Dec. 3, 2014

By Nancy Arsenault
The Nashoba Regional School District will not be filing a Statement of Intent  with the Massachusetts School Building Authority in January. An SOI filing would have presented possible intentions of building a new high school for the District or a high school renovation/addition project.

Superintendent Michael Wood said, at a meeting of the Space Study Task Force on Nov. 20, that filing an SOI would merely allow the District to hold a place in a two-year waiting line for potential funding consideration from the MSBA.  “It’s like filling out an application,” he said.

Wood was hoping the Task Force would approve his application document for forwarding to the School Committee for their approval for January submission to the MSBA. The Space Study Task Force believed that the time frame remaining to ensure the SOI report accurately reflected the collective viewpoints of the Task Force, School Committee and District towns could not be ready in so short a timeframe.

While the SOI document prepared by the administration held valuable information about the history of the high school, and broad descriptions of some of the present needs, many members of the Task Force felt that specific data needed to quantify and prioritize those needs were not indicated.

Bob Czekanski of Bolton spoke out strongly against moving forward with the document. “This reflects the desires of the administration and employees and does not reflect the interests and concerns of non-employees.” He recommended that the entire 18-page document be scrapped and the efforts to collect and analyze data begin again from scratch.  His plan to go back to the starting line was rejected by the majority of the Task Force.

Mark Jones, a Task Force member from Stow, said, “The main concerns have not even reached the point of discussion or the finances involved with options. I want to see what the capacity of each classroom is and what space is left over.”

Stow Selectman Don Hawkes added, “We need to first gauge public opinion and support before deciding that a new high school is the answer. To submit this at this time is premature. We need to recognize the needs and get input from the community. The charge to this Task Force said this plan would be applied over a 10-year period. It’s been 12 months.  We also need to see multiple recommendations.”

Bolton’s Lorraine Romasco said, “There are significant needs at the high school. We need to do something to help things, but we don’t have the data to know what that help should be.”
Ramasco and Czekanski were particularly concerned that a series of questions they submitted to the administration in September, regarding an examination of issues at the high school, did not appear to have been answered in the document. Wood countered that while the responses they requested may not be singled out specifically in the text, they would most likely find the information within the multi-page narrative .

Czekanski also argued that the SOI document, as written, is skewed to arrive at the end conclusion of a new school. He was unsure if the administration is the right entity to even be driving the process, as their desire for a new school might influence the data gathered or examined.  Romasco added, “If this is truly supposed to be a committee document, then it should be written by the committee. This doesn’t feel like it’s my document. This is an administrative document that does not represent the Task Force.” Task Force member Heather LeBlanc reminded the group that when Wood asked for volunteers to compile the document, he did not get any. “85% of this is good useable stuff,” she said.

Czekanski stated that by submitting an SOI now, the Task Force members would have to be prepared to address voters about plans. “We do not have the data we need to probably go to Town Meetings in 2016. If we are not prepared to answer questions, this will get shot down. And we don’t get another chance to again bring it before Town Meeting for two years. We better be able to answer questions or defend sending this document,”  he said.

School Committee rep. Maureen Busch stated, “We need to push this schedule out a year. Once a project is in the pipeline (with the MSBA), there is no jumping off the train and this train could be going too fast for us. I am not ready to commit that we will be ready in the next two years.”

Following a decision not to send in an SOI for another year, the group reviewed some of the questions that Task Force members felt needed to be answered and put into the context of the actual school day experience of teachers and student.

Upcoming meetings are expected to offer information pertaining directly to the number of students who are unable to take the classes of their choice due to space constraints, the sections of certain classes that cannot be offered because of space issues, and how any of these issues affect the curriculum goals of the school.  Specific space assignments per classroom were also requested. Task Force Member Jodi Specht said that while the school strives to ensure each student gets 25 credits, some have to take two gyms to get those credits,  due to lack of classroom space to build a larger academic schedule.  The group agreed to also consider multiple solution options and involve the public in forums once more data is gathered.