Sunday Notes – Non-Binding Referendum – Taxes – MSBA advisory on 963 CMR

I’ve been pretty clear that based on the current finances here in the city and the UNKNOWN cost of busing and widening Rogers, Douglas and Village streets that I would prefer a new LHS downtown. However the vote didn’t go that way and now we have to hope the MSBA fully realizing the division in this city, kicks it back for Lowell to get on the same page.

Based on Lowell’s history, I would hate to see people bust their backs, pour in a lot of their time collecting signatures and then watch as NOTHING happens. I think a non-binding question on the site for the High School, though well intentioned is an exercise in futility or to put it bluntly a waste of time. We’ve been down this road to nowhere before.

Back in the 1990’s the City was troubled by the lack of change in representation (same people always get elected +/- 1 or 2) and there was a feeling that Lowell had outgrown the Plan E form of Gov’t. So in 1993 a group of very well intentioned citizens worked their tails off getting 4 non-binding ballot questions printed on the November City ballot. Over 16,000 voters turned out.

The questions and the results were as follows:

Keep Plan E (city manager) – 48% yes, 52% no Yes-8,234. No-8,779.

Adopt strong mayor government – 61% yes, 39% no ( Yes-10,441. No-6,760.)

Adopt district councilors instead of at-large – 43% yes, 57% no (Yes-6,841. No-9,213)

Term Limits for city councilors – 70% yes, 30% no. (Yes-11,946. No-5,093.)

None of the changes approved/supported by these non-binding questions were ever enacted. All the work that these people did to get the questions in the ballot and even after the voter supported many of them, nothing changed. One reason could have been that 6 new Councilor’s were elected that year, so many felt there was no need to do anything or the “New” Council didn’t want to be the ones to institute these changes, either way no one ever followed up on it.

Over the past few weeks it has become clear to me that the 5 Councilor’s and the Manager have ZERO intention of doing anything to change the location unless forced to by the MSBA. It’s clearly politics over what is best for the city.

Sadly I think this present and any new council would ignore the voters in the same way voters were ignored after the 1993 votes. The current 5 councilors ignored that most people with Educational experience supported leaving it downtown and ignored that most people throughout the city who spoke , want to keep it downtown. Having the question on the ballot, then watching the Council ignore the results , would just lead to more frustration and anger by people.

If the Cawley 5 don’t care about the majority now, what makes anyone think they would suddenly care after being re-elected?

Unless Council challengers want to work with the LHS Downtown group and make the location the focal point of the council race, working to get the required signatures and promising to lobby the MSBA to change the location and pledge not to vote for funding the Cawley site then the non binding question has no teeth.

My concern with doing that is that I’m not sure even if two of the original 5 Cawley supporters are replaced with downtown supporters that the MSBA would allow us to switch to the downtown site without starting over. It states that in their process

In the event that a school district fails to approve funding for a proposed project within the 120-day deadline, by no later than 10 business days following the failed vote, the school district must submit to the MSBA a plan that: (1) presents the vote results, (2)explains the school district’s understanding of the reason(s) for the failed vote, and (3)sets forth the school district’s plan to remedy the failed vote and a suggested timeline for such a remedy.

The MSBA will review the plan and determine whether it can continue to set aside MSBA funds for the proposed project. However,a failed local vote likely will result in the school district being required to submit a new Statement of Interest to the MSBA and await an invitation from the MSBA to enter the Eligibility Period phase of the MSBA’s process.

I’m not willing to take the chance that we have to start over, especially considering the current state of Lowell High and the anger and frustration that has been caused by the mismanagement of the process. At this point we have to trust the MSBA to do the right thing, knowing the split and divide on this Cawley location, the unanswered questions on exact cost of traffic mitigation and busing and the willful ignoring of the educational community that they kick the project back to the City until we can agree on something.


Until the MSBA kicks this back, which I still think there is hope for, we should begin to concentrate our efforts into making sure this City Council does everything required to explain the tax increases ahead. This is the tax increase BEFORE the cost to ease the traffic and fund the increase cost of busing is even considered.

Tell the taxpayers what the cost will be not only for the “Creative Engineering” the Manager says will magically fix the traffic to the Stadium but also inform the taxpayer what the tax increases will be for the citizens in the upcoming 5 years before the High School is scheduled to open.

The last indications was a minimum tax increase of 7.75% was needed for the High School option 5 at Cawley. Based on the information in this year’s budget and at the budget meeting we know that 1.5% = approx. $1,900,000. The 7.75% total eats up approx. $14,725,000 of our excess tax levy of approx. $16,000,000

Adding in field replication ($1.97M) and infrastructure ($3.85M)and it’s up to approx. 8%. Since there was a motion on the MSBA Agenda in May to vote on increasing the dollar value per square foot from $312 to $326 reimbursement (No Voting result is published on the MSBA Site so not sure that is actually happening) the price could drop some.

Before we even deal with the High School we need to look at what the next few years will cost the city taxpayer.

We know that the present school budget has a $250,000 deficit that the Manager claims he cannot fund at this time (yet no city councilor is concerned?) and that next year before increases in Health cost or utilities the school budget will go up $3,000,000 in salary expense. Many municipal contracts (police, fire, dpw workers) contracts expire in June of this 2018 Fiscal year and those will need to be addressed in the upcoming year(s).

The Citizens for Cawley School Committee candidates want to add busing to the present High School, that will cost approx. $1,400,000.

