Frequently Asked Questions About the Debt Exclusion

Student Enrollment and Building Capacity

Thompson Elementary School

Gibbs School

Arlington High School

Minuteman Vocational High School

Debt Exclusion Tax Impacts


Student Enrollment and Building Capacity

Why don’t Arlington’s schools have enough space for all the students?

The student population in the Arlington Public Schools has increased by 17% since 2005. As a result of this tremendous growth, six of our nine school buildings are now over capacity. Enrollment is expected to continue to rise steadily, for a cumulative increase of over 30%—more than 1,400 students—in a twenty-year period. Our already overcrowded school buildings are struggling today to meet the current enrollment level and will be critically unprepared to deal with the continued enrollment growth.
Back to top

How overcrowded will Arlington’s schools become if we don’t take action?

This graph shows the number of projected elementary and middle school students by building and the extent to which each building will be either over or under capacity. The actual number of students the building was constructed to hold is in parentheses after each school.
Projected school growth
note: omits capacity of classrooms used for in-district special education programs.
Back to top

Some of the schools are under capacity. Why can’t the town just move students around?

While it is true that the Peirce is under capacity, there is not enough space to house all the students. Five of our seven elementary schools are beyond their capacity already even without the increased enrollment that has been forecast.
Back to top

How many more students is each building projected to have?

This map shows the number of students forecast to be in each school. Inside the circle is the current population of each school. Outside the circle is the number of students the building would need to hold in five years.
Enrollment forecast map
Back to top

How was the enrollment forecast data gathered?

The School Committee commissioned a study to predict enrollment. Comprehensive population and enrollment forecasts were performed by McKibben Demographic Research. The forecast model (similar to a projection) extrapolates past and current data into the future. Various data sets were used, including enrollment by grade since 2010, birth data, migration metrics, and census data.

The initial report from June 2015 was last updated in December 2015.
Back to top

How badly overcrowded is the Thompson Elementary School?

Due to the unanticipated rapid enrollment growth, the school is currently over capacity by 57 students as of May 2016. The lack of available classrooms resulted in 29.5 students per class in 5th grade and challenges in using core space effectively. In 2016, two modular classrooms will help provide needed classroom space, but these will only alleviate crowding for one year.

Enrollment is expected to continue its sharp rise, reaching 500 total students in 2021, more than 120 students over capacity. A permanent addition will alleviate the shortage of classrooms, prevent the town from having to pay for more temporary modular classrooms, and ease the pressure on core spaces.
Back to top

How badly overcrowded is the Ottoson Middle School?

The Ottoson Middle School, built to accommodate 1,050 students, is currently over capacity by more than 77 students. It is already one of the largest middle schools in the state, and the overcrowding has been described as a significant negative factor in social and emotional development. By 2017, the school will need eight modular classrooms to accommodate all of its students. In the next four years, the middle school level will gain 181 additional students as the large elementary cohorts move to middle school. By 2025, our school system will have 1,400 middle-school students. A permanent solution to this problem must be found.
Back to top

Why is enrollment growth happening now?

The population of a town fluctuates for many reasons. This isn’t the first time Arlington has experienced enrollment growth. The number of students climbed sharply during the 1950s and ‘60s as baby boomers entered the school system, peaking in 1970. The student population then declined for many years, and unneeded school buildings were adapted to other purposes or sold off. The town retained ownership of some of these buildings in case of future enrollment growth. Enrollment began to rise steadily again in the 2000s. For the 2016 school year, system-wide enrollment is 5,252 students, and it is forecast to grow to nearly 6,000 students by 2025. Town leadership has decided it’s time to return one of our former schools to service.
Enrollment graph
Back to top


Thompson Elementary School

Why is the town asking the voters to approve a debt exclusion to put an addition on the Thompson School just three years after completing the construction of a new school?

In 2010, the town and the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) agreed to build a school to house 380 students. The 380-student target was based on the district’s enrollment projections in 2010 and the MSBA’s review of the school’s enrollment history. The MSBA elementary reimbursement formula allowed for one classroom for every 20 students, which resulted in 19 classrooms—an average of three per class. About half the costs of the new building were covered by the MSBA. The Thompson district became more popular than anyone had imagined in 2010. The school district is now using a more sophisticated forecasting program that projects enrollment at Thompson reaching 500 students within five years. This year’s enrollment at Thompson is aligned almost perfectly with the forecast.
Back to top

What do the new forecasts predict will be the enrollment growth at the Thompson?

The enrollment trend shows that within the next three years the Thompson will need four classes per grade, which would require five more classrooms than the school has now, or a total of 24 classrooms. The forecast predicts 500 students at Thompson by 2021, and the proposed addition will accommodate that number of students.
Back to top

Will the MSBA reimburse the town at all for the additional classrooms at the expanded Thompson Elementary School?

