What Vote Helps The Thompson School in the 2009 Election?
On Saturday, April 4, the Town of Arlington will hold an election for, among other things, two school committee members. There are three candidates vying for two seats: Cindy Starks, Jeff Thielman and Joe Tully. In a debate held on Thursday, March 26th, they each answered a three-part question on the Thompson Elementary School. While I won’t endorse any particular candidate, I have transcribed both the question and the answers given by all three candidates on this issue.
Please comment on the current condition of the Thompson School, the status of the planned renovations and how these renovations will impact the budget.
I was fortunate enough to go through the Thompson School when representative Brownsberger was here and I have to say that it is in a state of sad disrepair. The wonderful thing about the Thompson School is that the community there, I have to say, just shines beyond belief. They are such a warm and welcoming group of parents and teachers and that the education that goes on there you just, you know, your heart goes out. And when you see the school, all my thought was, my gosh, they so deserve a beautiful school to give them the outside of what the inside of the school is. It is just a warm and wonderful community. I am 100% behind whatever we can do to make sure that that renovation goes forward. I was fortunate to attend the SBA meeting this week in Boston and was elated to have the news that we have moved on in the process there. And I will continue to support the Thompson in any way I can whether it’s showing up at meetings or speaking out for them. They, as someone else so aptly put it before me, they are truly heros for having waited. I know that it’s been a long time and it is certainly time for them. As far as the impact on the budget goes, I think that we obviously need to decide. If this is something that we committed to, which we did, I understand that money being what it is, you know, that we ended up using more for some of the other schools. But we also heard at the SBA meeting that now is the time to build. Budgets for new schools are coming in way less than expected and there are lots of ways to save even more money if we build sooner rather than later
If I understood the first two questions, the first two parts, it was what’s the state it’s in and what’s the status of the – it moving through the system?
Moderator: Right, the current condition and the status of the planned renovations.
You know, I’m not going to tell you anything that you don’t already know about, about the condition that it’s in. We’ve been talking about these two schools for years. We’ve been talking about the need to rebuild them. I had a conversation with one of the parents the other night and she was telling me stories about asbestos in the premises. I mean, dangerous, overhead, ceiling and roof situations. I mean, frankly, it’s a crime that some kids have to go to school in that environment. As far as the status, it’s more or less up to the state than the town of Arlington as to how complete we move through the system for any potential reimbursement, but certainly we’re going to pay a part of the cost ourselves. I had been telling, rebuilding the two remaining schools for an awfully long time. Now, I know you can’t just sit up here and say, you know, bang a shoe on the table and say we have to rebuild these schools without having a plan for it. I understand the budget constraints that we’re under. But I’ve also proposed building the rebuild into our next five-year plan. We’re rapidly approaching the end of our first five-year plan and we have to have another five-year plan or a ten-year plan or a twenty-year plan, or whatever it is. And I think we can maybe factor in a means to rebuild at least the Thompson School and then we’ll start to worry about how we’re going to rebuild Stratton. I do think that now is the time to build. What Cindy heard is absolutely the case. Not only do construction costs tend to go up over time, which is why we ran over budget with the first two schools, of the last four, but there are people looking for work in the construction industry. There’s people, you know, the costs of construction are low now. We don’t — it’s the old adage of buy low, sell high – like in the stock market. If you don’t build while the costs are low then, then you’re squandering money.
For the past six years I’ve liked visiting and spending time in all seven elementary schools, but I always have a special place in my heart for the Thompson Elementary School. 33, 34% of the students in that school are on the federal free or reduced lunch program. It’s the most diverse school in our district. It has a wide range of students from all over the world in that, in that school. I think young people there receive a wonderful education. It’s a Compass school – a few years ago it was named a Compass school, so it’s a, it’s a fine school. Every year they have a wonderful science fair and I take my young son to that fair and he has a great time. They just do a great job. So it is a wonderful community. The issue is equity. Really it’s an equity issue, and if you go to the other schools — if you go to the Dallin or some of the newer schools — they have first class facilities. And then you go to the Thompson School which is where the lowest income young people in our community live and they don’t, they don’t have the same facility. So it’s a fairness issue. I think most people in the community want to see the Thompson rebuilt and they want to see the Thompson get what it deserves. I attended the meeting that Cindy and other elected officials and representative Will Brownsberger a few weeks ago — got more information about the process. I attended the MSBA meeting on Wednesday morning. I spent a couple hours there and watched the meeting take place with Treasurer Cahill and other folks. And I was pleased when they voted to authorize the feasibility study of the Thompson School. I think what the School Committee and the public need to do is to continue to push along with the MSBA process. It’s a good process. We will get to the end of the job at some point with the state and when we get to that point we’ll know how much money we’re going to receive from the state to rebuild the Thompson and how much money we have to, have to raise locally.
Note: Cindy Starks and Jeff Thielman both referred to the MSBA Board meeting I reported on recently. Cindy called it the SBA meeting while Jeff called it the MSBA meeting.