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An interview with Town Meeting member William S. Brown on why he opposes the new Middle-High School project



Editor’s Note: For this week, we sat down with Precinct 6 Town Meeting member William S. Brown – one of just two Town Meeting members who voted against the new Middle-High School project during last week’s Special Town Meeting. (Eugene F. Decareau, a member from Precinct 8, was the other opponent. As a result of last week’s vote supporting the project, town residents who are registered voters will consider two articles related to the new school project in a Special Election set for June 20.)

Brown, 68, was born in Saugus, where he has lived most of his life. He is a 1967 graduate of Saugus High School. Brown is in the final year of his second consecutive two-year term on Town Meeting. He served three years on the 50-member body more than two decades ago. He is a retired machinist who worked at General Electric for 34 years. His wife, Cheryl, is also a Saugus native and Saugus High School graduate (Class of 1969). Their son, Alex, recently graduated from Salem State University after receiving his high school diploma from Essex Agricultural and Technical High School in Danvers.

Next week’s “The Advocate Asks” will feature an interview with a proponent of the new school project. The two articles that will be on the June 20 Special Election ballot: 1) Whether to finance the construction of a new grades 6-12 school building ($160.7 million) at the site of the current Saugus High School and 2) Improvements for Saugus Veterans Memorial Elementary School and the Belmonte Middle School ($25.4 million).

Some highlights of this week’s interview follow.

Q: Okay, Bill. Why do you oppose the school project – the two articles that are set for the June 20 Special Election in town? You were one of just two Town Meeting members who voted against it. Please explain your reasons why.

A: When I sit on Town Meeting, I look at what comes before me and decide: Am I for it? Am I against it? And then I look at all the reasons for it and against. And there were far more reasons to go against it than there were to vote for it.

Q: What are the major reasons to vote against it?

A: The first thing that I look at with this is, our school system is currently at a Level 3, which is about as low as you can go in the state for a state ranking of a school district. One step lower and the state would step in and probably take over our schools and we will lose accreditation. So, yes, something has to be done with our school system. I look at the current administration, and at the same time, they’re telling all of the citizens in this town, “You should vote for this school. We should spend millions and millions of dollars – $186 million for the school project.” At the same time they are saying that they are also offering up a budget … for the schools that is only a one and a half percent increase. A $400,000 increase over last year’s budget, in my opinion, is disgraceful. To fix a Level 3 problem that we have in this town, it’s going to take a commitment from everybody. And everybody is going to have to work together, as a new school alone will not raise us out of a Level 3. I don’t see that commitment when I see a $400,000 increase in the school budget.

Q: So, you’re saying the new school is inconsistent with the school budget vote?

A: Yes. I think that the administration – by the administration, I mean Finance Committee, School Committee, Town Manager and Board of Selectmen – they all should have been on top of this. A $400,000 increase for the school budget requires that the superintendent not replace teachers who retire, cut staff and close schools. That’s not the commitment that I want to see.

Q: Do you believe that the two articles will pass on June 20?

A: I believe this is going to be a really close vote in this election.

Q: Do you think they will pass?

A: I hope not. I hope people look at this for what it is. I hope they ask questions. I hope they come to the polls and vote, and that’s a problem, because there hasn’t been all that much publicity around this. I believe that whether it’s intentional or not, I think the information getting out about this election and the school project itself – it’s very scant. There should be a lot more out there.

Q: If the town approves this project, what’s the best that can happen?

A: What’s the best that can happen out of this? The best that can happen is we will probably rise from a Level 3 … maybe we get to Level 2. We’ll have a new school, obviously. We’ll have to see how it works out. I don’t know that this is going to be in the best interests of everybody in the town.

Q: What’s the worst that can happen?

A: Well, the worst that can happen is that the taxes could get outrageously high, the MSBA could be shut down by the state – and what happens to payments to the town if that happens? We’ll assume the whole burden of the cost of the school if that happens. And the worst thing, I think, would be that we don’t get out of Level 3 and this doesn’t do what everybody says it’s going to do. The bottom line: I want to see the kids in this town get a decent education. I just happen to disagree with how we go about it.

Q: If the town votes this project down, what’s the best alternative?