No. The partnership with the MSBA to rebuild Thompson concluded in 2013 when the school opened. The town is now engaged in a process to secure funding from the MSBA for a new high school, and cities and towns generally cannot have MSBA construction projects happening simultaneously.
Back to top

How will the design of the Thompson addition be conducted?

During the summer of 2016, the School Department plans to engage the community in discussions about the expansion of the Thompson School in the same way the Stratton community participated in meetings about plans for that facility. The community discussions will include all aspects of the project, including common spaces. The School Committee and Finance Committee have committed funds to select an architectural firm to design an addition to the Thompson School. Bids are being reviewed, and the contract for the design project will be awarded soon.
Back to top

How much will the addition cost the town and how much will this addition cost the average taxpayer in Arlington?

The debt exclusion vote asks the voters to set a $4 million debt ceiling for the Thompson addition. The estimated impact on the average single-family tax bill (currently $7,493) is about $16 per year in additional property taxes for 20-30 years. The school district and town leadership are committed to keeping costs for the expansion under $4 million.
Back to top

When will the addition be completed?

The project is scheduled for completion in Fall 2017, before the school year begins.
Back to top

Are we building the current Stratton school large enough to accommodate growth?

Yes. The Stratton School rehab project will accommodate all projected growth in that district. The Stratton district is not one where sustained population growth has occurred or is expected. The rebuild of the Stratton School is being financed through the debt exclusion vote that took place in 2000. Town Meeting allocated funds to the project last year, and work will begin in July of 2016, right after school ends.
Back to top

Will we need to build additional space to accommodate growth in elementary enrollment anywhere else in Arlington?

At this point, we do not know if the town needs additional space for elementary school students beyond the proposed expansion of the Thompson School. The fastest growing part of the community is East Arlington, and the school district is monitoring the growth in enrollment at the Hardy School in particular. The district will have a better sense of the needs at the Hardy in the next two years. The town will examine both actual enrollment and the forecasts developed by the district’s consultant to track student population trends at the Hardy and throughout the district. In addition, the district will first look for creative uses of existing school spaces, including expanded buffer zones and redistricting.
Back to top


Gibbs School

What does the Gibbs renovation entail?

HMFH Architects completed a detailed study of the building, proposed floor plans, and developed a cost estimate. The building will be configured to accommodate 500 students, with appropriate general classrooms, specialist spaces, breakout areas, shared use spaces, and support spaces. A number of repairs and renovations are needed to bring the entire building up to current standards for public school use, and to ensure that it will serve the school system for years to come. This work includes: replacement of windows and doors, partial roof replacement, repair of water damage, addressing site drainage problems, improving accessibility, and replacing HVAC systems. Other building systems will also need updating. Additionally, since the original cafeteria and kitchen are gone, adding these spaces will be part of the renovation. The interior finishes of the building will be new. The completed building will have a gross square footage of 69,000 square feet.
Back to top

Which students will be educated in the renovated building?

On May 26, The School Committee voted to make the Gibbs a town-wide sixth grade school, with seventh and eighth graders at the Ottoson Middle School.
Back to top

What are the processes that led to the sixth-grade school recommendation at Gibbs?

During the past six months, the School Administration, the School Enrollment Task Force, the School Committee, other town leaders, teachers, and parents worked together to generate and evaluate many different options to address our enrollment challenges.

A tremendous amount of information was gathered and carefully examined to evaluate the feasibility, effectiveness, cost, and educational impact of the options. Superintendent Bodie and the School Committee took into account academic literature, enrollment forecasts, survey data from the Ottoson faculty, and a site visit to Needham’s dedicated sixth-grade school. Superintendent Bodie outlined her rationale for recommending this model in a memo to the School Committee. For more information on the process, visit the School Enrollment Task Force site.
Back to top

What are the advantages of having a sixth-grade school at Gibbs?

Having all sixth graders together in their own school presents a unique opportunity for students from seven elementary schools to come together as a class in an environment that can be organized for their needs as they transition from elementary to middle school. Sixth graders will benefit socially and emotionally in this key transition year from being in a more personalized learning environment in which there is a narrower age range of students.

The choice of a sixth-grade school eliminates the potential for inequity between two unevenly sized middle schools. Ottoson teachers report that the size and challenging layout of the Ottoson is difficult for sixth graders who are transitioning from smaller elementary schools. In addition, the incremental costs of a sixth-grade school are significantly lower than the cost of two 6-8 schools, primarily because of the number of programs that would have to be replicated to maintain equity in a 6-8 model.
Back to top

Aren’t more transitions supposed to be bad?

