Whittier Throws in Towel

Tuesday February 06, 2024

REGIONAL – After a plan to finance a new Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School suffered a crushing defeat last month, the school administration and the North Shore communities it serves are re-thinking it path forward.
Whittier, which teaches 1,250 students in a 50-year-old building at 115 Amesbury Line Rd., proposed that the 11 cities and towns in its regional district approve a new $444.6 million school building.
That proposal, which had to be approved by a majority of the voters in the district, met stiff opposition, receiving 5,644 votes on Jan. 23 to 15,416 votes against.
The only city that voted in favor of the building was Haverhill, but even its voters appeared to be less than excited, casting fewer votes than a much smaller Newburyport.
The Massachusetts School Building Authority, which would have contributed $159 million toward the building, would permit the district to hold a second vote this spring, but it was unlikely that the measure would pass on a second vote.
The Whittier School Committee meets this week to determine its next steps.
The school’s building meeting, which held a brief meeting on the project last week, disbanded. It was expected Whittier would tell the MSBA it was forfeiting the funds.
Its final meeting was well attended by parents and town officials last week for 21 minutes, hearing from several mostly angry and frustrated members of the public.
Even before the vote, leaders in Rowley, Ipswich and other towns advocated changes to the operating agreement. The city of Newburyport hired the Boston law firm of Pierce Atwood to take a closer look at the agreement.
Under a higher level of scrutiny in coming months will be who the cities and towns appoint to serve on the 14-member School Committee. The Whittier school committee was criticized by municipal leaders across the district for a lack of communication on the new school.
Ipswich School Committee chair Kate Eliot lamented that there was not better rapport between the Whittier school board and the Ipswich Selectboard, which is already soliciting volunteers to serve as its representative for the next three years to Whittier.
Garry James, the current chair of the Whittier committee and the Ipswich representative, did not respond to the Town Common inquiry about whether he planned to seek reappointment.
Two other members whose terms expires this spring — Patty Lowell of Amesbury and Donna Holaday of Newburyport — said they have asked to be reappointed to the Whittier board.
The meeting last week at Whittier was devoted to public comments from parents and some public officials.
Several residents said the measure failed because of a lack of community consensus and input.
Haverhill Mayor Melinda Barrett expressed her hope that the membership of any future building committee reflects “more of the communities that are represented in the 11 communities.”
She also recommended that school committees seek out better communication with their appointed representatives to the Whittier school committee.
Amesbury city councillor Steve Stanganelli agreed that Whittier should include at least one elected official on any future building committee.
“Either from a select board, school committee, or city council, because you need buy-in. You need communication,” Staganelli said.
He added, “You need to have a mission review of this school. Work with the communities in one shape or form so that you have a much better, leaner system.”
Amesbury mayor Kassandra Grove said that she, along with others who were in attendance for the meeting, had hopes of being “active participants in this process.”
Gove said it is disappointing to hear that the process is actually ending with no resolution and without the opportunity for more of the community leaders to participate.
Town officials said it will be difficult for the Whittier agreement to be amended. Any change would have to have unanimous approval from the 11 communities.

Support Local Businesses

Priced Right Junk Removal

Local Forecast

Subscribe To Receive Our Newspaper Every Wednesday Morning FREE

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and newspaper within your emails.

You have Successfully Subscribed!