A: Well, that’s a problem because I don’t see that there is an alternative.

Q: They’re saying, like, they get up to 57 or 58 percent of the costs reimbursed by the state – the MSBA. At least that’s what is being presented by the administration. They have been working at this for about a year and a half now. If the town turns it down – they say you [Saugus] would go to the back of the line in funding eligibility by the state. So, what about that? That’s a lot to lose in state funding assistance.

A: You know, I’m kind of disappointed in this town and this project. We should have a backup plan. We have a 10-day period after the election if this doesn’t pass. I believe we have 10 days to resubmit a plan, and I don’t see any reason why there shouldn’t be a backup plan to resubmit.

Q: Resubmit a plan?

A: Yes. This election is not going to be a choice. It’s going to be a take-it or leave-it election, and I’m disappointed that there is no choice.

Q: So, the backup plan – what would be the backup plan if you had your druthers? Scale it back to a new High School?

A: Scale it back to just the new High School. We don’t need the stadium. We certainly do not need the stadium because we’re funding $1.3 million to rebuild Stackpole Field. So, why do we need a stadium if a stadium will do nothing to lift us out of a Level 3?

Q: Do you believe the costs to the taxpayer as presented recently … are those accurate? Or do you think they are being under-reported, the actual impact on the taxpayer?

A: I think people should look at the chart that is being passed around now. They’re claiming that it’s going to be a 30-year bond. And, on the chart, they list several years, but there is a 22-year gap that they’re not putting down on that chart. There are 10 years in between 2024 and 2034. And then between 2036 to 2048, there’s another 12 years. There’s no figures in those columns. And those are going to be high-priced years for the taxpayer. This is just a minimized version of what people should be looking at. It also only goes to $370,000 as far as the valuation. There are a lot of houses in Saugus that are higher than $370,000. I think it should go to $450,000, at least. People should know what they’re paying for, and they don’t know all of the facts about this project and what it will cost.

Q: What’s the information that is not being reported that you believe the taxpayer should know about?

A: Well, first of all, the actual price. The actual cost to the taxpayer. That would be one. And to do that, they would have to clarify that chart. They would have to make it a lot more detailed. The second thing that I’m concerned with is the traffic issue. I have spoken with a number of abutters to the school. They have met many times and their concerns are traffic going around the school and to and from the school. The project people have come up with a study on the school, but all the study does is list down the times that they think traffic will be at its heaviest. I think that they are underestimating the amount of traffic. I think that they have underestimated the scope of the traffic problem that will be occurring not just at the High School but at all of the schools– the High School in particular. I think that the Veterans Memorial [Elementary School] is going to see a large increase in traffic. I think the Belmonte will see a large increase in traffic. And I think the project people haven’t done all of their homework on this. And before anyone approves this, they should know what the traffic flow will be.

Q: You are one of two residents who apparently attended a recent forum set up by the town manager. I believe the superintendent of schools, and they had the two project planners – the town’s project manager [PMA Consultants, the Owner’s Project Manager] and the architect [HMFH Architects, designer for the project] and the School Committee chair. My question is: Was it helpful? Did you get a lot of information out of that?

A: That was my second forum. The first night, I went and found it somewhat informative.

Q: This was during the day. Right?

A: Yes. The following morning at 10:30 in the morning, it was open to all Town Meeting members, and myself and another citizen showed up. I had more questions and I tried to get them answered at that time.

Q: What are the chief unanswered questions about this project that you want to put out there?

A: Well, I think that if I am a parent and living on the outer edges of Saugus and I have small children going to school, I have to look at the options I have for my children. My children can walk. They can be driven by my wife or myself or whatever, or they can take a bus. Currently, the bus fees are $360 per child per year. So, when you factor in the cost of the debt exclusion, you also have to factor in the cost of sending your child by bus to school. And, if you’re going to drive, you are going to be adding to the traffic problem I have already stated – the traffic problem is a serious problem.

Q: Are there some questions that you asked the administration or that you asked at these forums that you feel you haven’t got any satisfactory answers for?

