A New Year for a New (Massive) School Override


By: Lawrence “Lonnie” Brennan – January, 2012

There’s a bridge in Haverhill, you all know it. Just as you get through the speed-trap zone in Groveland, you cross the river. The bridge is old, rusted and generally falling apart. Instead of properly maintaining the bridge, the state is simply building a new bridge alongside of it. The cost? Millions. Who cares? It’s 100 years old, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, in Georgetown, a 40-year old building called the Penn Brook School has been slated for demolition. Build a new one alongside it then tear it down. That’s right, it’s old (hey wait, my house was built 61 years ago…do I have to tear mine down?). But, that’s what ‘they’ want, and so, expect yet another override to pass to service a new multi-million bond.

Your cost? Well, it depends on who you ask. If you ask the override folks, last spring they told us the $1.2 million override that passed would cost a mere $300 per household in its first year (and then grow 2 ½ percent each year, but they failed to mention the future growth part of the equation). Then, six months later, the Georgetown Board of Assessors released the true numbers: $675 per household, on average (5-column headline in the weekly paper). Yup, the override folks were off by more than 100%. Guess we can’t trust their numbers, but then again, most of you reading this knew they had cooked the books.

Well, this time, the $40 million needed to build a new school will come with all kinds of add-on costs for new fields, mothballing or changing the use of the existing Perley School, and well, you can guess that down the road, that number will zoom just as the recent override number zoomed.

But, they tell us “the state” will pay 50% of the bill, so who cares. Let’s get a new school! Yippee! Yahoo!

Let me be the first to congratulate the school building committee and supporters on their ability to ensure passage of a new tax increase. If the past is any indication of the future, they will skew all numbers to minimize the anticipated impact on households. Then, they’ll maximize all numbers to defeat any attempts at adding additions or modernizing, or making any changes to the existing building (remember, it’s easier to let the bridge decay, and simply build new). Finally, they’ll vilify anyone who speaks up in opposition to the new building. After all, it’s for the kids, so if you don’t support a new school, you’re a hater.

If you look around at other communities, if you look around at enrollments, if you look around at the true needs and alternatives, you will be wasting your time. You see, they’ve been at this (various groups now) for more than 8 years. That’s a lot of water under that bridge, and a lot of time to let the current building miss many opportunities for repair, renovation, expansion, etc. (Just as you would put a new roof on your old house, and repair floors, boilers, and if you needed space for more kids, add on a couple of extra rooms.)

Well, I go back to congratulating them, because 57% of the voters stayed home last year. They didn’t bother to vote, and then, when they got their tax increase, they didn’t understand it. I suspect the same apathy will play out this time. So, for those few paying attention, please do not confuse my congratulatory attitude with one of defeatism, rather, I just don’t care. I have my one vote and I can’t vote to support wasteful spending, nor can I support increasing taxes on our older neighbors who are on social security and do not get 80% of their salary in retirement, the way our superintendent (80% of greater than her current annual earnings of $176K+ ) will have upon retirement. Count me as a no vote.

In the non-government world, our neighbors who worked for small businesses, large businesses, or anything other than Mass. Govt., simply can’t afford tax increases year after year, and there are few of us ‘in-the-middle’ of the age and income bracket who can help them anymore.

If those who advocate modest support for a phased school expansion/renovation program can’t get out the vote, or if they are hoodwinked again (believe the override numbers which were skewed to represent only half of the true cost), if they are discouraged from voting (the Supt. repeatedly called only the student households last spring, in a get-out-the-vote effort which has never been seen in this town before), then we get what the minority desires. Wants, desires, wants, needs. We’ve never been able to separate our wants from our needs in this town. Why should 2012 be any different?