteman School Committee Chair Alice DeLuca of Stow.
DeLuca noted that, in a separate move, Wayland also voted to leave the Minuteman district. However, under the current agreement, Wayland cannot leave Minuteman unless voters in all other member approve the move. If Wayland is allowed to drop out, it still must pay any debt incurred during membership. If the town does not receive the unanimous vote required to leave, then it stays — and remains responsible for its portion of all district debt.
The proposed agreement would make this process easier and more financially attractive. It calls for members being allowed to leave, unless a majority of other member towns disapprove the move within 60 days of the town’s announcement of its intent to exit. Whether the town stays or leaves, it would not be responsible for any debt it did not vote in.
Eliminating this all-or-nothing approach to voting is one key to what DeLuca termed a “sustainable” Minuteman district, with costs fairly divided among members. Another key would be giving more voting power to members sending more students to Minuteman, she said. For example, one of the agreement changes would calculate a member’s share of annual operating and capital costs on a four-year rolling average of its Minuteman enrollment, rather than just the current year’s enrollment.
For Stow overall, DeLuca concluded, the changes would be slightly positive, given the town sends enough students to the school to make weighted voting a plus. However, towns with fewer students at Minuteman — Wayland included — have the most to lose under the proposal. If these smaller towns vote for the agreement, DeLuca remarked, “All they would have done is given up their one vote.”
The stake in all of this is a much-needed building renovation, priced at $41 million to $112 million. Most importantly, a new agreement would not call for a “yes” vote from every member for the project to be approved. A new agreement also could provide towns unable or unwilling to help absorb those costs with a graceful exit, while making joining Minuteman more attractive for communities that shied from the unanimous spending votes currently called for.
The Needham Move
In trying to help win the backing of Minuteman members with fewer students at the school, another plan has been circulating among the towns, with some success.
According to DeLuca, her interpretation of the Needham Agreement is that, within a year of the proposed regional agreement going into effect, any Minuteman town that also adopted the Needham Resolution would agree not to try and disapprove the requested withdrawal of any other member.
Save for the member town the Resolution sprung from, DeLuca said the origins of the proposal are rather nebulous. “From what I know, it’s a non-binding resolution, and it’s very time-limited,” though selectmen in Arlington, Bolton, Boxborough, Concord, Dover, Lancaster, Needham, and Weston have voted to back it, she said. DeLuca added that she has not heard of any plans to introduce it to Stow’s Board of Selectmen.
For a complete look at the proposed changes to Minuteman’s regional agreement, go to http://minuteman.org/superintendent/regional-agreement-ratf-raas.