The final piece in the City’s 14-year-long school revitalization plan got the go-ahead Monday night as City Councillors – many with strong, continuing reservations about financing the project – voted in record time to affirm the bond authorization package and allow the McKinley School (now the Hill School) to move forward.
The McKinley School has been the lingering last piece in a five-school building plan that was initiated under former Mayor Bob Haas, built out under former Mayor Tom Ambrosino, and taken to the final leg by Mayor Dan Rizzo.
However, it was not a total celebration for those on the Council, who have been embroiled over the last several months in a battle with the School Department and the Mayor’s Office over the cost and planning of the new facility. In fact, things were so intense that the positive vote on the McKinley School financing package looked to be in jeopardy as late as last week – when many councillors appeared to be on the cusp of voting to send the entire project back to the drawing board.
In the end, it was not a financial summit held last Saturday, detailed explanations about the need, or even signs detailing the inequitable conditions.
It was, in fact, the voices of the people who pushed the measure over the top and negated some legitimate concerns about financing that have been bantered about for months; it was a show of political force by more than 200 people in the school-centric population and the Mayor’s Office that overshadowed the traditional force in Revere of the taxpaying (sometimes elderly) empty nesters.
THE VOICE OF THE YOUNG
In particular, it was one fifth grade girl – Kimberly Rosales – who stood up spontaneously and spoke her mind – telling about having to deal with cockroaches, boiler fumes and art classes in the hallways – that sealed the deal on Monday night.
“I support the idea of having a new school because in our school we don’t have a gym,” said the Suffolk Avenue resident. “A hallway is our classroom. There are a lot of pipes everywhere. In the basement, the floor is scraping off. The paint is coming up off the floor. We don’t have an art room. We don’t have a library. We don’t even have a cafeteria.”
That well-received and moving speech from the poised little girl confirmed what had become obvious – that the Council was not going to rain on the party despite their questions and previous statements.
Councillors who had questions about the financing – even after last Saturday’s financial summit – said they would go out on faith and take a stab in the dark.
“The questions I have asked are because we were told last summer this would cost $8 million, and then we were told $15 million,” said Councillor Brian Arrigo. “Now, we’re told the whole package is $23 million. I have reservations about Hill Park being the cheapest option. I still think I’m right, but it’s very obvious we need to build the new school. The cost of this has been on my mind since last summer.
“Are we putting a lot of eggs in one basket? Yes,” he continued. “Is it a bit of a gamble? Sure. I think the projections before us are very optimistic, but I trust our collective financial professionals and I trust our mayor and so I will have faith we can afford this.”
Other councillors made similar statements, coming out for the school bond and its two accompanying bond authorizations, but saying that asking questions about the cost wasn’t a defection from the public good.
“I live with the fact that I had to eat 50 seats in my area at the new Paul Revere School because it was too expensive,” said Ward 3 Councillor Arthur Guinasso. “Now, you all are going from 500 seats to 690 seats. That’s the Taj Mahal. I’m for this school, but I don’t think we should look negatively at any councillor that questions these figures. We have a strong commitment to the taxpayers and you are some of them, but there’s also a great number that aren’t here tonight.”
Added Councillor Bob Haas, “I’m very concerned how this could affect the taxpayers of our community. I’m for it, no question about it. All I want to do is get information on what it will do to our taxpayers.”
THE LONE ‘NO’ VOTE
One councillor, President Ira Novoselsky, was the lone councillor to maintain opposition, and he in fact voted against main school bond.
“To be very honest, in the past you guys got screwed,” said Novoselsky to the McKinley School parents. “We have been given a lot of information and a lot of information has not been complete. We haven’t heard about what’s really going on at the St. Mary’s property…We still don’t have all the info. I have a responsibility to my folks in the Shirley Ave area who pay taxes – many of them elderly. I probably won’t vote for the school tonight. I’m sorry, but I don’t have all the information. I may be the only vote, but so be it.”
Novoselsky’s opposition was quite apparent from the beginning, when he refused to start the meeting until people with signs left the Chambers. When people wouldn’t leave and the crowd began to get a bit testy, Councillors Richard Penta and Charlie Patch opted to bypass Novoselsky and have Council Vice President Jessica Giannino call the meeting to order. Only at the last minute did Novoselsky relent, calling the meeting to order even with the signs still in place.
IN THE AFFIRMATIVE
Such opposition was flanked by comments from Councillors Penta, Patch, Stephen Reardon, Giannino and John Correggio – all of whom had no problem supporting all the measures before them.