Research regarding the potential negative effects of transitions on academic performance is focused on individual students moving from school to school or from district to district. In this situation, the sixth grade would move as a cohort, which would mitigate the effects of moving to another building because the students are moving with their friends. The potential negative impact of transitions can be prevented by thoughtful planning and communication.
Back to top

Are there other sixth-grade schools?

There are 116 sixth-grade schools in the country, half of which have enrollments over 300. In 2009, Needham opened High Rock as a sixth-grade school. Needham has found that the school provides strong support for students as they transition from elementary school to middle school. The transition to seventh grade is smooth because of the communication and planning that occurs between the two schools. Members of the Ottoson Faculty and the School Committee have toured High Rock, where they had an opportunity to talk to students, leadership and faculty.
Back to top

What are the costs of opening a new school at Gibbs?

It is important to recognize that enrollment growth is a primary driver of staffing cost increases. Whether sixth graders stayed at Ottoson or moved to Gibbs, more teachers would be needed to service the larger population of students in our school system. The School Department has analyzed the cost of operating a sixth grade school at Gibbs. The cost estimate is about $750,000 per year.

The cost analysis of a 6-8 grade school at Gibbs showed that the option would have been significantly more expensive.
Back to top

Will having a sixth-grade school at Gibbs affect traffic patterns?

A sixth-grade school at Gibbs will affect eastbound traffic during rush hour. The School Committee has asked the Town’s GIS Department and TAC (Transportation Advisory Committee) to develop strategies to mitigate traffic. The process has been initiated with the expectation that a robust plan will be developed during the next two years.
Back to top

Does the sixth-grade model have other challenges?

The School Department will need to develop a thoughtful plan to address the needs of students in substantially separate special education programs when cohort sizes are small. The School Department will also need to decide which after-school programs can be reasonably offered at each school and which will be offered at only one site.
Back to top

What will happen to the current tenants of the Gibbs building?

The Gibbs School was constructed in 1928, added onto in 1973, and used as a public school until 1989. Since 1989, when the East Junior High closed, the school has been leased to the Lesley Ellis School, the Arlington Center for the Arts, Learn to Grow, the Kelliher Center, and the Arlington Recreation Department. The tenants have leased the building at below market rates with the understanding that if the town needed it again for school purposes, their leases would be terminated.

To date, this is the information the town has about the tenants and their long-term plans:

The Lesley Ellis School, owned by Schools for Children, Inc., will be relocating to the former Crosby School, which is currently the Dearborn Academy. The Dearborn Academy is moving to Newton, making it possible for Lesley Ellis to use their building and stay in East Arlington.

Learn to Grow, a preschool child care facility, has also found a new home in East Arlington. The exact location will announced soon, but according to a notice that went out to parents, the space is new construction and allows the center to add infant care.

The Arlington Center for the Arts is working closely with town leaders to find their new home. The school district is offering the ACA camp space in one of our schools going forward, and the town has proposed an alternative site for ACA programming.

The Kelliher Center, owned by Eliot Community Human Services, is working to acquire space in or around Arlington that would house the Kelliher Center programs and potentially the executive office suite of Eliot Community Human Services.
Back to top

How much will the Gibbs renovation cost the town and how much will this addition cost the average taxpayer in Arlington?

The debt exclusion vote asks the voters to set a $25 million debt ceiling for the Gibbs renovation. The estimated impact on the average single-family tax bill (currently $7,493) is about $99 per year in additional property taxes for 20-30 years.
Back to top


Arlington High School

Why does Arlington High School need to be renovated or rebuilt?

The main building was constructed in 1914, and during the past century, buildings have been added to accommodate enrollment growth and program needs. The most recent renovation work was done in 1981, but there has never been a renovation of the whole school. Because program needs have changed significantly over the years, AHS needs to be rebuilt or renovated in order to support learning in the 21st century. The school has a confusing and unwelcoming layout, and only 23% of the school’s general education classrooms meet the MSBA’s minimum standards for square footage. Science rooms are significantly undersized, creating hazardous conditions. Ten classrooms either have large columns or strange configurations that obstruct students’ views. The school has problems with ADA compliance and has fewer bathroom facilities than the state requires. It also has poor egress routes and needs improvements to building security (currently there are over 30 doors in unsupervised areas). Additionally, there is an urgent need to repair or replace many mechanical systems that are at or beyond their service lifespan. The New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) was alarmed at what it saw in its 2013 accreditation visit and consequently placed AHS on warning status because of the facility. The organization’s letter cited the “negative impact of the facility on the delivery of the school’s written curriculum.”
Back to top

Why do we need to conduct a feasibility study for Arlington High School?

