Author asserts a lack of transparency, poor effort to secure external funding, and inaccurate enrollment numbers
On Friday, February 2, Hopkinton resident Kristen Turner sent a letter to the Select Board requesting that they remove the proposed Hopkins School Addition from the FY25 capital plan and Annual Town Meeting warrant. Turner cited a lack of transparency in the process, noting that the Hopkins committee consists of two town employees and members of Vertex, the project consultant. The project is estimated to cost taxpayers $50 million.
Turner also pointed out that the School Committee made no attempt to secure funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), because they believed it was “not eligible”. She suggested that the committee should have tried to find external funding to alleviate the tax burden on residents.
Finally, Turner stated that K-5 enrollment numbers are trending below the MSBA’s projections, citing a predicted enrollment of 2,019 when there are currently 1,890 enrolled. “I believe it is slowing down, and we are not seeing the aggressive growth from past years,” she wrote.
The full letter is below.
Dear Members of the Select Board,
At the Special Town Meeting in the Fall, voters of Hopkinton generously supported the school district by approving over $90M for the funding for the Elmwood School Replacement, and again through the subsequent ballot vote. The outreach and transparency on the Elmwood project were apparent with a project website, a wonderfully responsive project team, and many informative public forums.
Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the proposed Hopkins addition/renovation that is scheduled to come before town meeting in May. The vote is three months away and there has been a total lack of transparency to the residents of Hopkinton. The project building committee is currently comprised of two town employees and members of the hired consultants from Vertex and Perkins Eastman. From what I can tell, the team has typically met during the work day, which certainly makes public participation (if allowed) challenging. The project budget is estimated to be nearly 50 million dollars. I find it extremely concerning that there are zero community members at the table representing the best interests of the taxpayers of Hopkinton on this multi-million dollar project.
I have asked the School Committee on three occasions about the possibility ofMSBA funding. The first answer stated “The Hopkins renovation unfortunately will not be eligible for MSBA reimbursement the way Elmwood was no matter the timing because the building is not an end of life replacement (and the building is actually in very good condition).” When pressed further and asked a second time it was stated “The problem, as I understand it, is that Hopkins School, as it exists now, is not a project that would qualify for MSBA funding under the Core program because the building’s condition is still very good.”
On my third attempt, I finally received clarification from the School Committee yesterday on the much communicated statement that this project was “not eligible/qualified for MSBA funding”. It was a very long explanation, but it basically confirmed that the district did not submit a SOI for Hopkins as they thought it was unlikely to be accepted into the pipeline because other schools had greater need. So the fact is, that funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority was not sought out since no SOI was submitted, so to claim it is not eligible is absolutely misleading.
My ask is that the Select Board removes this project from the FY25 Capital plan, and instead recommends this project be postponed until FY26 or FY27 My reasoning is as follows:
- This time will allow the School Committee to perform true due diligence by submitting an SOI to the MSBA, which I understand is a long shot and would likely not move forward, but at least the district can actually be truthful when declaring the project ineligible for MSBA funding.
- As it stands, the project is scheduled for completion in December 2026 (with the exception of moving the modular classrooms over from Elmwood which is scheduled as a separate project). Moving the completion date to December 2027 will give better alignment with the end date of the Elmwood project (January 2028) and possibly avoid the separate project of moving the Elmwood modular classrooms.
- Pushing out this project will provide one more year of confirming that enrollment is actually increasing ( or not) at the rate projected by the MSBA. I believe it is slowing down, and we are not seeing the aggressive growth from past years. MSBA predicted a K-5 enrollment in FY24 of 2,019 students. According to DESE actual enrollment is 1,890, a variance of 129 students.
Lastly, as outlined in the latest budget transmittal, if all the proposed FY25 school capital projects pass, it will add an additional $452 ( on top of the $800+ for recently approved Elmwood) to the average homeowner ‘s tax bill. These increases are absolutely untenable for many residents of Hopkinton. I hope we all keep the most vulnerable residents (DESE reports 7% of our students are low-income) in mind if this comes before residents at the May ATM.
Thank you for your consideration.
Kristen Turner, Hopkinton