The School Committee voted unanimously to allow Superintendent of Schools Priya Tahiliani to submit a Statement of Interest (SOI) to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) for a new high school. Although the district submitted an SOI for a new school last year, complications related to the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the process from moving forward.
During the committee’s April 5 meeting, Assistant Superintendent of Operations Charles Obremski said the current Everett High School is exceeding its capacity by 387 students. “Our enrollment is increasing drastically,” he said.
Obremski also said the district is planning to expand the Career and Technical Education program at the high school. “We want to add three major programs – electrical, HVAC and plumbing,” said Obremski. “We just don’t have the space to do it.”
Although it would take approximately five years to build a new high school, Obremski said time is of the essence to submit the SOI. “It’s vital at this time to submit a Statement of Interest for a new high school,” he said. “We have to start somewhere.”
In addition, Obremski said more than 4,000 housing units are planned to go in along Revere Beach Parkway, some of which would be located very close to the Adams School. In speaking with the developer of the project at 25 Garvey St., Obremski was informed that the development would have a number of three-bedroom units. Therefore, it is projected that at least 80 students would enroll in the district from that development alone. “It could be even higher,” said Obremski.
School Committee Member-at-Large Samantha Lambert said the district had been approved for a new school in 2017. Although the project never came to fruition, she said a number of possible sites were identified. Therefore, she asked if any of those sites could be still considered for a new high school.
In response, Obremski said the plan, at the time, was to build a new elementary school. “The MSBA was very good to us at that time,” he said, adding that the agency had also supported the option of a new middle school. However, Obremski said, there are now very few locations that could accommodate a new high school.
Ward 4 School Committee Member Michael Mangan agreed that action needs to be taken. “We have to get something and we have to get something fast,” he said.
The SOI must now be approved by the City Council and Mayor Carlo DeMaria before it can be submitted to the MSBA.
Malden Transportation fuel surcharge
In other news, the School Committee, in a 3-6 vote, rejected the request from Malden Transportation for a five percent surcharge to compensate for the rising cost of gas. According to AAA Northeast, the average cost of gas in Massachusetts is now $4.17 per gallon.
“Currently, there is not a fuel escalation clause in our contract, so we are legally not required to pay for this,” said Tahiliani. However, she said the School Committee had the option of amending the contract to pay the surcharge until the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
Ward 2 School Committee Member Jason Marcus said it was imperative to take the necessary action to keep the contract with Malden Transportation. “We wouldn’t ever want to lose that company,” he said. “They move faster than an ambulance.”
School Committee Vice Chairman Michael McLaughlin also spoke highly of the company’s stellar track record with the district. “They have always rendered excellent service to our schools,” he said. “Their ask for this has been granted previously during other fiscally challenging times.”
Ward 1 School Committee Member Millie Cardello suggested that the payment period be retroactive from February 1 to June 30. “It seems like that’s when they really started to feel the strain of the increase in fuel,” she said.
Tahiliani said it would cost approximately $92,000 to fund the five percent surcharge from February 1 to June 30. However, she said those funds are available in the current budget.
Ward 5 School Committee Member Marcony Almeida-Barros said that early on in the COVID-19 pandemic he voted to continue supporting Malden Transportation to help the company stay open. “We paid them even though they were not providing the service,” he said.
However, he said this time is different as Malden Transportation is no longer in danger of closing. “They’re asking because it is effecting their profit; it’s as simple as that,” said Almeida-Barros.
He said the current letter requested a five percent surcharge until gas prices decrease to at least $3 per gallon. “I’m sorry, we shouldn’t agree with that,” he said, adding that there is no way of knowing when gas prices will come down.
Lambert asked about the possibility of negotiating a surcharge of three or four percent.
Mangan said he would support a three percent surcharge that was retroactive to March 14. “That’s the day that we actually got the letter,” he said.
School Committee Chairwoman Jeanne Cristiano suggested postponing the matter until additional information is available. “Let’s get Malden Taxi in here with our school personnel and discuss the options,” she said.
However, Mangan said that would not be a viable option. “It’s only going to delay the matter,” he said.
Lambert advised her colleagues against taking a vote. “We need to do our due diligence and look at all the cost implications,” she said. “We don’t even have full figures in front of us.”