Officials of the Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational High School District still hope that the Town of Saugus and the City of Chelsea will reverse their opposition to supporting the funding of a new Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational High School (Northeast Metro Tech).
“I’m hopeful that they will reverse their voted, but I’m not optimistic about that happening,” Northeast Metro Tech Superintendent/Director David S. DiBarri said this week.
“But I’m completely optimistic that if we do wind up going to a ballot election, the vote will be overwhelming in support of the project,” he said.
Ten of the 12 member communities support the $300-million-plus project. But an opposition vote by just one community forces district officials to seek a general election for a popular vote by residents in each community. The Northeast Metro Tech School Committee is set to meet on Dec. 9 when members will decide if and when it will hold an election among the 12 member communities in the district.
“Unfortunately, it was the leadership in Saugus and Chelsea which opposed the project,” DiBarri said in an interview this week.
“We’re going to ask them to reconsider. The next few weeks are going to give us a little better road map on what we need to do,” he said.
“The real challenge in Saugus has been that even though we have been attending the Finance Committee meetings for six years, the Finance Committee recommended against the project. And it’s been clear that the Finance Committee hasn’t been communicating with the Town Meeting,” he said.
But many Saugus town officials disagree with DiBarri’s characterization of why Saugus opposed the project. In a two-hour-plus meeting last month, Saugus Town Meeting members voted 37-6 in favor of a Finance Committee recommendation against approving an article which many town officials worry could lead to massive cuts in the town’s operating budget over the next 30 years. The estimated financial impact for Saugus over a 30-year period is $40.6 million. A project with that kind of price tag should be funded through a debt exclusion instead of the town’s operating budget – and by a vote of the people, a majority of the members agreed.
Otherwise, the town would be faced with having to fund its share by an average of $1.3 million from its operating budget each year.
DiBarri and other district officials are concerned that the $140.8 million in state reimbursement for the project could be jeopardized if the district is unable to get extensions of certain project deadlines later in the year. Even with extension of those deadlines, the district has to mount campaigns in each of the communities to sell the project – which could be a challenging task in the current economic climate.