FinComm investigates school move

December 21, 2011
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Updated

The Boston Finance Commission (FinComm) is investigating Boston Public Schools’ (BPS) funding of a plan to open two new schools in the former Agassiz School building.

“We are going to look at how the funding decisions were made and whether there is enough money for the renovations,” FinComm Director Matt Cahill said.

BPS plans to move Mission Hill K-8 School and a new two-way bilingual high school, the Margarita Muñiz Academy, into the school building at 20 Child St. Under the plan, Fenway High School would move into the Mission Hill school’s current building, and the Boston Arts Academy would expand into the Fenway building.

The investigation comes at the request of City Councilor Mike Ross, whose district includes Mission Hill and part of JP’s Hyde Square. Speaking to the Gazette, Ross said BPS is spending “an obscene amount of money to move three schools.” But Ross and BPS disagree on the cost.

The three school moves are part of about a dozen school moves, renovations and openings approved by the BPS School Committee in November. The Fenway and Mission Hill moves are expected to take up close to 70 percent of the estimated capital costs for the projects, which are part of BPS’s “2012 Facilities Plan.”

In a letter to the FinComm, Ross said renovations to the current Mission Hill school building and the Agassiz building are budgeted for about $9.9 million. Overall, the facilities plan will cost about $14 million, he said.

BPS spokesperson Matt Wilder told the Gazette that Ross’s numbers are wrong. Overall, it is estimated the plan will cost about $12.2 million, he said. Renovations under the plan will cost about $8.6 million, Wilder said, and the cost for renovations to the two buildings for Fenway and the Mission Hill School is about $6 million. That is about 70 percent of the estimated capital budget for the facilities plan.

Also, the former Mission Hill school building will get another $3.6 million in renovations not included in BPS’s budget proposal, Wilder said. That money is coming directly from the City of Boston’s capital budget and will pay for the construction of a combination cafeteria/auditorium at Fenway High School’s new home.

Ross’s office did not immediately respond to Gazette requests for clarification about the budget numbers.

Cahill said that the commission’s investigation would focus exclusively on how the BPS plan is being funded.

He said FinComm would start out by looking at the Mission Hill, Fenway and Boston Arts Academy moves, but that the commission might also look into other parts of the plan.

“We welcome it,” BPS spokesperson Matt Wilder said of the investigation. “This plan allows hundreds of students access to high-quality schools in the city.”

Ross has also expressed concerns that moving the Mission Hill School would cut off access to the school for residents in its namesake neighborhood.

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