I have a problem.
The Ipswich School Committee desires to build consensus in their quest to address the issue of aging and inadequate elementary schools. Failing to achieve consensus using community-wide listening sessions, the School Committee now seeks additional community input by means of Question 5 that will appear on the ballot on May 16. Question 5 asks voters to indicate their preference among four different scenarios or school configurations.
I am distressed that the School Committee has not put dollar numbers nor time scales on any of the four scenarios; nor apparently is there guidance coming from the Finance Committee on this matter. This leaves me as a voter with a problem. How can I make an informed choice among the scenarios without this information? So as to not vote blindly, I set about doing my own analysis which I have summarized in the chart to follow. I willingly share this with you.
First, I had to make some assumptions:
All four scenarios would support the School Committee’s educational plan.In the present environment, the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA, the source of state aid for these projects) would provide support for only one new school.MSBA aid in 2023 would be at the same percentage as it was in 2018.No new school would be ready for occupancy before 2028. For the sequenced scenarios, a repair of an existing school or a second new school would be ready for occupancy in 2033.The cost estimates developed in 2018 for the various elements of the scenarios could be used as a valid starting point.To express scenario costs in 2023 dollars, the 2018 cost estimates have been increased by 1.44 times due to inflation of new school construction costs. Since 2018 new school construction costs have increased by 1.44 times. See https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/PCU236222236222.
And the results:
Comments are in order:
All of my assumptions can and should be challenged. I did this analysis to inform my own voting, not necessarily to sway the opinion of others. Of course the reader is free to make their own assumptions.
In the scenarios involving sequenced elements, the cost estimates should be escalated beyond 2023. None of these cost estimates include the cost of necessary feasibility studies (at town expense) which would further increase the costs of each scenario, but more so for scenarios 2, 3 and 4. None of these cost estimates includes the expenses of keeping at least one of our elementary schools in service for another decade; which would further increase the costs of scenarios 2, 3 and 4. If all of these factors were considered it would make scenarios 2, 3 and 4 even more expensive than Scenario 1, but would not change the relative order.
My analysis could be even more complete by expressing the cost of each scenario in terms of the tax rate impact. I chose not to do this. First of all, projecting the tax rate impact five or 10 years into the future requires even more debatable assumptions. Second, the tax rate impact will roughly follow the Escalated Taxpayer Cost and not change the relative rankings of the four scenarios with Scenario 1 being the least expensive and scenarios 3 and 4 being the most expensive.
As a concluding comment, note that Scenario 1 is essentially the Doyon proposal that was narrowly defeated in 2018. The cost of the delay caused by that defeat, if Scenario 1 is chosen, will be on the order of $18 million. All other scenarios show cost growths of $30 million or more over the cost of the specific proposal should that scenario have been funded in 2018.
I have resolved my problem. I will choose and support Scenario 1 and ask for no more delays.
Jim Engel lives in Ipswich and over the course of 40 years has served on the Select Board, as interim town manager and temporary town moderator. He has also led or participated in large capital projects, including chairing the Select Board during planning and construction of the Ipswich Middle/High School. He recently retired from a long career in engineering and management.