This letter is in response to recent comments made by Shirley Board of Selectman member Andy Deveau to Nashoba Publishing in an article titled "District's message: ASRHS project is key" in the Sept. 7 edition.
To say the least, I am extremely offended and angered by Mr. Deveau questioning the integrity and honesty of the School Committee, Building Committee, and Superintendent Carl Mock.
First, there is no "secret" contingency plan should the high school project vote fail. Failure is not an option. Failure means a continued increase in choice- and charter-out costs, which can only be absorbed in the school budget by cutting the current program or by asking the towns for more money in assessments. Neither is acceptable. Failure keeps us on a path towards a loss of the high school's accreditation. To opine we have some secret plan B not only questions our honesty and integrity, but it also insinuates the School Committee has been violating open meeting law by having closed-door discussions on this matter. I can assure Mr. Deveau and the public we have not, and I am offended that I even have to take the time to address this baseless accusation.
Second, the approximately $56 million total project cost is not Mr. Mock's number. It is not the Building Committee's number. And it is not the School Committee's number. It was derived by our hired professional architect and construction manager and was recently preliminarily approved by the MSBA. This is what the feasibility study paid for. That number and those that derive from it (MSBA reimbursement amount of 70 percent and the remaining Ayer and Shirley responsibilities) ARE the numbers. If Mr. Deveau believes MSBA will let us waiver from what they approve, he should get familiar with the current situation at Concord-Carlisle.
Third, Mr. Deveau apparently believes there is some magic wand to be waved that will tell us how much it will cost to fix our elementary schools. Those buildings will also require feasibility studies to determine accurate costs. Those studies are unlikely to be brought forth by the School Committee for voter approval until Shirley and Ayer pay down some of its more significant debts, such as the middle school and the Ayer fire station. In the interim, some maintenance will be required, but if the high school project is approved, choice- and charter-outs stabilize or reduce, and choice-in increases (studies suggest all are likely scenarios), there should be money in the school budget to handle the required interim maintenance.
Finally, I'm not going to rehash the history of school regionalization to correct Mr. Deveau's multiple misstatements. I'll only say that this has never been about Lura White or MCAS scores. This was a middle high school feasibility study and we need to address the high school because of the cost of losing students to other districts and 21st century curriculum and job-skill requirements.
The current building was built in 1962, before PCs, the Internet, wireless technology, modern scientific equipment and so forth existed. The problem is we cannot adequately teach a 21st century curriculum in a 1960s building. The jobs of the future will depend on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills we simply cannot teach sufficiently in that building, meaning we are failing our children and our community. As far as MCAS scores, our high school was one of only 16 percent of the high schools in the state to make its No Child Left Behind adequate yearly progress targets. These targets are based on improvement in MCAS scores. High school MCAS scores are not the issue, so his Boston Herald article reference is irrelevant.
If Mr. Deveau had actually attended any School Committee meetings (one per month in Shirley), Building Committee meetings (held in Shirley), the most recent Building Committee public forum in August (held in Shirley), or either of the public forums on the middle-school debt proposal (one of two held in Shirley), then he could make his comments and voice his opinions from an informed position. But he is not informed and chooses to be uninformed. As one of the several online commenters posted, if Mr. Deveau is against the project, he should just say so. Making things up and casting aspersions is unproductive and insulting.
The facts are we must do something with the high school, and it will never be cheaper than doing it now. The amount of state reimbursement will never be greater. Construction costs will never be lower. The time is now.
Ayer Shirley Regional School Committee