The MSBA (Massachusetts School Building Authority) process for funding of school building projects requires that local approval be obtained by both local governance (to appropriate the full amount of money) and by the people of the town (to authorize a debt exclusion). In Amherst’s case, that means that Town Meeting must appropriate ~$67.3M (the most recent estimate of the Total Project Cost as of August 9, 2016) and Amherst voters must approve a ballot measure. On July 18, the Select Board voted to request that the state include such a measure on the November 8 ballot (the general election this fall) and indicated that it will likely schedule Town Meeting for later that month.
If either Town Meeting or the residents of Amherst do NOT vote in favor of the proposal, it fails. But what exactly does that mean? The MSBA provides an explanation of the protocol to be followed in the event of a failed vote (http://www.massschoolbuildings.org/sites/default/files/edit-contentfiles/Documents/Vote_Requirements/Policy_Statement_Re_Vote_Fail_EP.pdf).
But what is the actual history of failed votes in other districts? The school administration has implied that this would mean that the Town of Amherst would be giving up millions of dollars and would be unable to get back into the MSBA funding system for at least 10-15 years. We decided to fact check this assertion and asked the MSBA to provide us with data from all failed votes on their school building projects. Here’s what we found.
Twelve projects have been voted down by the public and/or Town Meeting. These towns have taken a variety of routes after a failed vote, with some choosing to exit the MSBA process entirely, and others simply holding repeat votes on the same project (half passed, and half failed again). Several (eight) of these towns sought and were granted extensions by the MSBA. Three towns decided to drop their original plan and reapply to the MSBA with a different or revised project. All three (Hopkinton, Granby, and Carver, MA) were accepted back into the MSBA process within 2-3 years. All three of those subsequent projects completed the second MSBA process and had successful outcomes, including winning local voter approval within 4 to 6 years of the original failed votes.
The evidence from the MSBA on prior failed votes shows that the dire warnings by the school administration that voting down this particular proposal condemns Amherst to decades of waiting for any other state funding is NOT true. We do NOT have to swallow an ill-conceived, expensive, radical restructuring of our elementary school system just to get something from the state. We can, and should, make the right choices for our town and our children with the proper input from and support of parents, educators, and the community at large.
Here’s the response from Dennis Ryan, General Counsel at the MSBA, with the information about the systems with failed votes.