EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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June 8, 2014

Editorial: Haverhill voters should support new Hunking School

Haverhill needs to replace the deteriorated Hunking School. Voters in a citywide election Tuesday should approve a Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion to finance it.

Supporting the debt exclusion is the fiscally prudent choice for Haverhill taxpayers. A debt exclusion allows city leaders to finance a specific project outside of the constraints of tax-limiting Proposition 2 1/2. The tax increase associated with the project lasts only until the project is paid for. It is not a permanent tax increase.

This is the method designed by the authors of Proposition 2 1/2 to allow communities to finance large-scale capital projects. It is not an “end-run” around or other subversion of the tax-limiting measure.

The current Hunking School, which serves 500 students in grades 6 to 8, is structurally unsound and will be forced to close in 2017. In late 2011, the city closed half of Hunking School due to fears a portion of the building could collapse. About 150 students were sent to another school due to structural problems. Repairs were made and the students were eventually moved back to Hunking.

The city cannot afford a new school without a debt exclusion, Mayor James Fiorentini said. Failing to support a new school means further expensive, temporary repairs to the existing school or allowing it to close and busing its students to other city schools, further exacerbating overcrowding in the city’s school system. This is throwing good money after bad.

Last week, the state School Building Authority Board voted to pay 65.6 percent, or about $40 million, of a new school’s $61.5 million cost. That’s $3 million more than city officials had initially expected. The money is an addition to the state’s base reimbursement rate for schools that use environmentally sound designs and an approved construction risk manager.

With a state reimbursement of nearly 66 percent, Haverhill taxpayers will get a new school for 34 percent of its actual cost. That’s a good return on the taxpayers’ $21.5 million.

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