D-Y School Committee Votes to Take New School to Ballot, Avoid Town Meeting

SOUTH YARMOUTH – The decision to construct a new $120 million regional middle school for Dennis and Yarmouth will be made by a districtwide vote.

The D-Y Regional School Committee voted this week, 5-2, to bypass Town Meetings, which would require a two-thirds majority in both communities, and head straight to the ballots where it would only need a majority of all voters in the district.

School committee members who were in favor of skipping Town Meeting argued that putting the project to a districtwide vote would be a quicker process, if passed, and save the district money if the school was delayed after a failed Town Meeting vote.

A final proposal for the school, which would house students in grades 4 through 7 and be built next to the Station Avenue Elementary School in South Yarmouth, needs to be submitted to the Massachusetts School Building Authority which has a board meeting in December.

School Committee chairwoman Jeni Landers said taking the project to Town Meeting is too much of a risk.

“What I hear at Town Meeting is not fact,” she said. “What I hear is, yes, debate but it’s persuasive argument and opinion. As a matter of fact it is really difficult to get factual information out of people at Town Meeting.”

Landers said Town Meeting is also not representative of the communities with only a few hundred people showing up.

“Polls are open from 8 to 8. That’s gives people 12 hours to vote,” Landers said. “Town Meeting is a small window for people to show up.”

Landers said many people need to work or families with school-aged children cannot find childcare to be able to make it to town meeting.

“I’m not making excuses for people who can’t show up but it’s limited opportunity and limited representation,” she said.

Brian Sullivan was one of the two school committee members who voted against circumventing town meeting.

“A two-thirds vote at town meeting – to me that means it’s supposed to be difficult. It’s not supposed to be easy to pass this,” Sullivan said. “One hundred and twenty million dollars is a lot.”

Sullivan said he did not feel taking the voice of the people away at Town Meeting is the right course of action.

“People have the right to show up to Town Meeting or not,” he said. “If they don’t show up, they choose to vote that way.”

Landers said the school committee has been discussing this project for the last two years and that residents in both Dennis and Yarmouth have had ample time to debate the project or ask questions.

Former Dennis Selectman Cleon Turner said that he believes Town Meeting is the best form of government there is, but not in this case.

“I believe that education is the most important element of a community. It is just ultimate importance,” Turner said. “We cannot survive as a community, Dennis and Yarmouth, or as a Commonwealth of Massachusetts without education being the top priority.”

Turner agreed that more people get to participate in the decision across the district if the project goes to the ballot.

The Dennis Finance Committee requested the school committee go through the traditional Town Meeting voting process.

“Since the inception of the Dennis-Yarmouth district, whenever there has been a large bonding project or a school construction project, they have always been presented to the towns of Dennis and Yarmouth through the then existing school committees,” said James Plath, a Dennis Finance Committee member. “They have always followed this methodology in seeking voter approval through the town meeting process.”

The cost to renovate the Mattacheese Middle School in West Yarmouth and the Nathaniel H. Wixon Innovation School in South Dennis is much higher than the current estimated price tag of the proposed new school.

The MSBA would reimburse the district approximately $60 million.

If the measure passes at the districtwide vote, the new school could be open as early as 2021.

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