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Letter to the Editor: Marblehead Village School Overspending

Marblehead resident Jack Buba sounds off on his belief that the town's School Committee renovated the Village School as proposed and then spent the more than $5 million they had left over.

Dear Marblehead Patch,

What would you say if you learned that the School Committee renovated the Village School as proposed and had over $5 million left over?  Great, right?  We can use that savings to reduce the cost of the new Glover School – Right?  WRONG.

In 2008 voters passed an override for $21.8 million for renovations to the Village School to replace the furnace and related systems, fix the roof, and comply with fire and safety guidelines.  The actual cost for this work was some $5 million less than anticipated.

Then, without telling you, the School Committee spent $5.4 million in savings on contract “change orders” - most which were unrelated to the original stated purpose of the project.  Marblehead Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility obtained copies of the 35 change orders and provides a summary below of some of these added costs. 

These include among other things, $809,000 for renovating the lobby and front entrance (which included $13,000 for a new lighted flag pole and $9,000 for a new clock face.)  Playground renovations included $10,000 for new four square courts and $269,000 was spent on kitchen upgrades. (You can go to http://cltg.org/marblehead.htm to see more details of this spending spree and other related documents.)

Village School Change Order Expense Summary

Category

Amount

Doors

697,000

Roads

651,000

Front Entry

560,000

Windows

505,000

Bathroom

389,000

Tile

293,000

Classroom

269,000

Kitchen

269,000

Lobby

249,000

Masonry

232,000

Landscaping

210,000

Auditorium

117,000

Marker / Tack Boards

112,000

Elevator

69,000

Gym

67,000

Lockers

49,000

Security

45,000

Teacher Rooms

36,000

Offices

35,000

Library Carpet

23,000

Stairs

18,000

Grand Total

$4,893,000

But the State is reimbursing 40% of the cost, right? WRONG again.

The State examined these change orders and ruled that they would only reimburse Marblehead for $364,000 of the $5.4 million in spending because the expenses did not meet their reimbursement criteria.  Marblehead taxpayers must pay 100% of the difference.

Additionally the state questioned the legality and magnitude of the change orders, stating that the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) “can only assume that the District [Marblehead] consulted with its counsel prior to pursuing the change-order[s].”   They went on to say, “[Marblehead] executed change orders far in excess of the available construction contingency  … such substantial changes to a project’s scope and budget are concerning and may warrant a new bid for the revised project … in order to ensure competitive pricing is obtained.”

On March 7th of this year well before Town Meeting and the Town Election, the MSBA made their concerns and reimbursement determination known in a letter to the Marblehead School Committee, the Selectmen, the Town Administrator, and to our state legislators, Representative Lori Ehrlich and Senator Tom McGee.  However none of this information was made public by any of these officials.

This is a total fiscal fiasco.  Who is watching how our tax money is spent? -  Not the School Committee, not the Selectmen, not the Town Administrator, not the Finance Committee.

Before voters approve any more spending, a complete audit of the Village School project is a necessity.  At the same time we need to know if any laws were broken, as the MSBA suggested that many of these changes required legal review to see if re-bidding was in order.

As a result of this breech of trust, there is no way we should give the School Committee any more of our money.  The Town and the School Committee need to account for their fiscal irresponsibility.  

Until then, just say no to the overrides.

Jack Buba

Palmer Road

 Jack Buba is a former Marblehead Finance Committee member and Treasurer of the Marblehead Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility.

Oldtown June 08, 2011 at 12:06 PM
Pretty shocking, but not too surprising given the way the government in Marblehead has been operating. Where was the building oversight committee during all this? And why haven't we heard about this before? The people are due some answers here and regardless of whether you support a new Glover School or not, this has to raise questions about the credibility of the people we entrust with spending our tax dollars and the transparency of the whole process.
Lisa Hoguet June 08, 2011 at 02:47 PM
While this is certainly interesting information and should be looked into further, I dont think we should punish the Glover children, parent, and faculty for these issues. The bottom line is that Glover school needs to be rebuilt. We need to take advantage of the money the state has set aside for us. And we need to do it now. Hopefully we can use the lessons learned with Village to make sure the project is done in a cost-effective and efficient manner with plenty of public oversight. Would they even have been able to move the money to another project? Sometimes there are restrictions so could it have been a use it or lose it scenario?
KlassySalem June 08, 2011 at 07:13 PM
If it were a use or lose, wouldn't lose be preferable to spend for no real reason other than to spend?
Jack Buba June 08, 2011 at 08:28 PM
Rewarding bad behavior always gets more bad behavior. The School Committee could easily fund the glover School out of their existing budget (About 5%) We already give the town $70.8 million a year in taxes NOT counting all the past overrides we are still paying for. There is enough money collected in taxes to build the school. What we need is for the leaders to reprioritize their spending. A wise woman once told me “”Government only reacts to a crisis.”” Only when we force the leaders to think anew will we get change.
Oldtown June 08, 2011 at 09:35 PM
Vote for Glver or don't, the real issue is that there needs to be a significantly greater level of spending oversight in Marblehead, particularly with regard to major capital projects like this. Apparently the people who we voted into office have been negligent in meeting their fiduciary responsibilities to the town. Where is the transparency?
Oldtown June 09, 2011 at 12:13 PM
I do agree that we need Glover replaced, but, frankly, our town government has shown an amazing amount of ineptitude in managing the Village School project. What makes you think it would be any better this time around? I can't blame the selectman, although a former selectman sat on the building oversight committee for the Village project and was directly involved in the change orders, but the school committee really blew this one. They have a responsibility to provide oversight here and, despitenall goodnintentions, they did a poor job. Dont get me wrong, I'll happily support Glover but we need to bring in outside, independent management offering complete oversight and transparency to the process, along with strong audit skills. There's too much glad-handing going on with these projects and too many people sitting in positions that border on conflicts of interest.
kristin king June 13, 2011 at 12:35 PM
It doesn't seem to me that abating asbestos, re-pointing brick, replacing inefficient windows and amending other deficiencies to extend the life of the Village facility is a misuse of funds. Marblehead did not "spend for no reason".
KlassySalem June 13, 2011 at 01:34 PM
The change orders had nothing to do with any of the issues you mention. They were in the original plan. The change orders were "hey, there's still money left, let's spend it."
kristin king June 13, 2011 at 09:16 PM
simply not true.
Jack Buba June 23, 2011 at 12:13 PM
Just look at the change orders. Even the state said that only a small fraction of them were germain to the original project. You can view the details of each change order at the CLT website.

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