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Councilor Lisi pens letter of support for state budget amendment to secure additional MSBA funding for the two-middle-school project

Rep. Todd Smola
State House
24 Beacon St., Room 124
Boston, MA, 02133

Sen. Viriato deMacedo
State House
24 Beacon St., Room 313-C
Boston, MA, 02133

Sen. Michael Rodrigues
State House
24 Beacon St., Room 212
Boston, MA, 02133

Rep. Aaron Michlewitz
State House
24 Beacon St., Room 243
Boston, MA, 02133

Sen. Cindy Friedman
State House
24 Beacon St., Room 413-D
Boston, MA, 02133

Rep. Denise Garlick
State House
24 Beacon St., Room 238
Boston, MA, 02133

25 June, 2019

Re: Budget Amendment ID: FY 2020-S3-308-R1

Dear Honorable Members of the FY2020 Budget Conference Committee,

As representatives of the good citizens of Holyoke, the City Council is writing to urge your support for Budget Amendment ID: FY 2020-S3-308-R1, “Local Contribution Formula” (Redraft EDU 308).

This budget amendment would establish a pilot program through the Massachusetts State Building Authority (MSBA) that would increase opportunities for capital improvements to schools in districts like ours that have experienced recent declines in enrollment alongside being placed under receivership by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) pursuant to Section 1K of Chapter 69 of the General Laws. This pilot program would increase the state reimbursement for MSBA approved school building projects by allowing qualifying municipalities to receive all allowable incentive percentage points in determining a project’s grant percentage.

Working with the MSBA reimbursement program, the City of Holyoke has developed a financially responsible plan to build two new middle schools. As you are well aware, Holyoke and other Gateway Municipalities qualify for an 80% reimbursement on all eligible project costs which precludes us from attaining any additional funding incentive points through the MSBA program. Yet, as new construction is capped at a 60% reimbursement across the state, as well as specific caps in place on building costs per square footage, the effective reimbursement rate that our city will be able to enjoy in real dollar and real costs is only 57%.

The Holyoke Public Schools are currently under State Receivership. After over two decades of challenges around our graduation rates, our dropout numbers, and our aging and deteriorating infrastructure, we are on a strong and positive path forward. In just the past 5 years we have seen our dropout rate dramatically decline, our graduation rate climb from 50% to just over 70%, and expanded pre-K and kindergarten opportunities. We have also introduced a number of innovative programs for our students to create and thrive in their own individualized paths to learning. There is still more work to be done, but the progress is real. The construction of the two-middle-school proposal approved by MSBA will allow the City to “right-size” the district, offer a strong middle school experience, and retain the growing number of families that are returning to our public elementary schools.

In order to take advantage of this once-in-a-generation opportunity to build two new middle schools with state support, the citizens of Holyoke must approve debt exclusion funding via a ballot referendum this November. Many of our city’s businesses and vulnerable, elderly and low-income residents fear that they will not be able to shoulder the tax impact of debt exclusion with the present reimbursement rate at only 57% and we fear that it would lead to a failed vote (and failed MSBA project). Holyoke would benefit greatly from this Local Contribution Formula budget amendment as we meet both the conditions of the amendment (declining enrollment and state receivership) and would therefore qualify for the incentive points that would bring several million dollars of additional funding to our effective reimbursement rate.

We encourage you to expedite this amendment and provide a bit of relief to cities such as Holyoke that are in greatest need of the State’s support the Conference Committee to allow our City to qualify for a full 80% reimbursement of all construction costs and to expedite this amendment in order to provide a bit of relief to cities such as Holyoke that do so much for the State and yet, are in greatest need of the State’s support.*

Sincerely,

Holyoke City Council
City Hall
536 Dwight Street
Holyoke, MA 01040

Cc: Mayor Alex Morse
Rep. Aaron Vega
Sen. Don Humason

*the City Council added this amended language to the letter by unanimous vote at their June 25 Special Meeting

***

You too can help bring more state dollars to Holyoke for the two-middle-schools project by calling the members of the State Budget Conference Committee and urging them to support this budget amendment:

Rep. Todd Smola
Phone: (617) 722-2100
Email: Todd.Smola@mahouse.gov

Sen. Viriato deMacedo
Phone: (617) 722-1330
Email: Vinny.deMacedo@masenate.gov

Sen. Michael Rodrigues
Phone: (617) 722-1114
Email: Michael.Rodrigues@masenate.gov

Rep. Aaron Michlewitz
Phone: (617) 722-2990
Email: Aaron.M.Michlewitz@mahouse.gov

Sen. Cindy Friedman
Phone: (617) 722-1432
Email: Cindy.Friedman@masenate.gov

Rep. Denise Garlick
Phone: (617) 722-2380
Email: Denise.Garlick@mahouse.gov

***
LOCAL CONTRIBUTION FORMULA

Messrs. Humason and Fattman, Ms. Chang-Diaz and Mr. Lewis moved that the proposed new text be amended by inserting after section 75 the following section:

Section 75A. Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, the Massachusetts School Building Authority shall establish a pilot program to increase opportunities for capital improvements for certain districts that have: (I) experienced enrollment declines in each year between fiscal year 2013 and fiscal year 2019; and (ii) been placed under receivership by the department of elementary and secondary education pursuant to section 1K of chapter 69 of the General Laws.

Notwithstanding section 10 of chapter 70B of the General Laws and for the purposes of this program, the authority may allow 1 participating school district to receive all allowable incentive percentage points in determining a project’s grant percentage.”

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