A: Yes. Just today I went to the Senior Center. And while I didn’t ask the questions, somebody asked a question about square footage. He had four comparisons to local communities that just built schools within the last year, and every one of them came in underpriced and under the cost of the Saugus School that we’re building by $185 a square foot. I think that’s significant. The town manager tried to tell us that in the time period between when their schools were built and this is being built, it’s $400,000 a month more every month. I find that a little bit steep. But that figure needs to be scrutinized a little more. I think that this is just a very high ticket item for the people of Saugus.

Q: You sent an email to fellow Town Meeting members about the project, about what you considered hidden costs that they should consider. I was wondering, what kind of reaction did you get from your colleagues?

A: Two of my colleagues challenged me on where I got my information. I thought that that was kind of irrelevant to the information that I sent.

Q: You got that information from the MSBA.

A: I got it from the MSBA. The town manager suggested that I try a website. His staff gave it to me. I took the information off of there. I should tell you that I’m so computer illiterate, I lost the information. I called a friend and she got it back for me. And because her name is on this, people are challenging it. One Town Meeting member did; however, ask if I knew how much it’s going to cost per household. And at the time, I didn’t have that figure. I have a rough idea now. But this is still a fluid figure. The figures they [the administration] are putting out now are subject to change. People need to understand that. It’s not a project that’s going to get cheaper. It’s going to get more and more expensive.

Q: Anything else that you want to share about this project – your concerns or frustrations that you have complained about?

A: I have a list of questions. One of the things that I’m wondering – there is going to be a $1.75 million penalty payback to the MSBA because of prior rehab at the Belmonte Middle School. As folks know, we rehabbed the Belmonte about five or six years ago. And at the time, it was a $20 million project – half of which was paid by the MSBA. Because we are now considering repurposing the Belmonte for an elementary school, we’d be paying a fine or penalty of $1.75 million. I think that people should understand that in the next few weeks, tax bills come in for 2018 … they’re going to see an increase because we’re going to be paying for a debt exclusion for the first Belmonte rehab. That’s unrelated to this school. So, we’ll be paying for the Belmonte rehab. I’m not quite sure how long that is. I venture to guess that it’s between 10 and 20 years.

Then we’re going to be picking up another debt exclusion for the new High School. And for two years, we’ll still be paying for the Veterans Memorial School. There may be a period of time where we are actually paying for three debt exclusions. People need to realize, “Yeah, we are spending a lot of money.”

On another matter – I look at Route 1. We passed a comprehensive zoning bylaw at the 2015 Town Meeting. I see what possibly could be violations of that bylaw. If they are not violations, they certainly are not holding with the spirit of that zoning change. We wanted to try and make Route 1 a little more accessible. We wanted to cut down on curb cuts. And here we are with this school, the solutions for traffic – they’ve got a curb cut on Route 1. I think that’s a bad idea. There’s a perimeter road that runs between the school and Route 1. If the state decides to widen Route 1, that perimeter road will be in jeopardy. We at Town Meeting suggested a 50-foot setback from Route 1. And that road does not fall within a 50-foot setback, and it may cause a problem to traffic flow. I’ve just recently learned that there is a major sewer pipe that runs underneath where they want to build the school. So, that’s going to have to be re-routed down Route 1, which will require the Department of Transportation in the state of Massachusetts to weigh in. Their engineers are going to have to get involved, and they’re going to have to re-route it down Route 1 and disrupt traffic while they do that. This is a major problem for this whole project that people need to look at.

There’s a lot more to this. The proponents of this project are trying to make it seem more like people of my generation – older people living on fixed incomes – they’re taking the attitude that we don’t have children in the schools system and why should we care. That is totally inexcusable – that kind of logic. We care. We want these children to have the education that we got out of Saugus, and that’s all there is to it. I think that’s about it.


Memorial Day Art Winners


Lynnhurst Elementary School fifth graders win top honors in art contest sponsored by the Saugus Veterans Council

Trudy Williamson’s fifth grade class at Lynnhurst Elementary School did the best job in illustrating Memorial Day with art. That was the decision of visitors who turned up at Cpl. Scott J. Procopio Saugus American Legion Post 210 a few days before Memorial Day to review the artwork submitted by fifth grade classes from the town’s four elementary schools.

