Opinion

Saugus ready to leap

The town is wasting no time in launching one of the most ambitious local public school building projects undertaken in Massachusetts in recent years.

With a price tag of $186 million, the three-school project rivals the unsuccessful attempt by Lynn public officials three months ago to build two new middle schools. Like their Lynn counterparts, Saugus officials are asking town voters to approve the school projects and the spending associated with them.

Unlike Lynn officials, Saugus leaders hold an ace when it comes to convincing town residents why the massive school project makes sense. Saugus has a AA+ bond rating that local officials claim “will save the taxpayers of Saugus an estimated $7.2 million” in borrowing costs.

But that estimated savings is only part of the equation officials are presenting residents in their bid to win voter approval for the school projects on June 20.

Town leaders are asking voters to endorse a school building plan that harnesses the town’s advantageous borrowing position with a state reimbursement formula that has residents investing 30 cents on the dollar into school construction.

The city of Lynn’s uneasy financial situation, including worries about layoffs, put city leaders behind the proverbial eight ball even as they attempted to show voters why building two new middle schools made sense.

A small fraction of Lynn residents went to the polls in March and squashed the two-school proposal and a tax increase to pay for it. Saugus town leaders aren’t showing any signs they are worried about bringing their three-school plan with its mix of state and local funding and new construction and renovations to the voters.

It’s not a huge stretch for municipal leaders sitting on a stellar bond rating to tell voters top-notch schools will improve their town’s already-rosy financial picture. The easiest analogy is spending money on a home in anticipation of bolstering the property’s market value.

School spending critics — and it’s never hard to find a critic in Saugus — will crow about tax hikes and spending money on a school megaproject. But Saugus isn’t just planning to build a new middle-high school and renovate Belmonte and Veterans Memorial schools. The town construction plan is based on a bold concept for realigning public education in the town.

The plan calls for a pre-kindergarten to second grade school and a grade three to grade five school called an “upper elementary” school. Those primary school education ideas combined with the middle-high school concept give Saugus a chance to tailor education programs to the phases children and adolescents go through on their way to young adulthood.

The message town leaders are delivering to residents in advance of the June 20 vote is that Saugus stands on the threshold of becoming a top-flight school district. They are asking residents to take a quantum leap into the future and it’s a safe bet town residents will make the jump.

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