For school districts seeking to receive grant funds from the state to assist with the costs of school construction projects, the MSBA requires that, once accepted into their program, districts must follow a prescribed course of action. MSBA's process is broken into modules, and districts proceed through each, in turn, toward the final execution of the desired project. While there are eight modules, which span from the initial “Statement of Interest” application to the final completion of the project, there are essentially two broad phases that form the MSBA process: the feasibility phase and the design and construction phase.
Back to top

What does a feasibility study include?

The basic goals of the feasibility phase include: thorough investigation of the specific issues of concern, development of various alternate solutions, determination of a preferred solution, and schematic-level development of the preferred solution for cost estimating. Once a preferred solution has been identified, the costs estimated, and the educational plan approved by the MSBA, the state and municipality enter into a Project Funding Agreement (PFA) in which the state’s grant amount is determined.
Back to top

Why does the feasibility plan cost $2 million?

The feasibility phase will span approximately 12-14 months and requires, per MSBA regulations, the involvement of an Owner’s Project Manager (OPM) who acts as the school district’s agent and advocate. It also includes a design team, which includes the architect and engineers as well as the educational planner and a variety of specialized consultants. Given the complexity of a high school project, the significant site restrictions at AHS, and the strong likelihood that a preferred solution will need to address an occupied phased renovation or replacement of the existing complex, $2 million is a conservative figure to cover all the costs of this year-long effort. Assuming a successful continuation of the project into the design and construction phase, the costs associated with the completed feasibility phase will become eligible for grant funding at the same overall percentage approved for the project.
Back to top

How much will this feasibility study cost the average taxpayer in Arlington?

The estimated impact on the average single-family tax bill (currently $7,493) is about $8 per year in additional property taxes for 20-30 years.
Back to top


Minuteman Vocational High School

How do Arlington students use Minuteman Vocational High School?

Arlington is one of 10 towns using the regional public high school that integrates academic learning with career and technical learning. Arlington must offer its students the opportunity to receive a vocational education as required by state law. Recently 120-165 students from Arlington have been enrolled at Minuteman, the most of any town in the Minuteman District. The school serves a diverse student body with multiple learning styles, with almost half of Minuteman students receiving special education services.

Arlington students are in every program offered by Minuteman. 45% of our students are in Design/Visual Communications; Electrical Wiring, Health Assisting, Plumbing and Heating, and Biotechnology. The other programs they participate in are Automotive Technology, Carpentry and Construction, Cosmetology and Barbering, Culinary Arts and Hospitality, Early Education and Teaching, Environmental Science and Technology, Horticulture and Landscaping Technology, Programming and Web Development, Robotics, Engineering and Automation, Welding and Metal Fabrication.
Back to top

Why does Minuteman need this building project?

The Minuteman facility is more than 40 years old. Its building systems—structure, electrical, mechanical, roofing, windows and exterior cladding—are at the end of their life and failing fast. The facility was designed for vocational education of the 1960s and cannot support the updated educational curriculum, academy model, and new programs, including Robotics and Manufacturing Automation. It also does not meet current requirements for energy efficiency, life safety, air quality, seismic loading (earthquake resistance), or handicap access. The New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) has put Minuteman on Warning Status due to facilities issues.
Back to top

Can’t the building be repaired at a lower cost?

The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) required that all options be considered, including repair, renovation, and an addition. After careful analysis, renovation was rejected as too expensive. At this point, renovations would cost the member towns an estimated $105 million, with no MSBA reimbursement, with massive disruption to students over a possible ten-year period, and with limited educational benefit. The cost of renovations for Minuteman are affected by many factors, including the fact that the current building contains both asbestos and PCBs. This significantly increases the cost of renovations and hazards to students that must be avoided.
Building a new school was the least costly option and would produce the best end result. In other words, about the same amount would be spent by member towns as would be spent on a new building, but with a greatly inferior result. A new building will also decrease the cost of running Minuteman moving forward. A smaller building is more economical to run in the long-term and in a new energy efficient building, we would expect to see a 35-45% savings in utility costs.
Back to top

Will the new school be the right size?

The new school is designed for 628 students, a reduction from the existing school’s original 1200-student capacity that reflects decreased attendance. It is also a reduction from the current number of students. Vocational schools have a minimum size. A good vocational school supports a wide variety of programs, from biotechnology to HVAC to environmental science to cosmetology. A vocational school that is too small cannot support enough programs to be viable. The MSBA told Minuteman they would not provide funding for a school of fewer than 600 students. As part of the MSBA process, engineers and architects developed estimates for options for both larger and smaller schools. The final decision was that 628 was the correct size.
Back to top

How can we be confident the new school will be filled?