A total of 10 classes from the Lynnhurst Elementary School, the Veterans Memorial Elementary School, the Waybright Elementary School and the Oaklandvale Elementary School submitted entries in the Saugus Veterans Council’s first annual “What Memorial Day Means to Me” art contest.

“The First Place class who captured the meaning of Memorial Day was Ms. Williamson’s class at the Lynnhurst School,” said Corrine Riley, who coordinated the contest for the Veterans Council.

“There was one winner from each school, with the overall winning class asked to march in the Memorial Day Parade. All the submissions were very well done,” Riley said.

Winners from each of the schools were treated to a pizza party. Hometown Pizza “provided us with a generous discount,” according to Riley.

In an email this week to The Saugus Advocate, the council expressed appreciation for the cooperation from the four elementary school principals: Waybright Elementary School – Kelly Moss, Lynnhurst Elementary School – Michael Mondello, Veterans Memorial Elementary School – Tracey Ragucci and Oaklandvale Elementary School – Eric Jones. The council also thanked Saugus Public Schools Superintendent Dr. David DeRuosi, Jr. and Amy Guider, the executive assistant to the superintendent, for their support of the contest.

“Special thanks to the art teachers, Lauren Finkle and Theresa Vidrine, who encouraged their art classes to submit such artistic and thoughtful posters … Congratulations to the winners and we hope to continue this event every year,” Riley said.


Twin Sachem Scholars


Sisters Kristina and Katelyn Italiano excelled in the classroom, in Saugus High sports, as class leaders and on the 2017 graduation stage

At the outset of her Salutatory address, Kristina Italiano took about two minutes to thank a small circle of family and friends for helping her become the second-best student in the Saugus High School (SHS) Class of 2017.

“Rachel, you got me beat this time,” she said in a public tribute to “best friend” and Valedictorian Rachel May – the straight A student who was tops among the seniors who received diplomas during the school’s 146th commencement exercises last Friday night at Stackpole Field.

Kristina thanked her parents – Kerry and the late Richard B. Italiano, Jr. “for guiding me through all of these years and watching over me.”

“I wouldn’t be able to make it here, especially without your love and support, mom,” she told her mother.

Kristina offered special words of praise to her 17-year-old twin sister Katelyn, one of two graduation marshals and the fourth highest ranking student in the class. “Katie, thank you for always being right by my side through thick and thin,” Kristina told her sister.

Then she took a playful swipe at the student she nosed out for the Salutatory honors. “I’m standing up here today because I always wanted to be just like you – if not better,” she said, drawing some chuckles from classmates who recognized she was talking about the sibling rivalry.

Some family competition

Last spring Katelyn finished her junior year by winning the Yale Book Award – for being second in the class. Meanwhile, Kristina earned the Dartmouth Book Award for being third in the class up through that point.

The fraternal twins continued scholastic excellence in their senior year. But Kristina earned the better grades to edge ahead of her sister and finish with 4.43 grade point average (GPA) for runner-up to her best friend, Rachel May. Katelyn’s 4.37 GPA ranked fourth in the Class of 2017.

But as president of the Student Council, she still earned a trip to the graduation stage to give the welcoming address. “We are a class full of such motivation and talent,” Katelyn told her classmates.

“... 2017 … Do what others think is impossible,” she implored classmates, chanting the words that became a slogan for this year’s graduation class.

Later, when the twins embraced for photos, Katelyn smiled when asked whether there was a little intra-family competition between her and Kristina for top grades. “Yes, we’re competitive. But we’re still very close,” Katelyn said.

Kristina told The Saugus Advocate this week that she and her sister are nearly inseparable in whatever they do – as students, scholar athletes, class leaders and in their personal lives.

They were co-captains of the girls’ basketball team that won a Northeastern Conference Championship – becoming the first Lady Sachems basketball team to win a conference crown in 37 years. The Lady Sachems finished with a 16-6 record and made the tournament. That was a huge improvement of their season two years ago, when they won just one of 22 games.

“Me and Katie are fraternal twins and the bestest of friends … We’ve done everything together since we were little – same friends and everything,” Kristina said.


