FinComm investigates school move costs

January 6, 2012
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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.

“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.”

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 same 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 80 percent of the estimated capital costs for the projects, which are part of BPS’s $15.8 million “2012 Facilities Plan.”

About $7.4 million for renovations, including $3.8 million from BPS and $3.6 million from the city’s capital budget, is going to the Mission Hill site, where Fenway High is moving. The Agassiz building will get $2.15 million for renovations. Together, the two schools are receiving $9.55 million in capital funding. The capital budget for the rest of the plan is $2.65 million.

According to BPS figures, the entire plan, including capital costs and other costs, is budgeted for $12.2 million, but that does not include the money coming to the Fenway from the city budget, which brings the total up to $15.8 million.

In a letter to the FinComm, Ross complained about those costs, but he appears to have low-balled the overall plan costs, saying they would come out to about $14 million.

He also said renovations to the current Mission Hill school building and the Agassiz building would end up costing $9.9 million, when it appears they will cost about $9.5 million. It is not clear where Ross’s numbers come from.

Cahill said that the commission’s investigation would focus 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.

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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