ORLEANS — A district-wide vote to approve the $132 million Nauset Regional High School building project will be held in the four member towns on March 30. The date was approved by the regional school committee Jan. 7 following consultation with town clerks.
The one-day balloting decision was a response to the uncertainties of the pandemic, which prompted worries that Brewster, Eastham, Orleans, and Wellfleet might not be able to hold town meetings before May 31. That is the final deadline extension the state School Building Authority has given for its contribution to the project – $36 million of the total cost.
The vote to set a date was not unanimous. Member Josh Stewart of Orleans asked whether there was “any kind of official support” from finance committees and select boards for changing to a single district-wide vote versus approval at town meetings. “Are (they) on board with this change in process, if it impacts them and their ability to find ways to pay it afterward?” he said. “I wanted to make sure everyone else is cool with it.”
Nauset Superintendent Tom Conrad said the one-day election would be paid for by the district, not the towns, but Stewart said he was asking about paying for the project. The towns will have to hold separate votes to exclude the debt from their tax levy limits over the borrowing term of 20 to 30 years.
“With COVID raging, we did a light outreach,” committee chair Chris Easley said. When officials were asked if town meetings were going to occur on time, he said, “nobody could commit to it that they were going to. That’s part of what motivated our decision process. We couldn’t put this $36 million at risk… The greatest way to tick off the voters is to lose the $36 million.”
The committee deferred addressing voting hours on March 30. Easley said the town clerks had proposed 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., but member Dick Stewart noted that “a lot of voters are in the habit of voting before they go to work… Has there been any thought of having the polls open at 7 or 8 a.m.?” Conrad said he’d consult with the clerks.
The superintendent praised the clerks for their counsel. “We’ve begun looking at printing a postcard indicating that we’re going to have this event,” he said. “Then people can send it back (to the clerks with) their desire to vote through the mail... Eventually those people will receive their ballots in the mail and return them in the mail.”
Last week’s meeting began with the U.S. Capitol under siege, an event referenced by the first speaker at public comment, Brian Kavanaugh of Orleans. The former member of the regional committee said, “I rise to humbly request that each and every member of this elected body act tonight with sensitivity to knowing what may happen when political officials go too far in pursuit of winning at all costs. If the storming of our nation’s Capitol taught our political leaders anything, let’s hope that at every level of government leaders now demand of themselves and their political colleagues a greater commitment to the tenets of good government, specifically including be fair and truthful, do not scare people, and do not be so committed to winning that you would do anything to avoid a loss, and finally, do the right thing even when a lawyer claims the law says you do not have to.”
Kavanaugh called on the committee to reverse its decision for a district-wide vote. He said it “violates” the well-established practice of going to individual town meetings with projects such as the 2011 high school repairs, that it “represents a failure to honor its words with respect to how approval has been sought since the project’s inception,” and “violates what has been shown to work and not work for other non-technical regional schools.” The Monomoy district of Chatham and Harwich followed the town meeting route to build a new school successfully, he said, while the Dennis-Yarmouth system went with a district-wide vote that “resulted in greater inter-town discord and even landed them in court.” Also, Kavanaugh said, members were elected “not by four towns but by a single town with responsibility to their interests.”
Before Kavanaugh could move on to his next issue, Easley told him his two minutes of public comment were up and suggested he submit his full comments for inclusion with the minutes. Later, Stewart proposed discussing the two-minute limit at a future meeting. “For a couple of minutes here and there,” he said, “it’s worth keeping people on our side rather than creating enemies out there.”
“The greatest respect you can give an individual is to treat them equally,” Easley said. “It’s when you administer it unequally, that’s when you get in trouble.”
Tonight (Jan. 14) at 6, the committee will continue its review of the proposed FY 22 middle school and high school budgets.