Saturday, May 8, 2010

Say Yes to LHS; Say Yes to our future

95 Cedar Road

Longmeadow, MA

01106 – 3241

(413) 567 - 6315

To the Editor:

I am writing to thank you for your excellent coverage of the new high school question in Longmeadow. I think that you have been fair to all sides.

However, I have become convinced that one side has the superior claim to our support because of their reliance on logic, science and due process. I support a Yes vote for the new high school project in Longmeadow.

The recommendation for building a new high school for Longmeadow was based on a serious examination of the existing building. The engineers and architects were asked to evaluate the existing building for a renovation or a rebuild. After going through the building in a careful and systematic manner, they presented a number of alternatives. The soundest recommendation was to build a new building with a partial renovation of part of the existing building. The recommendation was made on the basis of science, logic and transparent due process.

Any attempt to do a cheap renovation of $5million would not do the building or the town much good. There is simply too much wrong with the existing building to fix with a cheap renovation. We are talking about asbestos, lead paint, antiquated heating and ventilation, inadequate air conditioning, energy waste and related inefficiencies.

A number of the opponents of a new high school are people who served in Longmeadow’s Town government over the last few decades. While they were serving their watch, the school buildings of the town were deteriorating. (This is along with other public buildings and the roads and sidewalks of the town.) Where was their concern for renovation and maintenance when they were supposedly serving the public interest? It was non-existent. Instead we were given prideful boasts about how the taxes were kept low and over rides were avoided.

Any responsible public servant will honestly discuss the need for expenditures and revenues with the voters and not simply ignore the realities of municipal life and disregard the effects of time and New England weather on our physical infrastructure. Their miserly approach to local government is very much a part of the problems we face today.

The sensible solution to our current situation is to remember the past and work to shape the future. A YES vote for the Longmeadow High School project will do just that.


John J. Fitzgerald

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Don't just disagree, debate!

The ongoing controversy over the high school project is a difficult one for anyone who truly cares about the future of our whole town. The only way to turn this controversy into a productive debate about legitimate financial strategies is to actually have "debates" and to focus the arguments on the substantive question, which has nothing to do with the motives of the advocates or opponents.

It's time to put aside claims that our elected officials have irrational biases and to put forward the best financial arguments for and against the proposed investment in the town's largest capital asset, the high school.

The failure of the select board to debate and vote on the project was very unfortunate, but instead of beating them over the head with their mistake, we should encourage them to publicly explain their perspectives as soon as possible. Hopefully, the fact that I was in the room when that happened and didn't totally lose it is an indication that I'm making progress on my anger management.

The transparency of the project's development over the last year or more has been laudable and should not be abandoned at this late stage. Supporters of the project (like me) need to "try hard" to avoid attacking opponents for their use of rhetorical gimmicks, something that would be easier if the debate were open and fair, with clear rules and ample opportunity for both sides to rebut the claims of the other.

I hope every town resident will contact the elected officials and candidates on both sides of this issue and urge them to go public with their best "substantive" financial arguments, and to participate in as many well structured, open, and fair debates as possible.

This decision is way too important to allow our conflicting general political perspectives to confuse or distract even one single resident. On this point, I must admit, I have some culpability. Local government is government, not business, and ideology is definitely relevant, however, when local government's make financial decisions of this magnitude and moment partisan and ideological voting cues can do as much harm as good. This debate is not about "the schools" per se, it is about the pros and cons of making a capital investment in the biggest and most visible public asset in our town. Attitudes about education, or teacher pay, or the like, are not central to the question before us.

The advocates need to make the case that this investment will enrich and improve the whole town at a price that will never be this low again. Opponents need to explain why this investment would not add value to the town, and (in my opinion) they should also detail a viable alternative that will move our town forward and begin to tackle our serious capital deficiencies.

For my part, I will try to control my temper and to employ my expertise in public administration, budgeting, and finance, to explain to as many residents as I can why I believe that the project is key to the financial stability of the town. I have invited any and all opponents of the project to debate me on my LCTV show. That invitation stands. Open and fair debates have been suggested by a number of organizations in town. I strongly urge every candidate and activist on this issue to seek to participate in as many of these as possible.

One piece of evidence for my claim that this issue is not about left versus right, it seems to me, is the very strong support of Rob Aseltine for the project. Rob is a VERY conservative Republican who has clearly demonstrated his conservative political and economic bona fides. If you share a right of center political perspective that makes it difficult for you to trust a liberal on this issue, just go to Rob and have him explain why this investment is perfectly consistent with a conservative approach to public finance.

Jerold J. Duquette, M.P.A., Ph.D.