This is the second in a three-post series on the Massachusetts School Building Administration (MSBA) requirement that Newton’s debt-exclusion override requests have to be posed as separate ballot questions.

The bigger the municipality, the more schools it’s going to have, particularly elementary schools. There’s a reasonable maximum population per school. More kids = more schools, not bigger schools. So, Newton has fifteen elementary schools. Needham has six.

The reality that larger municipalities have more schools means that the MSBA’s requirement that debt-exclusion overrides for school building projects be separate makes life more difficult for Newton. Every school project has a natural direct constituency: the families that attend that school. To pass an override requires yes votes from voters who do not stand to gain a direct benefit. The larger the municipality, the greater the ratio of indirect to direct beneficiaries, making the campaign that much tougher.

If Newton were looking to renovate just one school with a debt-exclusion override, that would be too bad. There would be nothing to do about it. The breaks of the big city. But, we need, because we have more schools, to renovate a bunch at once. The plan is to finance renovation of two — Angier and Cabot — with debt exclusion overrides. And, the MSBA separate override requirement creates a real problem. Proponents of of the two projects have to convince the indirect beneficiaries to vote yes twice.

And, denying the choice to bundle the two questions removes the option of reducing the ratio of indirect to direct beneficiaries. Needham gets to have a single override question for 1/6th of its elementary schools. Newton can’t have a single question to cover 2/15ths of its elementary schools (which is less than 1/6). That’s just not fair.

To be sure, it’s not a certainty that bundling will be more successful. What if one would have passed, but bundled with the other, neither passes? It’s a risk. But, it’s a risk that should be addressed on political terms, by the municipality. The choice shouldn’t be forced on us by the MSBA.

Next: Why increase the impact of Prop 2-1/2?

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