We'd better take a closer look at Groton's Phase II proposal
History tells us that Groton has not been a good steward of its school buildings. Examples include Eastern Point, Groton Heights, Pleasant Valley and Claude Chester schools. Left in disrepair, the town and Board of Education do not have good track records.
Meanwhile, taxes have increased. Board of Education budgets are unsustainable and the Phase II proposal exacerbates the problem.
With bonding on top of bonding, Phase II raises taxes for many years to come. Proponents claim that state reimbursement is currently available, giving the impression that the plan must be passed now. Manipulation, maneuvering, coercion and even threatening that a vote must occur now is just wrong - voters beware. Flawed thinking of judged "sustainability" by School Superintendent Paul Kadri is subject to question. There are alternatives, the town must find them.
Timing is a factor. The Taxpayers for Groton Schools II PAC, superintendent and some school board members contradict themselves when they say, "States around the country provide school construction subsidies because the cost would be too much to bear if a municipality had to cover the entire cost. If there were no subsidies, then public education would deteriorate and that would hurt the state in the long run. Subsidy rates are calculated on a sliding scale based on the poverty level of the community."
Scaring the public into thinking that we will never be able to obtain money from the state except now is misleading, divisive and a disservice to the taxpayers.
New buildings can help to educate students but do not guarantee excellence. Existing problems with curriculum may not go away. Older buildings sometimes last longer than new ones. Efficiency, like geothermal, can be implemented in existing buildings and Mr. Kadri can get rid of his Butler boiler.
The Phase II plan proposes closing two valuable neighborhood middle schools - West Side and Cutler. Conversion of these to early childhood education centers is not state mandated, is unnecessary and is a luxury. The town cannot afford it.
The proposed site of a new middle school - at the current Claude Chester School - would locate it at the busy Poquonnock Road/Route 117 intersection. Traffic already backs up for miles there when accidents occur on Interstate 95. And it is in the flight path to Groton-New London Airport and crashes have occurred nearby in the past. A two-story building is not a good idea at that location. And adjacent open space should not be used as access for this site and could be illegal.
How can we trust the gatekeepers?
Also, million-dollar estimates for architectural plans are absurd. Our new schools already have architectural and structural problems, so who can trust the gatekeepers?
The current West Side Middle School is a model to use. A neighborhood school, it offers many benefits.
And this concept of bonding on top of bonding puts the town at risk. This proposal puts the town at 32 percent of the state limit of 50 percent on bonding.
This could prove a mistake in future years when other projects may be necessary. Tax and mill rates will peak from 2012 to 2017. Just for the Phase II proposal, the tax increase on a house assessed at $165,410 would be $236. With the rebuild on Thames Street added in, that number will climb to $260 for the same property.
A home assessed at $330,820 would be levied $521.
The Phase II plan is unacceptable from a monetary, practical and realistic standpoint. It will place undue hardship on Groton's elderly, unemployed, businesses, lower wage earners, and taxpayers. And the students that supporters want to educate may not be able to afford to live in Groton in future years.
The Friends for Affordable Education urges a no vote on Question 2, Phase II bonding at the referendum on May 2.
Andrew Parrella is chairman of Friends for Affordable Education PAC. He is a former member of the Groton City Council and the Representative Town Meeting.
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