Our Opinion: Blocking WRHS would hurt district
It doesn't necessarily take the filing and winning of a lawsuit to delay or even end a public project. The threat of a lawsuit can be enough to cause the financial pillars of such a project to shake. That is what is happening in the towns of the Central Berkshire Regional School District and it's a shame.
Hinsdale's Select Board has retained a law firm for a possible legal challenge to the April vote in which taxpayers in the seven-town district approved a new $72 million regional high school. That lawsuit, and the opposition to the project of town officials in Windsor, Cummington and Peru, where voters rejected the new school, have jeopardized a potential bond sale to finance the project. A delay could push back the start of construction, its proposed September, 2021 opening, and even jeopardize the building of the new school altogether. (Eagle, July 18).
The school was approved by an 88-vote margin with the 274-vote margin in Dalton, the largest town in the district, carrying the day. The four towns in opposition argue that a previous system in which all seven towns had to approve the project should have been used. It's amazing that anything ever got done in the CBRSD under a system in which one or two towns could block a worthy project. Minority rule isn't fair and is a recipe for paralysis. Hinsdale also claims that the district failed to meet a deadline in providing final ballot language to the towns before the vote. It was no secret what the ballot would say and Hinsdale appears to be seeking to trip up the project on a technicality.
Voters in the four opposing towns must ask themselves if they want to spend their tax money to sue the district they are members of. A similar suit brought earlier this year by the town of Yarmouth against Dennis, the other community in the two-town school district, over the narrow approval of funding for a new middle school was dismissed last month by a Barnstable Superior Court judge. With that recent precedent, a lawsuit against the CBRSD could end up being taxpayer money poorly spent.
Most of all, those voters and town officials must ask themselves if they really want to delay and squash construction of a new high school designed for the educational needs of the 21st century that will benefit their communities and their students for decades to come. The problems with the current decaying and antiquated high school buildings are undisputed. The taxpayers and officials who built that building did right by the district and it is time for the current generation to do the same.
Yarmouth and Dennis town officials are currently working to address the concerns of Yarmouth, and CBRSD Superintendent Laurie Casna and School Committee Chairwoman Barbara Craft Reuss have been and will continue to work with opponents of the project. But it is not clear what can be done. There isn't going to be another vote. The school building project process under the guidance of the School Building Committee was transparent. The Massachusetts School Building Authority has approved just under $32 million for the project, but won't wait forever to sign the check.
A couple of years from now, when this controversy has been forgotten, we hope that the high school students and their parents in the seven CBRSD towns will be enjoying the many benefits of a new high school. We hope member towns struggling with population loss will have begun to see people moving into a district that has proven its support for parents and students. If this isn't taking place, the CBRSD will come to regret squandering a great opportunity that may not come again soon or ever.
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