Mom gets the credit

The sisters credit Kerry Italiano – a 1980 SHS graduate and a veteran Everett schoolteacher, with being an inspiration for their scholastic achievements. “Regarding where the smarts come from, my mom has been a teacher my whole life – so she has been a huge motivator and inspiration for Katie and I to always excel in whatever we do,” Kristina said.

“My mom has been a teacher for Everett Public Schools for 23 years. She graduated from Saugus High, too,” she said.

The twins’ mother – the former Kerry Donohue – is a 1980 SHS graduate. Though not a top-ranked high school student like her daughters – she has had a remarkable career as an educator, which helped to reinforce good study and learning habits, according to her daughters. “She taught third grade for 20 years and is now a math interventionist,” Kristina said.

The twins also said their mom’s dedication to their getting the best education they could was even more remarkable because the family had to overcome the tragic death of their father, who passed away more than four years ago after battling pancreatic cancer. Though he died at the age of 41 before they reached high school, the twins said their dad had a strong influence on their lives. He was a member of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. He appeared in several movies filmed in Boston and loved playing the piano, inspiring his daughters to be creative and always striving to learn.

Next year, they embark on their own careers. Kristina plans to study nursing at Boston College and wants to use that education to help other people. Katelyn plans to attend Saint Anselm College in the fall. She will start as a Biology major on a premed track and is considering a possible career in oncology for a career goal.


Their Saugus High School achievements

Here are the highlights of their individual scholastic and athletic achievements at Saugus High School:

Kristina “Krissy” Italiano

• Class of 2017 Salutatorian

• 4.43 GPA ranked second in class

• 13 honors classes, 10 AP Classes in the Academy Program at SHS

• Two-year National Honor Society member, Executive Board in senior year

• Student Council Secretary in senior year, three-year member.

• Four-year Class of 2017 Executive Board Member

• Four years of Varsity Outdoor Track (captain in senior year)

• Three years of Varsity Basketball (captain in senior year, played total of four years)

• Two years of Varsity Field Hockey (played a total of three years)

• Earned 10 Varsity Letters over the last four years

• In junior year earned the Dartmouth Book Award for being third in the class up through that point

• MIAA Student Ambassador/Student Rep for School Committee

• Three-year member of the Student Athletic Leadership Council (SALC)

• Two-time Athlete of the Month: for Cross Country in her freshman year (before the program was cut in her sophomore year) and Basketball in her junior year

• Student of the Month in senior year

• NEC All Star for Field Hockey and Basketball in senior year

• NEC Student Athlete Award Recipient and Agganis Scholarship Recipient, among others

• North Shore Honor Scholar

Katelyn “Katie” Italiano

• Class of 2017 Graduation Marshal

• 4.37 GPA Ranked 4th in the Class

• 12 honors classes, 10 AP Classes in the Academy Program at SHS

• Two-year National Honor Society member, Executive Board in senior year

• Student Council President in senior year, Executive Board member two years, four-year member total

• Four-year Class of 2017 Executive Board member

• Four years of Varsity Field Hockey (captain in junior and senior year)

• Three years of Varsity Basketball (captain in senior year, played a total of four years)

• Three years of Varsity Softball (played a total of four years)

• Earned 10 Varsity Letters over the last four years

• Yale Book Award for being second in the class up through junior year

• MIAA Student Ambassador/Student Rep for School Committee

• Three year SALC member

• Two-time Athlete of the Month: for Basketball in her sophomore year and Field hockey in her senior year

• NEC All Star for Field Hockey in junior year, NEC All Conference (top 11 players in league) in senior year for Field Hockey

• North Shore Honors Scholar and multiple scholarship recipient


Lady Sachems softball team opens offensive floodgates, now 6-6


The Saugus softball team has run up its offensive numbers this week after earning an 11-1 victory over Malden on Wednesday and beating Somerville, 15-3, on the mercy rule on Monday.

Saugus got off to a fast start on Wednesday against a struggling Golden Tornadoes side. The Sachems scored three runs in the top of the first off a pair of RBI doubles by Emma Howard and Alex Almquist. Meanwhile, Caity Sheehan also registered an RBI single.

