Chelsea Voters Against New Voke School Funding, But Passes District Wide

Voters supported the funding of a new Northeast Metropolitan Technical Vocational High School on Tuesday in a district wide vote.

In Chelsea, unofficial results show the majority of voters did vote against funding for the new school, with 174 voting no and 109 voting yes.

The 12 member communities of the vocational school district were asked to weigh in on the proposed $317 million project. The vote was triggered by the Chelsea City Council’s vote not to support the funding of the project, stating it would place an unfair financial burden on the city.

Saugus Town Meeting voters also opposed the funding of the new high school, which would replace the existing building in Wakefield.

District wide, the ballot question passed by an approximately 80-20 percent split.

“I’m not surprised by the local  vote, then again, the other communities are not footing a bill as high as Chelsea’s,” said City Council President Roy Avellaneda. “It is not the idea of the new school that we are against, it is the amount of the contribution.”

While City Manager Thomas Ambrosino has stated in the past that Chelsea may not have many avenues left concerning the city’s contribution to the project, Avellaneda said he’s not ready to give up the fight.

“We are going to explore other avenues to see what Chelsea can do to address it,” he said.

In addition to the assessment to Chelsea for the project, Avellaneda noted that there have been other questions raised about the number of spots Chelsea has at the high school and the district’s admission policy, especially when it comes to admitting Chelsea residents.

School Committee Chair Kelly Garcia said she is disappointed in the district-wide vote, but glad most Chelsea voters who made it to the polls voted against the funding.

“I’m proud our city continued to advocate for itself and stood strong in unison,” said Garcia. 

The funding formula is based on the number of students each district sends to the vocational high school. With over 200 students attending the school, Chelsea has the second highest student population, and is potentially on the hook to pay about $1.9 million per year for the new school over a 20-year period.

Garcia said the city cannot afford the cost of the new school, adding that she hopes that community and youth leaders continue to push for more funding for Chelsea to help cover school costs. She said city and school leaders will have to decide if they want to opt out of the vocational school district and provide some kind of vocational education in Chelsea.

Northeast Voke Superintendent David DiBarri said he and the district School Committee are deeply grateful to the voters in its 12 sending communities for their participation in Tuesday’s vote.

“Their collective support of a new school building, and for securing a vision for a 21st-century career technical education that will position our students for success after graduation,” said DiBarri. “Input from the Northeast community has been an integral part of this process. School officials, construction experts, and School Committee and Building Committee members from all 12 communities worked diligently to create a proposal that reflects that community feedback, and respects the cost to taxpayers.”

DiBarri said the district welcomes community feedback as it refines the project, and looks forward to the day it celebrates a new chapter for Northeast Metro Tech.

The new school will feature 21st century learning environments, improved Individual Education Program (IEP) facilities, state-of-the-art shop space, expanded program offerings, improved traffic flow, a full-size gym, a 750-seat auditorium, outdoor space for learning, and a new cafeteria.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority awarded the district a grant of just over $140 million for the project. The remainder of the costs will be divided between the 12 member communities over the course of a 30-year bond.

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