Enrollment at Minuteman has averaged 729 students during the past decade and 749 students during the past five years. The new 628-student school will be smaller and easier to fill. The school administration is highly confident that it will fill the new school to capacity. Minuteman has engaged a national expert to increase student enrollment and retention at vocational–technical high schools and is seeing increased interest from eighth graders and their parents and a 15% increase in applications from member towns. Several member towns have experienced large increases in their elementary school enrollment (Arlington, Belmont, Lexington, and others). Other districts have experienced increased enrollment when they built new vocational–technical high schools.
Back to top

How much will the building cost Arlington?

Arlington’s share depends upon the number of Arlington students attending the school. The total project budget is $144,922,480, and the construction budget is $119,200,892. The MSBA will reimburse 44.75% of eligible costs, (30% Effective Reimbursement), which should be $ 44.1 Million. Arlington’s share is expected to be between $25 and $32 Million. At $32 million, the annual impact on the average single family tax bill is approximately $123.
Back to top

Why does Minuteman cost so much on a per student basis compared to other building projects?

Vocational-technical high schools have a higher square footage per student because of the space devoted to specific vocational programs. The program shops often require industry-specific equipment that adds to the cost. Vocational–technical high schools also require more complex and distinctive learning spaces, so cost per square foot is higher. The Minuteman project is comparable in cost to other recent vocational–technical high school building projects.
Back to top

I’ve heard that other recently rebuilt vocational–technical schools had lower capital costs per student than the proposed Minuteman rebuild. Is that true?

Although it’s tempting to compare schools by per pupil capital cost, a variety of factors make this mode of comparison misleading. For example, Essex Agricultural and Technical High School had a rebuild completed in 2014. However, the programs offered at Essex Aggie, with its agricultural academy, are substantively different from the programs offered at Minuteman and have different space and program requirements. This is not an apples to apples comparison. Additionally, Essex Aggie currently has about 1,200 students and built the school with the intention of growing enrollment to 1,440 students. The larger enrollment creates some cost efficiencies.

It is also worth noting that construction costs have escalated significantly since 2014 and are projected to escalate more by the time the Minuteman project goes out to bid, probably in 2018. It is expected to open in 2020. If the Essex Aggie project were being built on the current Minuteman schedule, it would likely be a $186.4 million project, rather than the $134.5 million project it was in 2014. The adjusted cost of the 337,000 square foot Essex Aggie project is $553 per square foot, as compared with $562 per square foot for Minuteman.

The Turner Building Cost Index was used to calculate this escalation. This index is widely used in the construction trade. The Consumer Price Index is not the appropriate index for such a specialized group of products and services. The Turner Building Cost Index is determined by nationwide labor rates and productivity, material prices, and the competitive condition of the marketplace.
Back to top

Why is Minuteman’s cost per student higher than the cost per student at some other vocational–technical schools?

A variety of factors are at play in per student spending, but one of the most important has to do with special education. Minuteman has perennially been the public school in the state with the highest percentage of special education students.

This academic year, 46.6% of Minuteman students have disabilities. Compare this to the 10.5% of students at Arlington High School who have disabilities. The percentage of students with disabilities at Minuteman is also significantly higher than the percentage of students with disabilities at most other regional vocational–technical schools in the state. At Shawsheen Technical School, 24.6% of students have disabilities. At Essex Agricultural, 22.8% of students have disabilities. Minuteman’s percentage of students with disabilities is about double. South Middlesex Regional Vocational Technical School is the most similar to Minuteman in percentage of students with disabilities, at 46.4%. The school’s per student cost of $25,615 in 2014 is very close to Minuteman’s per student cost of $26,528 in 2014, the most recent year for which this data is available from the Massachusetts Department of Education. Please note that the Department of Education’s per student spending numbers do not include capital costs. It is not standard to include capital costs as part of this calculation, and it is misleading.

Students with disabilities deserve a quality education, but this kind of education is more expensive. Minuteman does well by its special education students. Five years ago the school created a Student Learning Center (SLC) staffed by multiple special education teachers to provide direct instruction in skill development to compensate for the students’ disability-related deficiencies. Students in the SLC are also instructed with assistive technology that mirrors a post-secondary environment. The SLC complements Minuteman’s Academic Support Classes, which are the next level of service in the continuum of special education services. Academic Support classes are small classes with a maximum of eight students to one instructor, or twelve students to one instructor and a paraprofessional, as required by regulation. Students receive direct instruction to strengthen learning. MCAS scores reflect the quality of Minuteman’s special education. In 2013 (the most recent year for which analysis is available), Minuteman’s special education students outperformed special education students at comparable schools such as Assabet Valley, South Middlesex, and Nashoba Valley Tech.

Another cost factor is that Minuteman’s current building creates inefficiencies. It was designed for 1,200 students and currently has about 700. The proposed total square footage of the new building is 257,745 square feet—more than 70,000 square feet smaller than the current building. With a new energy-efficient building, the school expects to see a 35% to 40% savings in utility costs. In addition, the target enrollment of 628 in the new building is less than current enrollment and as a result the administration estimates a reduction in staffing by about 20%. A new building will allow the administration to run the school more efficiently.
Back to top

Why does Arlington have to pay for a share of the new Minuteman building? Could we leave the district?