It remained 3-0 until the top of the fifth, during which Howard, Sheehan and Almquist all recorded RBIs again. Saugus scored twice more in the sixth and three more times in the seventh as Ashley Shaw and Taylor Bogdanski joined in on the action.

Malden’s lone run came in the bottom of the seventh when the game was well out of reach.

Howard was three for three with three doubles and as many RBIs. Sheehan also had three hits, two of which were doubles, in addition to three RBIs. Almquist went two for three with two RBIs, as did Shaw. Bogdanski was two for four with a double and one RBI.

Caitlyn Wood earned her sixth win of the season. She pitched seven innings and struck out four with no walks. She conceded four hits and one earned run. “She continues to impress on the mound,” said Saugus coach Steve Almquist of Wood. “She was in control from the outset, keeping the Malden hitters off balance the entire day.

“On the defensive side, Sheehan played an outstanding game at third base. She made several highlight reel plays.

“Being such a young team we are still a work in progress but I think the kids are starting to figure things out. I am extremely pleased with their effort and how they have played so far this year.”

Saugus graduated eight seniors in the off-season and are entrusting younger players with plenty of responsibility. That said, the team has just six losses this year, and those, cumulatively, have been decided by a total of 16 runs.

“We have been competitive in every game that we have played, which is all I can ask for,” Almquist added. “We are giving teams a run for their money, and I think people are starting to realize that Saugus is going to be a tough out.”

The Sachems, who are 6-6 on the season, play at Swampscott on Monday night and then play at home against Salem on Wednesday and again on Thursday against Peabody.


Top 10 Taxpayers

Square One Mall and Wheelabrator rank number one

and two in what they’ll pay Saugus in 2017 property taxes

So who’s the biggest taxpayer in Saugus? It’s a close competition between owners of the Square One Mall and Wheelabrator Technologies, Inc., with the two companies combining for $5.9 million in property taxes, according to information provided by the town’s Assessor’s Office.

The mall owners’ tax bill will be just $20,000 higher than Wheelabrator’s this year.

“A lot of people don’t realize it, but the mall’s assessed value does not include Macy’s or Sears,” Deputy Assessor Ron Keohan said this week. “If it did, the mall would be paying a lot more in taxes,” he said.

Here are the top 10 taxpayers based on assessed valuation:

1) Mayflower Square One, owner of the town’s shopping mall at 1201 Broadway (Route 1), topped the 2017 list of assessed value at slightly over $114 million. Their taxes total close to $2.94 million – about $20,000 more than the next highest property taxpayer.

2) Refuse Energy Systems Co. Also known as Wheelabrator Technologies Inc., the operator of the trash-to-energy incinerator at 100 Salem Turnpike (Route 107) – with its nine land parcels – has an assessed value of $113.3 million. The company will pay $2.92 million in taxes this year.

3) AvalonBay Communities, Inc. owns an apartment building at 1 Founder’s Way that’s assessed at $73.94 million. Its 2017 taxes are $890,973.

4) New England Power Co. Adding up its electric transmission rows, buildings and personal property, the utility has a 2017 assessed value of $23.3 million. It will pay $601,703 in property taxes this year.

5) Saugus Commons Associates, owner of apartment buildings at 48 and 77 Newhall Ave., has a total assessed value of $22.5 million. But with a residential tax rate, are the lowest on this year’s list – $270,649.

6) Gerondelis Foundation Inc. – owner of the shopping mall and commercial land at 400 Lynn Fells Parkway and several restaurant buildings, including Kelly’s at 595 Broadway – had a 2017 assessed value of $17.1 million. It will pay $440.696 in property taxes this year.

7) Lowes Home Improvement at 1500 Broadway had an assessed value of $16.8 million with a total tax bill of $433,617 for 2017.

8) Shops At Saugus, the strip mall at 352 Broadway, had an assessed value of $15.8 million this year. The 2017 taxes were $407,942.

9) Federal Realty (K Mart). The K Mart strip mall at 156 Main St. was assessed at $15.4 million and will pay $396,517 in taxes this year

10) HD Development, owner of a retail business at 564R Broadway, had a 2017 assessed value of $14.9 million with taxes of $386,517 for 2017.


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