“That little girl represents hundreds of children behind her who want to be in a new school,” Giannino said in reference to Rosales. “She doesn’t know what a bond authorization is. She only knows she doesn’t have a gym to play in on cold days or an art room to learn about what the color wheel is. These are the people I’m thinking about now…This is not about one future. This is about hundreds of futures.”
Reardon said that sometimes you have to take a bold step.
“The thing we have to realize is we’re not driving the process and maybe we don’t have all the information we want,” said Reardon. “The problem is the people giving us $30 million (the state) said we need to hurry up. When they say that, you tend to do it. We have overcome obstacles and we will overcome any that come about. While there may be a few unanswered questions, I think they can be overcome. Bold initiatives don’t happen with guarantees. They just don’t.”
Also in the affirmative were numerous teachers, parents and administrators from the McKinley community that had packed the room in a way it had not been packed in decades – even requiring a television feed in the adjacent auditorium for the crowd.
“We are the school with the highest poverty rate and the most diverse student population with the most English Language Learners,” said Domenica Giordano of Vane Street – a McKinley parent. “Maybe the Council is accustomed to the McKinley community sitting quietly by as all the amenities are provided to kids in so-called better areas of the city. The McKinley community is done with complacency. We vote. We pay taxes and we want this school.”
That argument of fairness was echoed very eloquently as well by McKinley staff members.
“After you walk through the Whelan School, the Susan B. Anthony, the Rumney Marsh Academy and the Paul Revere, at that time I would be more than happy to take you through the McKinley,” said Principal Ed Moccia. “After you look at the McKinley, I would ask you one question: Is it fair?…Equity absolutely does not exist. It only will exist when staff members and students are sitting in the new building they deserve.”
Said Physical Education teacher Robert Cataldo, “They are the only children in the city – and maybe the state – that don’t have access to a gym. They are so deprived…These kids go out in the freezing cold in the winter to play. They never complain. These are 6 and 7 year olds and they’re all bundled up. It’s so unfair.”
WHERE WAS THE OPPOSITION?
The lone community member to offer some dissent to the project was Barrett Street resident Rob Selevitch – who was roundly criticized by the audience each time he rose to give his two cents. While he was not against the school, he indicated he didn’t believe in the present plan.
“What I’d like to see is a little more protection for the taxpayer,” he said. “There are a lot of people who are just barely getting by. The school system doesn’t seem to realize or see that. They just keep on writing and writing and writing checks. We’re putting all our eggs in one basket. It is a risk. Obviously I disagree with it, but I am obviously in the distinct minority.”
While, to a person, many in the community had severe reservations about the school bond, those voices were not present on Monday night. Many indicated the presence by the schools was just too intimidating and too large, with a good number of dissenters not wanting to go through with the ridicule given to Selevitch. Additionally, it also appeared a good many opinions had changed within the last few weeks – with the conditions and the kids rising above the costs and the concerns.
RIZZO COMES OUT ON TOP
Mayor Dan Rizzo scored one of the largest victories of the night – pounding through most everything he wanted with overwhelming support of the Council and the public. In the end, it was a project he said coincided with his view for better education and his dream of revitalizing Broadway.
“All our projections show this is based within the confines of Proposition 2 ½,” he said. “This is not going to put any additional burden on the taxpayers other than what they already have. I don’t want this to be portrayed as Nero is fiddling while Rome is burning. Our finances are in great shape. I especially don’t want seniors to be unnecessarily alarmed or nervous because there is no reason for it.
“I think this is something where our joint vision – the city and the schools – came together to make something that goes well together,” he added. “It’s the new Stadium, the new tennis courts, the basketball courts and all the things we’re already doing on Broadway. It all pulls together. Tonight was a major step and a major positive step forward.”
For the record, councillors approved three crucial bonds that allow the school to move forward, including:
•Constructing, equipping and furnishing the Hill School in the amount of $42,402,396. (Vote of 10-1)
•Authorizing the acquisition of certain parcels of land required to construct the Hill School and acquire land to be converted to parkland in the amount of $3 million. (Vote of 11-0)
•Paying the costs of park improvements at the former St. Mary’s ball field site once acquired in the amount of $2.1 million. (Vote of 11-0)
•Another bond authorization for $2.5 million to refurbish the old McKinley School into office space for the School Department and the City was sent to the Zoning Committee for further study. Many on the Council are of the opinion that measure can wait, including Councillor John Powers. Mayor Rizzo disagrees, however, and will continue to advocate for the money.
•A legally important, but less contentious, matter was an 11-0 vote to transfer parkland from Hill Park to St. Mary’s Park.