We are required by law to provide vocational and technical educational paths to the students who request them. We are not able to provide the necessary programs at Arlington High School. We are obligated by the terms of our agreement with the district to pay a share of the costs of the project. Members of town government worked with the Minuteman District and with other member communities to come up with a new, equitable regional agreement earlier this year, and that agreement specifies the share we pay.
Back to top

The town is rebuilding or renovating Arlington High School anyway. Can’t we add vocational and technical programs as part of the rebuild instead of sending students to Minuteman?

Vocational and technical programs require specialized learning environments with stringent state safety requirements. Examples of programs currently taken by Arlington students include automotive technology, electrical wiring, plumbing and heating, culinary arts, and metal fabrication and welding. These types of programs would require significant space, equipment and new staff. The financial investment would be considerable and would still only result in a few programs for lack of space as well as the financial burden. For this to be a financial win for Arlington, we would have to offer many programs, and we can’t.

Any students who wanted vocational­–technical programs not offered by Arlington would have to be placed in programs outside of our school district, and we would pay out-of-district rates. Medford offers sixteen programs and still paid to send 34 students at Minuteman this year. Arlington would need to send even more if we could only offer a few programs. Arlington currently has 120 students at Minuteman, and the number has been as high as 170. Given that area vocational­­–technical schools take member students first and make no guarantees about accepting out-of-district students, it is doubtful that all of Arlington’s vocational-technical students would be accepted for out-of-district placements.
Back to top

Other towns have left the district and are planning to send students to Minuteman as out-of-district students. Why can’t Arlington do that and pay lower capital costs?

It’s a question of scale. The towns that left the district send far fewer students. Arlington has 115-175 students at Minuteman in a given year. Sudbury sends 25 students; Boxborough, seven; Carlisle, five; Lincoln, 11; Wayland, two; and Weston, five. Some towns are seeking to join other vocational–technical districts, and for others it’s reasonable to plan to place their handful of students at Minuteman as out-of-district students. Arlington would have to place 115-175 students at other schools that have their own member towns and limited slots for out-of-district students. No school could absorb all of Arlington’s vocational–technical students. Add to this that realistically, Minuteman High would fold if Arlington left the district. This would mean it wouldn't just be 115-175 Arlington students looking for placement at different vocational–technical schools—it would be more like 700. Other vocational–technical schools in the area couldn’t come close to meeting this demand. If the district attracts more than 628 students to the new school, students from member towns will be allowed to enroll and non-member towns will have to attempt to find places for their students at other vocational–technical schools.

There is one major factor other than number of students that contributed to those towns leaving the district. Because of the new, more equitable regional agreement, their costs are higher. Since Arlington is the second poorest town in the district, our costs are lower, and we get a better deal. Financially it makes sense for us to stay in Minuteman.
Back to top

What is the new regional agreement? How has it improved things for Arlington?

For many years, Arlington had one of sixteen equal votes on the choices made about Minuteman by its governing body but sent far more students there than any other town. Minuteman approved a new agreement after considerable work on the part of Arlington. The new agreement gives towns a vote that is tied to the number of students at the school. Now Arlington’s vote is worth 25% of the total vote, which reflects the number of students we send.

When it comes to capital costs, the new formula also takes the wealth of the town into account. Half the cost to a town is based on enrollment and half is based on the wealth of the town. Since Arlington is the second poorest town, we get a better deal on capital costs.
Back to top

What do out-of-district towns who send students to Minuteman pay in capital costs? Will they help pay for the new building?

Out-of-district towns pay $8,500 per year capital costs per student. They used to pay no capital costs. If a new school is built for Minuteman, then out-of-district towns will be charged capital costs for the rebuild. If the school is only renovated, those costs cannot legally be passed on to the out-of-district towns.
Back to top

If Arlington’s enrollment drops, how does that change our role at Minuteman?

The percentage of the vote that Arlington has on the governing board depends on the number of students we have attending Minuteman, so our vote would change. On the upside, the amount of money Arlington taxpayers would need to contribute toward the cost of the new building would also drop.
Back to top

I heard the Minuteman rebuild isn’t happening because Belmont’s Town Meeting voted against it. Is that true? Why should I still vote yes?

