A crowd of students, RHS graduates, educators, school staff, parents, city officials and taxpayers filled the City Council Chambers this week to plead with city councillors to build a new high school. Some asked councillors to return to the plan to build the school at Wonderland, which the council voted down last week. Others insisted it would be less expensive to build at Wonderland rather than the existing site as several councillors have proposed. They all shared concerns about Revere High School losing its accreditation and the impact that would have on students applying to colleges. There were warnings about students leaving for private schools, teachers looking for jobs in other communities and property values plummeting because of the state of education in Revere.
Councillors, who have always supported building a new high school, shared the same concerns expressed by the community. But what triggered them was the suggestion that the decision to vote against submitting the schematic design to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) for approval was political.
Revere Teachers Association Co-President Michelle Ervin, who stressed she was speaking as an educator not as a union rep, asked councillors to put the politics aside. “This has become a political issue. You’ve made it political,” Erwin told councillors. You’ve already voted on a place. Put the politics aside and think about the education of the children in your city.”
Councillors, one by one, reiterated their commitment to building a new school, and they insisted that voting against the schematic designs at Wonderland was not a political decision.
Ward 1 Councillor Joanne McKenna said she agonized over her no vote for a month. “It wasn’t political for me; there was no financial conclusion,” said McKenna, adding that every week the cost of the project changed by millions of dollars.
Councillor-at-Large Dan Rizzo said the budget for the project has been a moving target, saying that the job of the City Council is to provide fiscal oversight. “There’s a lot of fear mongering going on trying to scare people that they have a City Council that doesn’t care about education and a school will never be built. We need to get rid of the public discourse we’ve seen over the past week,’ said Rizzo.
Ward 3 Councillor Anthony Cogliandro said he had witnessed threats to Councillor McKenna. “That behavior needs to absolutely 100 percent stop,” he said.
“We didn’t deserve the attacks on our character, the attacks on our families,” said Councillor-at-Large Gerry Visconti. “It seems as if some things have not been put out there. We all want a high school. It’s a false narrative to say the Revere City Council does not want a high school.”
Visconti, like other councillors, said the issue is finances and the unknown cost of the Wonderland site. But Mayor Brian Arrigo and senior project manager Brian Dakin said building on the existing site would be more expensive. According to Dakin, it would cost $65 million more to build on the current site.
City Council President Patrick Keefe said city officials have deliberated on the site for the school for about two years. “We found that the least imperfect site was Wonderland. Over that time, costs have escalated,” said Keefe, adding that the choice of Wonderland showed vision.
Keefe also said the council had heard from CFO Richard Viscay about strategies to pay for the project without a 2 ½ override. “We are not going to have an override. We can afford it. Yes, we have to make sacrifices, but yes, we will make them for the city of Revere,” said Keefe. “I will do anything it takes to bring Wonderland back on board.”
The council will make a clear decision about the site and the path forward for the high school at their next meeting in two weeks.