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School Committee Bemoans 'Skinny' Allocation of Funds

Members of the Somerville School Committee would like the city to invest more in school buildings.

School Committee members said at a meeting last week they were disappointed the mayor didn’t apportion more money to improving the city’s public school buildings.

Mayor Joseph Curtatone’s Capital Investment Plan outlines how the city will pay for building construction, building upgrades, equipment and other capital projects from fiscal year 2012 to 2016.  

As it stands now, the plan devotes about $38.6 million to improving school buildings. Paul Bockelman, who presides over the School Committee’s finance and facilities subcommittee, said he was struck by how “skinny” the allocation was, considering the plan totals $142.7 million.

Committee member Mark Niedergang, who said that the plan was “starving the schools,” said he wanted to advocate for Somerville Public Schools to receive a greater share of the wealth. He also pointed out that after subtracting a grant from the state and the insurance reimbursement from the East Somerville Community School, which was destroyed in a fire in 2007, the city would spend only $13.4 million in bonds and cash on school buildings.

Further, most of the projects intended to enhance education happen at the high school, and member Mary Jo Rossetti said she would like to see the city invest more in its elementary schools.

The committee agreed that getting the city to repair the was their top priority.

Superintendent Tony Pierantozzi submitted in March requests for certain improvements to school buildings to Somerville's director of finance, who evaluated each one. The mayor doesn’t distribute a set amount of money for any department, according to the Capital Investment Plan, but instead doles out money based on which requests best fit his goals, which include providing a quality education to students. 

The school district’s director of finance, Patricia Durette, assured School Committee members the mayor took their Capital Improvement Plan (see attached PDF) into account when developing the citywide one. However, Bockelman pointed out that the renovation of the high school’s weight room was not part of the committee’s suggestions but ended up on the plan. Sweeting added that the renovation of the high school’s north wall, which the committee did recommend, was not part of the plan.

These are the capital projects the Capital Investment Plan decided to undertake within the Somerville Public Schools: 

  • Curtatone regards the as the most important investment, according to the plan. To reopen the school by September 2013, the city has borrowed $13 million. A grant from the state and money received from insurance will pay for the rest of the approximately $38 million project.
  • The city will issue a $150,000 bond to replace the leaky roof over Somerville High School’s field house and atrium to avoid having to pay for water damage to the building.
  • It will pay $40,000 in cash to renovate and within the Center for Career and Technical Education so that teachers can train more students.
  • It will also pay $50,000 in cash to renovate the school’s weight and training rooms and buy new equipment.
  • In addition, it will pay $100,000 in cash to paint classrooms, replace deteriorated floors and make other repairs at the high school. 
  • Finally, the city will issue a $100,000 bond to paint classrooms in the Edgerly School and repair retractable curtains in school buildings. The superintendent and the commissioner of the Department of Public Works requested those improvements, according to the plan.

The superintendent said that committee members might have considered some projects capital improvements that were actually part of maintenance and provided a list of repairs that the DPW had recently made to the schools. 

Still, Bockelman said that the School Committee should have it’s “oar in the waters” stronger than it has in the past to persuade the city to invest more in the schools.

Paula Woolley November 10, 2011 at 02:45 PM
The city is considering relocating City Hall and the Central Library to new buildings in Union Square, yet I think SHS is in more need of renovation or replacement than City Hall. (The library could stand to be larger.) Shouldn't our priority be to provide our students with a school that's not crumbling, rather than building a new city hall?
Jamie November 10, 2011 at 02:52 PM
Most of the elementary buildings are very new. Maybe the school committee could have overseen those buildings a little better, and they wouldn't be in need of repair so soon. Whether it's 38 million or 13 million, that's a lot of money to be needed by such new buildings. This is grandstanding to make themselves look important. Too bad they were duped by the mayor into ceding control of the Powder House school to the city. Since they have no power other than to hire and fire the Superintendent, maybe they should give some of their salaries and benefit packages back to the city.
Paula Woolley November 10, 2011 at 03:00 PM
Winter Hill, Edgerly, and SHS are the 3 schools mentioned as needing repair, and they're all old buildings. SHS is over 100 years old, aside from the atrium addition. I don't know how old the other 2 are, but they are several decades older than the new Healey, JFK, and WSNS.
Amanda Kersey November 10, 2011 at 04:45 PM
Are there any specific repairs that anyone would like to see happen at the schools?

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