The future of the project is not yet known. Arlington's Town Meeting voted overwhelmingly to support the rebuild, and if this debt exclusion vote passes on June 14, the project will have Arlington's full approval. Belmont's Town Meeting did vote against the new building, which put the project on hold. However, fifteen of sixteen original member towns voted to go forward with the new building. The MSBA granted the Minuteman District an extension to work to secure local approval. According to Minuteman’s superintendent, Edward Bouquillon, the time extension granted by the MSBA will allow the District and other key stakeholders an opportunity to further engage Belmont officials in a substantive discussion about the benefits of moving forward with the project. People from many towns are working with Belmont and urging them to reconsider. Arlington will take out a bond if the project goes forward. If it doesn’t, the bond won’t be issued. The town would then need to find a way to fund the extensive repairs that would be needed. This would probably require another debt exclusion vote.
Back to top


Debt Exclusion Tax Impacts

What is a debt exclusion?

A debt exclusion is a temporary increase in taxes to pay for specific capital projects. Debt exclusions allow tax revenue to be temporarily increased beyond a limit set by state statute, known as the levy limit, to pay the debt service on the projects. A debt exclusion must be approved by a majority of voters, and the authorization to increase revenue beyond the levy limit lasts only for the life of the debt. In this case, the debt will last 20-30 years.
Back to top

How is a debt exclusion different from an override?

A debt exclusion raises taxes to pay for the debt on a specific project on a temporary basis. The duration depends on the term of the bonds, and may be up to 30 years. An override raises taxes permanently, increasing the levy limit, and may be used to cover any legitimate expenses of the municipality.
Back to top

What will the June 14th debt exclusion fund, and how much money will the town borrow?

Projects included in the debt exclusion and their estimated expenses are:

  • Arlington High School Feasibility Study - $2 million
  • Thompson Elementary School Expansion - $4 million
  • Gibbs School Renovation (Middle School or Town-Wide 6th Grade) - $25 million
  • Minuteman Regional Tech Renovation - $32 million

Back to top

How much will my property taxes increase?

If all three questions pass, the tax impact on the average single-family tax bill (currently $7,493) will be $42 in 2017, will rise to about $245 in 2021, and will then remain stable for the duration of the debt. The 2021 impact on the average condominium tax bill (currently $4,506) will be $148. The term of the debt is expected to be between 20 and 30 years.

The chart below shows the debt exclusion’s impact on average single-family and condo residential taxpayers by federal tax bracket, assuming the taxpayer itemizes deductions.
Debt exclusion tax impact
Increment to tax rate from debt exclusions: $0.42 per $1,000
Source: Town of Arlington Town Manager’s Office (memo to Board of Selectmen, May 4, 2016).

The figure below shows the property tax implications of the debt exclusion, with the Minuteman project separated from the other school projects.
Debt exclusion impact
Back to top

How realistic is the estimated $123 per year impact for Minuteman on the average single-family tax bill?

The projected $123 per year annual impact is based on a worst-case scenario developed by the Town Manager’s office, in which non-member towns are assumed not to be contributing to the capital cost of the building project. Under the best-case scenario, in which Minuteman is able to assess a capital contribution to non-member towns, the cost would decrease to $86 per year for the average single-family property tax bill. Assuming an annual impact of $123 is a fiscally prudent course of action.
Back to top

How realistic is the estimated $123 per year impact for the Gibbs renovation, the Thompson addition, and the AHS feasibility study on the average single-family property tax bill?

The projected $123 per year annual impact is a conservative estimate that has built-in contingencies to ensure that the cost to the taxpayer will not be more than projected. The largest contingency is built into the Gibbs renovation estimate. The Town Manager’s Office assumes a renovation cost of $25 million, which exceeds the architect’s preliminary estimate of $19.9 million. Even assuming furniture and equipment of $2 million, the project has a built-in cost contingency.

Assuming an annual impact of $123 for the Gibbs renovation, Thompson addition, and AHS feasibility study is a fiscally prudent course of action.
Back to top

How do the costs of the Gibbs renovation, the Thompson addition, and the AHS feasibility study break down on the average single-family tax bill?

The Gibbs renovation adds $99 per year, The Thompson $16 per year, and the feasibility study adds $8 per year.
Back to top

Why aren’t dollar amounts part of the ballot questions? Are there limits to what the town can spend on these projects if the debt exclusions pass?

Proposition 2.5 sets the language of a debt exclusion vote and does not allow dollar amounts to be included in these types of ballot questions. The amount that can be added to the tax rate is determined by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue based on “the borrowing amount authorized or contemplated for the described purpose or purposes at the time of the referendum vote.” Those amounts are defined in a memo from the Office of the Town Manager. The Department of Revenue looks at what the voters were told the projects would cost and limits debt exclusions accordingly.

The Department of Revenue allows the borrowing amount to exceed the fixed amount only if it is “a modest amount attributable to inflation, new regulatory requirements or minor project changes.” Unless the Department of Revenue found that the additional amounts fell within these narrow exceptions, any cost overruns would have to be funded from other town budgets within the limits of Proposition 2.5. The project estimates are conservative, and it is unlikely that the actual costs will exceed the estimates.
Back to top

What if the projects cost less than the town estimates?

