CHATHAM – The town's share of the Cape Cod Regional Technical High School annual budget will drop by $16,000 next year, but with the district eyeing a new school building, Chatham's tech school spending is likely to see a jump beginning in 2020.
If the district's 12 towns vote to approve a new $141 million building in October, Chatham's annual share of the cost will be $113,000 annually over a 30-year period. With interest, the town's contribution to the new tech school will be nearly $3.5 million.
Those figures are based on conservative estimates of both the cost of the project and interest on 30-year bonds, estimated at 5 percent, Superintendent Robert Sanborn told selectmen last week. It also includes an effective reimbursement rate of 30 percent from the Massachusetts School Building Administration, or $42 million; the total reimbursement rate is higher, at 42 percent, but the lower rate is the final figure after removing items for which the state will not provide reimbursement. That rate could increase by four percentage points, he said, “But we're not ready to declare victory on that.”
The average homeowner would pay an additional two cents per $1,000 valuation annually to cover the cost of the new building, he said.
“Most of this is still relatively conservative, meaning that hopefully the project cost will go down, the reimbursement rate will go up, and we will have a better project cost ahead,” Sanborn said, adding that the district is fortunate in that all of its member towns have double or triple-A bond ratings, which means the district will also enjoy a favorable bond rating.
Under questioning by selectmen, Sandborn said the MSBA went through an extension enrollment projection and determined that the likely tech school population will be about 650 students annually. While there was a big decline in eighth grade students in the tech school district from 2004 to 2014 – 1,600 to 1,131 kids – the number is projected to remain relatively static through 2025, he said.
A new school building can also have a beneficial impact on enrollment, Sanborn said. Every high school in the district except Nauset has received a major facelift in the past 20 years.
“I believe a school that does not look like it was built in the 1970s is going to have an affect on enrollment,” he said.
The district-wide vote on the new school building – which is proposed to be constructed on the existing campus – is scheduled for Oct. 24. Polls in all 12 towns will be open from noon to 8 p.m., and a majority of all votes cast will decide the question, Sanborn said. If the vote prevails, groundbreaking will be held in 2019, with the new school slated for completion in 2021. The old school would then be demolished and cleared for parking and new sports fields.
Selectmen Dean Nicastro asked about reports that Mashpee officials are considering withdrawing from the Cape Tech district. Sanborn said the town faces a formidable challenge; it will have to file a home-rule petition with the legislature and get a positive vote prior to the Oct. 24 referendum. The remaining towns in the district must also approve withdrawal, something he said is “very highly unlikely.”
“I think the likelihood of that happening is very remote,” he said.
Chatham's enrollment in Cape Tech dropped from 11 to 10 this school year, while overall the school's enrollment is up three students to 621. He doesn't see that changing much based on the demographic information he referred to previously.
“There's no doubt that demographically it's been a challenge, but we see it flat going forward,” he said.
Overall, Cape Tech's fiscal 2018 budget is proposed at $14.7 million, a 1.89 percent increase, with insurance “continuing to swallow up the budget” and accounting for the largest increase. Chatham's assessment is down 7 percent to $194,070. The overall cost per pupil at the school is forecast to be more than $19,000.
“We know that we're expensive,” Sanborn said. While school officials are working to drive costs down, vocational education is expensive, requiring specialized spaces and equipment. Like most schools, salary and benefits account for the largest share of spending, 76 percent.
Voters will be asked to approve the tech school budget at the annual town meeting.