Minuteman Warrant Article…Jan. 13, 2016

By Ann Needle
When Stow gathers Feb. 1 at Hale Middle School for another Special Town Meeting, residents will vote on more than whether to approve the first major update of Minuteman High School’s regional agreement since it opened. This vote could also help decide whether the regional vocational high school can seek approval at a future TM for a major building project from its 16 member towns.

Long term, the amendments to the Lexington school’s regional agreement to be voted on were designed to make cost-sharing among member towns—and beyond— a bit fairer.

One amendment would lower the minimum number of pupils a member town’s capital costs are calculated on from 5 students to 1. With state law recently changed to allow vocational schools to assess capital costs to students from non-member towns, another amendment to the agreement also would allow Minuteman to accept, in most cases, only those out-of-district students whose tuition and other charges are at least equal to those for the average in-district student.

But one of the amendments is actually designed to allow some members to leave the Minuteman district, even though these towns have not been able to gather the unanimous vote of approval they need from other members to exit Minuteman. These towns are Boxborough, Carlisle, Dover, Lincoln, Sudbury, Wayland, and Weston. (Most recently, Stow was to vote at a Special TM in November on whether to allow Wayland to exit, but stayed the vote after hearing during TM that Lexington already voted down Wayland’s request, therby nullifying Stow’s vote.)

Just as important, so long as the towns on this exit list vote on or before March 1 to leave Minuteman, they would be off the hook for their share of capital costs involved in a planned $144 million rebuilding of the school.

The Minuteman School Committee unanimously approved the amended agreement at a Dec. 21 meeting, with selectmen from member towns backing the amendments.

As with other Minuteman communities, Stow has been urged to hold a Special TM on the amendments before March 1 so as not to jeopardize timely town approvals of state funding for its proposed building project.

Crucial Timing
For the amendments to pass, all 16 towns must vote for their adoption via majorty vote at their specials TMs. The way the vote is written, if Stow or any other Minuteman town (including those hoping to exit) do not approve the amendments, they do not pass.

Even if the amendments pass, that is not the end. For this “yes” vote to be valid, all 16 towns must, at later TMs, vote to approve the borrowing for the $144 million building project by a two-thirds majority. The towns that vote to exit also must approve the debt, though they would not be responsible for any costs.

As one Minuteman SC member pointed out, exiting towns—or any other Minuteman towns—could vote for the amendments but not hold a TM vote on the debt, which means the towns have tacitly accepted the borrowing, making the postiive amendment votes valid.

For those that do meet on the debt, should at least one Minuteman town not get the needed two-thirds majority at TM to approve the borrowing, there is another possibility—and that’s the reason behind why Minuteman towns have been asked to hold specials TMs so close to their regular spring gatherings.

Should the debt vote fail at TMs, the Minuteman SC could call for a special district-wide election, where residents would decide the question at the polls. In that case, the debt would only need a majority approval from voters across the towns.

Either way, Minuteman only has until June 30 to win members’ approval for the borrowing, or risk losing promised state funding of up to 45% for the project. In Minuteman SC discussions in December, it was agreed that asking towns to hold special TMs on the amendments was burdensome, but necessary, in order to keep all voting options open before June 30.

The Minuteman SC also expressed concern that the voting time lines come soon enough to allow some towns to take any debt vote at regular spring TMs. But Stow may need to hold yet another Special TM on the Minuteman debt anyway. If the Minuteman SC approves the project borrowing at its Feb. 23 meeting—as it might do—then district towns have 60 days to reject the debt, putting that voting deadline before Stow’s regular TM on May 2.