All that is before the cost of “creative engineering” and busing cost to the Cawley site are factored in for operational expense or the cost of building the High School is added in.

At a MIN.the City will need to raise property taxes just for the operational cost of the City and Schools 2.5% – 3% for the next few years since no one expects the Hamilton Canal to open fully before 2022 (and there will be many TIFFS involved).

This Council needs to be honest with the taxpayers and give them the worst case scenario along with a plan showing what the increases will mean year to year and when they will start.

963 CMR Versus Mass State Law Chapter 43 – Sections 33 and 34

Chapter 70B Section 5 – “statement of interest shall be approved by a vote of the applicable local government body or bodies as set forth and in a form prescribed by the authority (MSBA).”

Interesting that Gignac stated the MASC told him the City Council has authority when Chapt. 70 clearly shows it’s a local issue on who has the authority and when the MSBA Chief Legal Counsel directed me to Module 3 of the MSBA Feasibility study which clearly shows the same thing:


3.3.5 Local Actions and Approvals
Public participation and local approval procedures and practices may vary by community and by project.

This is what I received from the MSBA Legal Council Bold Mine

That process is explained, in detail, on the MSBA website under the heading “Building With Us” where you can find a copy of the MSBA’s Feasibility Study Guidelines (“Guidelines”) under Module 3, Feasibility Study. The Guidelines advise that a “Preliminary Design Program … must be reviewed and approved … in accordance with … local approval procedures and practices [and that] Districts are encouraged to consult with their local counsel to ensure that all applicable requirements are satisfied.” (See Guidelines at Paragraph 3.1.7, Local Actions and Approval).

Please let me know if you require further assistance.



Brian P. Kelley
Associate General Counsel
Massachusetts School Building Authority
40 Broad Street, Suite 500
Boston, MA 02109

Google MSBA building projects and see the different bodies in different communities running this process. Basically it comes down to each individual community which is Not what the city lawyer stated. The City Lawyer works for he City Manager and supports his agenda.

Lowell has NO set policy or procedures on file except for those granted under MA Law Plan E section 43. If you go by past practice it was the Supt. of Schools and School Committee who ran the last major building programs.(Not the Stokloska fiasco run by another State Rep. turned “Manager”)

The Supt. was so much the leader that he (former Supt. George Tsapatsaris) was hired as a consultant by the city to stay on after retiring to finish seeing the projects through.

I have taken exception to the ruling that the solicitor made basically saying that the School Building Authority Act replaces MA State Law Chapt 43 and sections 33 and 34.

“New provisions, in particular more specific provisions, prevail over the earlier provisions … In short, with the adoption of Chapter 70B, provisions of chapter 43 are subsumed by the more comprehensive legislative scheme set forth in 70B, and therefore are no longer applicable.”

Her actions seem to support the city council declaring an open school(Laura Lee) as being “surplus” even though it is being used for educational purposes and the School Committee has not voted to declare it surplus or no longer needed for educational use.

That sets up a scenario where if the City Manager and Council so desires, once a new school opens at Cawley they could declare the entire current High School including the Freshman Academy as surplus and sell it regardless of the needs of the school department.

Both the MSBA and the Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education have given me hope that I am on the right track defending the duties and responsibility of a School Committee with the responses I have received to my questions.

Unfortunately for the current High School Project, the current and the past School Committee seem to have been led to believe that it was entirely up to the City Council to decide and no one wanted to or felt the need to look into it to protect the duties and responsibilities of the office of School Committeeman.

Most people don’t have the time nor interest to dig deeply into things and if they are told something that gets them what they want (a new school) they tend to believe what is being told to them. I don’t blame them because they were apparently mislead and none of them wanted to rock the boat or look into it more. I just hope we have 1 member on the next committee who will challenge things and not follow along blindly.

It is in my view way to late for the current School Committee to have much of a voice in the building of a new LHS, they sat back, Mayor Kennedy included for most of this project and allowed the current Superintendent to sit back and not lead throughout most of the process and instead allowed the City Manager with a couple of Councilors to run the show. Moving forward hopefully the committee will contain at least 1 voice who will be willing to ask questions.

I believe that a School Committee member would have the responsibilities granted under MA Law Chapter 43 on school building use and location and I’ve been told that no court case exist that says MA Law Chapter 43 has been “subsumed” by the creation of the MSBA.

If the School Committee needs to hire its own lawyer to get a ruling on that, for the sake of educational needs in the future we should strongly consider it. I’m opposed to an us against them mentality but I am also opposed to sitting back and doing NOTHING as this current committee has done on numerous issues that erode little by little the responsibilities and duties of a School Committee member.

2 thoughts on “Sunday Notes – Non-Binding Referendum – Taxes – MSBA advisory on 963 CMR

  1. FYI: just because the majority of people that spoke at the CC meeting were Downtown supporters, that doesn’t mean the majority of the city’s voters want the high school DT. That would be like saying because there are 8,200+ people in the Cawley Facebook page and only 2,700+ members in the DT Facebook page, Cawley supporters out number DT supporters by more than 3 to 1. Hmmm…maybe.

  2. At some point we have to make a final final decision. I am not convinced a non-binding referendum provides “guidance”.

    At the same time, I would like to know what the costs would be to do nothing and just keep the current operation up to speed. The real issue isn’t the facility itself, but what various streams of education we are going to provide to meet the needs of all our students. That said, I am a Cawley supporter, but before that an advocate for two high schools.

    Regards — Cliff

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