On September 20, 2016, Belmont voted by a 72-28% margin against Minuteman’s school rebuilding proposal, creating a pathway for Belmont to withdraw from Minuteman. On October 19, 2016, Belmont Town Meeting members voted by the same percentage margin to go ahead and withdraw. On Wednesday, November 13, 2019, Belmont Town Meeting members voted not to rescind that decision.
Belmont Town Meeting members made the right decision in voting last week against a proposal to rescind their previous decision to withdraw from the Minuteman Vocational School district.
You can view my Town Meeting statement on the issue at this link — select “Town Meeting, Part 1 – 11/13/2019” and click to 2:12:30. This post makes the same argument more fully.
The Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical school had a clear historical mission: to prepare students to become trades people – plumbers, electricians, carpenters, mechanics. Students with the necessary vocation/technical education could move straight into their chosen career, without need for further education.
The number of students from Minuteman member districts who are choosing traditional trades has dwindled over time. Instead of right-sizing itself or seeking to consolidate with neighboring vocational technical schools, Minuteman has chosen to preserve itself by expanding in two ways. First, it has chosen to admit students from non-member districts. More troubling, it has chosen to expand into a variety of other fields like biotechnology, web design, and environmental science which will likely require a college degree.
By admitting non-members and expanding into the college track, the school is competing with the high school programs of its member communities and other surrounding communities. This redundancy is fundamentally wasteful.
The redundancy is especially troubling because the member communities have little control over Minuteman’s budget. The bond covenants creating the Minuteman district oblige member communities to pay for whatever Minuteman’s board chooses to spend. Minuteman’s board has historically been very closely allied with the school’s leadership. As a result, Minuteman is the most expensive vocational school in the state, spending $35 thousand per student — more than 50% above the average of the other 28 vocational schools.
For comparison, Belmont is spending $14 thousand per student and Watertown is spending $22 thousand per student, including out-of-district special education costs. Tuition going to Minuteman reduces the resources available to the students in the regular public schools.
|Per Pupil Total Expenditures (FY2018)
|Per Pupil Administrative Expenditures (FY2018)
|28 Vocational Schools Statewide Average
|All Schools Statewide Average
In the immediate future, Belmont students will still have the option of attending Minuteman. Belmont, like Watertown, will pay the non-member tuition for its students, which is actually lower than the member tuition.
For some at Town Meeting, the primary questions were: What if Minuteman fills up and stops accepting students from non-member districts? Should we be assuming the liabilities of a member and paying the higher member tuition as an insurance policy against that possibility? Discussion of these issues devolved into speculation.
But what is the worst case risk of leaving? The concern should not be that a student might not be able to get an early start on a career in the trades. I do believe that students seeking to prepare to enter the trades will find good options, but ultimately, no municipality has a legal or moral obligation to provide any particular vocational program whether for aspiring plumbers or aspiring doctors.
The obligation of the municipality is to provide a good basic education defined by the state’s curriculum mandates. That basic education will be valuable for any person as a citizen and in any career. Even the building trades are becoming more and more complex – they require continuing learning to master new building systems and environmental rules.
The most compelling argument for the Minuteman school is that it does provide an alternative for students whose learning or emotional needs are not well met in the public high school. Town Meeting heard moving testimonials from parents who felt Minuteman had been a better fit for their children.
Students might seek an alternative for any number of non-vocational reasons. High school is a time when many students experience stress and emotional discomfort as they struggle to figure out how they fit in to the world socially, academically and professionally.
But Minuteman is not a fit for all struggling students anyway. We should not embrace an unmanageable open-ended commitment as a possible solution for just a few. Instead, we absolutely need to keep striving to do a better job in diversifying educational and extra-curricular options for students within our schools so that every child can find their way.
My career-long mission has been to support our public K-12 schools with the resources so that they can do exactly that. I will persist in that mission.
For more statistical details and discussion, please see my original statement on this issue prior to the 2016 referendum. See also my staff’s FAQ on referendum.