As a professional project manager, I know what a Feasibility Study is supposed to accomplish. Look at defining requirements, research them, make recommendations, evaluate risk, and provide contingencies. Along the way, you look at costs, human resources, vendors, insurance, liabilities. Essentially, you uncover all the rocks and make sure you have done your due diligence.
In the case of the Nashua School District Middle School Project, many stones remain ignored and uncovered. The Board of Education and the taxpayers are told they can be resolved after they “break ground” in the Spring of 2020.
This list has been shared with the Board of Education and the Joint Special School Board Committee (JSSBC). The JSSBC is a joint committee of aldermen and school board members. The law requires “equal” representation. However, with five members each, the BoE members constitute a quorum. That has been a problem from the beginning, as there is no need to keep the remaining BoE members informed at all.
Here is a list of deferred issues:
1. The city does not own or have a right of way or easement to the 20-acre property they want to build on. They have been in negotiations with the only landowner for months.
2. There have been no discussions on a Redistricting Plan.
3. The four-inch-thick Feasibility Study does not include legally required enrollment data. Nashua has decreasing enrollments of 188 students a year. The lack of candor around enrollment history and projections has been an issue before with the strategic plan. The superintendent does not provide it, and the board does not hold him accountable.
4. There is no Staffing Plan. We are told how many classrooms and their use, but there is no assessment of what that means to existing staff. How many transfers? How many new people? What skills will be needed? What is the associated cost?
5. There is no Transportation Plan. What will be the cost to the district having to move 1,000 students to schools scattered across the city?
6. There has not been a Public Hearing. Only after-the-meeting questions with the architects. A vote to move forward with the project was taken before public comment. The JSSBC is not interested in what the public has to say.
7. There is no detailed road work plan for the new middle school location. Details plans were prepared for the other two schools, but not for the new middle school. Residents in the area have advised the JSSBC of the dense fog, narrow roads, and lack of a sidewalk.
8. There is no Technology Plan. The state used to require a Technology Plan. The Technology Plan for Nashua is listed with the state as being over five years old.
9. The Special Education wing is intended to service in-house students who would otherwise receive services out of the district. The current “add-on” plan will cost $4.8 million and only address three out of twelve grades. It does not address the overwhelming district-wide need that costs Nashua taxpayers $5.7 million a year for out of district tuition.
10. The Feasibility Study does not include any assessment of the impact on the district’s annual Operating Budget.
11. There is no statement on the impact on the Tax Rate.
12. The study does not include city demographic data as the city has become a “Welcoming City.”
13. The study does not address noise and increased traffic in the target neighborhood.
14. Abutters have never been notified. They are told that “official” notice will occur when the project goes before the Zoning Board likely after the groundwork has begun.
Public officials are required to perform due diligence before they commit public funds. The JSSBC in Nashua is aware of the deficiencies above, yet kicks the can down the road.
On Monday, December 2nd, the Aldermanic Board will meet to approve $118 million in bonding for the project.
Sadly, this is the state of affairs in Nashua.
Howard Coffman is a current member of the Nashua Board of Education