BVT expansion rejected at Sutton Town Meeting
By Josh Farnsworth
Sutton – Despite plenty of praise for Blackstone Valley Tech (BVT) from individuals on both sides of the issue, Sutton residents defeated an article at Monday night’s town meeting to pay for the town’s share of a $2.9 million project at the vocational school.
The proposed project calls to expand the school and help establish three new programs, engineering technology, veterinary assisting and legal and protective services, to be paid over 20 years.
Town meeting attendees rejected the article, 60-50. BVT Superintendent-Director Dr. Michael Fitzpatrick told the audience gathered in the Simonian Center for Early Learning that there was a “general misunderstanding” held by many that if two-thirds of the member towns approve the project, all will be responsible for the cost. He said, if approved, towns that rejected the expansion project would not incur any cost, but students in these towns would not be allowed to enroll in the new programs.
Fitzpatrick mentioned several initiatives the school district has made to help with costs, including refinancing their existing debt from 5 percent to 3.5 percent or better, delaying debt on the school expansion project until FY2016, and working on projects within the towns to help communities save money.
“We’ve attempted to show the [13 BVT] towns good faith,” he said. “We’ve been there for you. We are asking you to be there for us.”
Supporters pointed out many of the positives BVT has brought to the town, including portfolio projects such as work at Marion’s Camp that have saved the town money and the chance for students to be placed in quality learning positions.
Resident Sam Whittier said, although she never attended BVT, her two siblings are currently enrolled and she can see the benefit it has brought.
“If you vote, ‘no’ it is denying students the will to learn,” said Whittier, who compared the average annual cost for Sutton at $15,000 to less than a brand new car. “You are telling BVT students that what they got is what they got. It’s a no-brainer.”
The Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee voted to not support the article due to “long-term impacts of increased enrollment” that will have “significant budget implications in future years,” saying that with the additional 15 or so students from Sutton that could attend an expanded BVT comes the cost of sending them, which was estimated at around $10,000- $11,000 per year per student.
For the majority of residents at town meeting, the tight budget constraints were too much, with some stating that they would prefer to see town money spent in their own public school system.
“I view this as a fairness issue,” said selectman David Hall. “BVT is a great school, but we educate our students quite well here, too. Our school district is highly stressed [financially]. We’ve cut teachers. It’s been really costly to our school system.”
“Class sizes have increased exponentially,” said resident and school committee member Jesse Limanek. “What is $15,000? It is new replacement textbooks or books for the library…or replacement desks or replacement whiteboards or cleaning supplies to help keep the entire school clean. I would rather keep $15,000 at home.”
Sutton residents approved the $28,530,757 budget, a jump of 1.9 percent approved at last year’s spring town meeting. The school’s portion of the budget increased by $301,000, which Town Administrator Jim Smith stated in his report to the town will include no layoffs this year
Smith stated that debt service for the middle/high school project is down $129,000 from last year.