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Letter to the Editor: Lifelong Stoneham Resident Says He's Voting 'No' to Middle School Project

Read Dick Pignone's opposition letter to the current Stoneham Middle School plan.

[Editor's note: The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by Stoneham resident Dick Pignone.]

My name is Dick Pignone and I would like to explain why I am voting "no" on April 3.

First of all I would like to publicly state that I want a new . I just do not agree with the current plan.  

Not long ago the School Building Committee gave us a similar speech to what we are hearing now about how we need new elementary schools. We heard how it would increase our property values, attract new families to move here, and be good for Stoneham. The town overwhelmingly approved it. Our elementary schools are probably the finest in the state. Eliminating a new and thriving school does not make sense to me. 

Redistricting all these students and overcrowding the classrooms would set back the education of all the K-5 students. We would be stealing from one hand to pay the other. Yes, we would have a new Middle School but the education of all our students before they reach the Middle School would suffer. 

Overcrowded classrooms with less teachers is not the answer. I keep hearing about team teaching but I do believe if this vote passes they are going to need team teaching as well as triple team teaching at the Middle School to help these kids catch up.

The answer we hear as to why we can survive eliminating an elementary school is that the population has decreased. I don't believe our demographics have changed that much in 10 years to justify eliminating a new school. Plus, the current plan does not take into account an increase in population which could just as easily occur as the supposed decrease. If all these families move into town like we keep hearing will happen because of the new Middle School where are they going to go to elementary school? This would result in an even more crowded class rooms at the , and elementary schools.  

Another reason why I am opposed to this plan is that while this school is being built the safety and quality of education of the and Middle School students will be compromised. For two years children will have to attend school while listening and seeing cranes, backhoes, trucks and jackhammers. For this time period these students will fall far behind their peers from the other schools.

Also, there will be strange people working around and in the Central School while our kids will be trying to learn. I know they are all supposed to be CORI'd (Criminal Offender Record Information). However a prominent school official once told me that, "A CORI is a worthless piece of paper." He said that a CORI only outlines what someone has done wrong to that point. He then went on to say how a teacher he had hired a while ago who passed the CORI has been in the news recently for inappropriate conduct. My point is that we don't know what kind of people will be working on site and passing a CORI doesn't equal safety. 

This is not the environment that any children should be in the middle of. Would I be as passionate about this if my kids did not attend Central School? The answer is no. My vote would still be no but the worry and anxiety about the future of my children would not be there.

If you have a child who attends another elementary school I am asking you to imagine this being done to your school. Imagine that every day for two years your children will be around strangers. Imagine them trying to pay attention and learn while they are in the middle of a construction site. Imagine that the construction being done is being done on land where there is arsenic and could be exposed to your child. Imagine that the school that you have grown to love will soon be gone.

I feel like this has become a my school versus your school topic and that is unfortunate. The fact is that if this vote passes roughly 300 kids will be distributed to the other remaining schools, impacting class size and consequently impacting their education.  

A prominent member of the school department said in private that the class size could potentially go up to 29 students per class. The town should have voted as to whether or not they wanted to eliminate an elementary school to build the Middle School. It's unfortunate that the decision of a small group of people can severely affect the lives of so many. A decision of this magnitude should have been made as a town. 

Voting no on Tuesday does not cancel the funding from the state. I find it hard to believe that the Town would let this money slip away. When asked about this the committee said that if the vote did not pass that they had a "Plan B" but they would not tell us what it was.

Many questions asked about redistricting, traffic issues, gym and social outings during construction were answered with a "We don't know yet. That's Phase 2."  How can we make an intelligent decision if we do not know all the facts? 

Anyone who says we don't need a new Middle School is either blind or ignorant.  Closing an elementary school is not the way to do it. Ten years from now we will be having this same discussion but it will be about building a new elementary school. We will hear that the population has increased since 2012 and that we need this as a town and if you vote yes the value of your homes will grow exponentially. 

A couple of committee members have quoted phrases they learned from their parents while growing up. I would like to do the same. My father, a smart business man, had a saying, "Penny wise but dollar foolish." Taking the cheapest way out today will end up costing us more in the long run.

Both financially and through the cost of our younger students' education. I have lived in Stoneham all my life. My family and I have grown up here and attended the public schools. We have been involved in youth sports since the early 1970s. 

My Father and my uncle were part of the original board that resurrected Stoneham Youth Basketball after the prior league folded. I have coached boys and girls' youth soccer, boys and girls' youth basketball, girls' softball and Little League Baseball. I also serve on the Stoneham Youth Basketball Board of Directors. My wife is on the PTO, a Girls Scout leader and is now a youth cheering coach.  

Besides our personal property my family also own multiple buildings in Stoneham Square. I am not saying this because I think I'm important or that I think my opinion counts any more than the next person. There are many people in Stoneham that sacrifice their time and volunteer in the town. I am just trying to convey that through the years my family has a lot invested in Stoneham, both financially and emotionally.  If I thought that in any way that this current project would help the town and in turn help my family I would be the first person to vote yes.  

I was at the presentation by Shawmut. What bothered me about the presentation was that they haven't begun their budget yet. They can't even start their bidding process unless the vote passes. What happens if their budget comes in grossly over the $40 million projection from the state? 

The town has said that it would cost the average homeowner $176 if the vote passes which equates to roughly $382,000 assessed value of your home. If your home is assessed more than $382,000 than it would obviously cost you more.

What if they encounter environmental issues or weather related delays? How many home improvement project have you done that came in under your original budget? The cost of this can dramatically increase and that falls directly on the taxpayer.    

I understand that this is a highly emotional vote. Everyone wants what is best for their children. Upon reading this there will be some people who will agree with me and others who won't. I hope that come Wednesday morning once the vote is over everyone can move forward as a town without animosity toward anyone.  

A no vote is not a death sentence for the town. There are other options. It's too bad that we weren't told what they were before the vote. Let's do this right. Let's keep all our schools, build a new Middle School and then work on the  next. Spring sports have started. See you on the fields! 

Regards,

Dick Pignone 

dava feltch April 02, 2012 at 02:33 AM
I hope that the parents from the other schools can put themselves in our shoes. Our kids deserve better. Thanks, Dick.
Gina Sgarzi April 03, 2012 at 01:22 AM
Dick - all great points were made. Thank you

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