As a member of the Board of Selectmen I thought it necessary to explain my justification for not supporting Article 1 at the Special Town Meeting. The request for $7.1 million for an athletic complex, in which Shirley would spend $2.8 million, seemed unreasonable for several reasons.
First and most concerning is that a ballot question held on Saturday, Oct. 6, 632 voters from our community sent a strong message in voting down this issue. I do not take this action lightly and felt my obligation was to listen to the voters.
Shortly after that vote the School Committee, in in an attempt to influence a more favorable outcome, announced that a donation of $500,000 was donated by the Norton family of Ayer towards the field project. The truth of the matter is that the amount of $500,000 was not a donation but a pledge to be delivered over a period of years and thus unable to reduce the present request of $7.1 million. While this donation would be well-received it is clear it would never have any affect on the amount of money proposed.
When Ayer voted to support this project, Shirley lost in the total vote tabulation. This approach under the regional school system contract falls under Mass. General Law Chapter 70, Section 16N, a state law allowing a combined vote between Shirley and Ayer to determine the outcome. This can and must be addressed with Mass. General Law Chapter 70, Section 16D, which will separate the votes between the towns, giving Shirley voters a fair chance in the decision-making process.
However, this total vote between Ayer and Shirley will not be the case when the manner in which Shirley approves or disapproves the vote on Dec. 11. If the community fails to support a Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion the project fails. That process approving an override is strictly up to the Shirley taxpayers.
I believe if the people of Shirley denied this expenditure, the School Committee should immediately move forward with a less-expensive athletic complex. This design by Jim Quinty deserves the attention it has not received in the past.
The School Committee noted at the Oct. 15 Special Town Meeting that the future plans to renovate the Page Hilltop School at a cost of $50 million needs to be addressed. The Lura A. White School would not be included in this project. The Department of Education may provide funding for this project but for only one building.
My issue at this time is a need for more transparency from the School Committee for the people of Shirley. To prevent future problems such as this issue I would respectfully ask the members of the School Committee to include Section 16D in the current negotiations with their fellow members from Ayer.
(Editor’s note: The Norton Family Foundation grant was announced on Oct. 4, two days before the referendum.)