The town will only borrow what it needs, and it will borrow in stages, when more is known about each project. If the town borrows less than the estimated amounts, the repayment costs that are added to property tax bills will also be lower.
Back to top

Are there any more proposed property tax increases in excess of 2.5% in the foreseeable future?

In addition to the projects that are currently on the ballot, Arlington will be faced with decisions on two matters within the next five to six years.

  1. Arlington High School
    In 2018 or 2019, the town will request funding for the rebuild or renovation of Arlington High School. The details and costs of the Arlington High School rebuild project will be determined as part of the feasibility study that voters are being asked to approve funding for as part of the June 14, 2016 debt exclusion. The cost of rebuilding or renovating the high school is unknown at this time. The feasibility study is part of the planning process that allows the town to estimate the cost. This will be a public process, conducted within the requirements of the MSBA. The town’s leadership is acutely aware of the challenges we face as a town and understands that a fiscally responsible approach to the AHS rebuild is necessary, balancing long-term academic quality with fiscal responsibility.
  2. Operating Override
    In June, 2011 the voters approved a Proposition 2.5 override under a commitment from town leadership that they would not ask for another operating override for at least three years. Driven by strong financial leadership and town employees’ willingness to contribute to the financial health of the town by joining the state insurance plan (GIC), the town’s operating budget is projected to remain solvent through fiscal 2020, a total of nine fiscal years. Many factors can change between now and then, but it is likely that at some point between 2018 and 2020, the town will need to either go to the voters for a property tax override to continue funding level services, make cuts to the operating budget, or a combination of both. The town’s current five-year budgetary forecast can be found on the last page of the 2016 Finance Committee Report to Town Meeting.
    Back to top

I’ve heard that the town has an Override Stabilization Fund with $21 million. Can this money be used for capital projects?

Although taking money out of the Override Stabilization Fund to pay for school capital projects would be legal, it would not be fiscally prudent. Since June 2005, when Arlington voters passed an operating override to fund level services, the town’s financial management strategy has been to build up excess revenues in the Override Stabilization Fund during good budgetary years, and to use those funds to delay an operating override when revenues begin exceeding expenses. This practice allowed the town to delay an operating override for six years after the 2005 override, and for at least seven years after the 2011 override.
If the balance of the Override Stabilization Fund were used on school capital projects, the town would suddenly be facing an operating budget shortfall for fiscal 2018, which begins on July 1, 2017. The town has chosen continue to use the Override Stabilization Fund as it was designed to be used, and is asking residents to vote to fund four specific projects with a debt exclusion.
Back to top

How do Arlington’s property taxes compare to property taxes in similar towns?

The residential tax rate is lower than the rates of most towns in Massachusetts. In 2015, Arlington ranked 242 in residential tax rates out of 336 communities. Arlington is often compared to other towns in Massachusetts that are similar in size and fiscal situation. These towns are known as the Town Manager Twelve. While this places Arlington near the middle in terms of its comparable communities, it is still significantly below neighbors Belmont and Winchester.
Average single family tax bill
Source: Town of Arlington Public Annual Financial Report, Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 2015
Back to top

How does Arlington’s spending on education compare to spending in these eleven comparable towns?

Per pupil spending in the eleven comparable towns ranges from $11,915 to $17,291, with a median of $13,499. Arlington’s per pupil spending is $13,085, and the state average is $14,518. All numbers are for the 2013-14 school year, the most recent year for which we have reliable numbers.
Back to top

Are options available if I can’t afford the tax increase?

Several state and local programs offer tax relief to qualifying property owners and renters in the form of exemptions or deferrals. Programs are available for senior citizens, people in low‐income households, disabled veterans, and others. Residents of Arlington Housing Authority properties will not be affected by the tax increase. Information about tax abatement programs can be found at http://www.arlingtonma.gov/departments/assessor/personal-exemptions.

Massachusetts has a tax credit program called the Senior Circuit Breaker that allows qualified senior citizens who are homeowners or renters to receive up to $1,070 from the state. The credit is equal to the amount that a person’s property tax exceeds 10% of his or her total income. In 2015, the income threshold was $57,000 for a single person and $85,000 for a couple. The assessed value of a home must be less than $693,000. For renters, 25% of rent is considered to be for payment of property taxes. Seniors who receive a federal or state rent subsidy are not eligible for this credit. During tax season, volunteers from the joint AARP/IRS Tax Counseling for the Elderly program will provide free assistance in filing for this credit and other programs. For more information contact the Arlington Council on Aging at 781-316-3400.
Back to top