Submitted to the Amherst Bulletin March 13, 2017
The upcoming referendum on whether or not to build a new $67 million elementary school may well be the most controversial referendum in Amherst’s history.
Supporters of the project worry that children will continue to languish in substandard buildings if the project is again voted down, and that available state monies will be forever lost. Opponents worry about adopting a seemingly untested model of grade reconfiguration, whether or not the new plan to achieve equity will actually work, and the potential of creating another type of inequity for taxpayers who cannot afford the subsequent increase in property taxes (we need to remember that even with state monies, the town will be responsible for an additional $22 million in interest payments over the life of the bond, and that the town is planning other capital projects that will raise taxes even more).
As shown by the numbers in both the fall election and now two Town Meeting votes, the town is evenly and deeply divided. Emotions are high, positions have solidified, and it is difficult, if not impossible, for opposing sides to really listen to each other. Real and viable alternatives that might provide us with what both sides ultimately want – better school facilities – cannot be considered or even seen objectively in such an atmosphere.
This is why I will again vote NO on March 28. This is an expensive, controversial project that has pitted neighbors and friends against each other, that has failed to win widespread town support, and that may well force residents from their homes because they can no longer afford their taxes or their rent. To proceed with this plan because it seems that there is no other way is folly.
Both sides want the same thing. There are other ways to move forward and achieve what we all want. We need to stop, step back, and find them. Otherwise, proceeding with a project that divides residents into winners and losers will cut the fabric of our community, and ultimately we will all lose if that happens.
67 North Whitney Street, #1
Amherst, MA 01002