Paperwork foils progress on schools

Town nears deadline on rebuilding program

In a few years, students may well be enjoying a new or renovated Stoughton High School and South Elementary School. But for now, the projects are stalled by sloppy paperwork and disagreements among town officials.

The town has until Jan. 11 to submit to the Massachusetts School Building Authority “statements of interest,’’ the first step in obtaining state reimbursement for rebuilding or renovating the schools.

But errors, typos, and missing information have delayed the town’s approval of the documents. To move things along, selectmen this month voted 3-to-2 to direct Town Manger Francis T. Crimmins to sign the documents by this Friday.


But the selectmen’s vote doesn’t include any sanctions, and Crimmins - who has clashed with school officials in the past - wouldn’t say when he’ll sign off.

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“Right now, my biggest priority is the town budget,’’ he said last week. “The town charter mandates that I submit a budget by Dec. 31.’’

The drive for a new or renovated high school became more urgent in November when the New England Association of Schools and Colleges continued Stoughton High’s accreditation, but placed it on warning status, mostly due to the poor condition of the building.

Since then, school officials have designated the high school project as their top priority, but also plan to submit a statement for South Elementary. According to the School Building Authority website, statements of interest describe deficiencies in existing schools and how they inhibit the district’s educational program.

Stoughton’s statements have come before the Board of Selectmen three times - on Nov. 1, Dec. 6, and Dec. 13.


The board approved the statements on Nov. 1. But after Crimmins reviewed them, he wrote a letter dated Nov. 22 to John Stagnone, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, saying the statements relied on outdated documents, and also didn’t contain proper documentation, including how the present buildings are deficient.

When the statements came back to the board on Dec. 6, selectmen noted spelling and grammatical errors and asked school officials to redraft it. Selectmen then rescinded their earlier vote approving the statements.

At the Dec. 13 meeting, Superintendent of Schools Marguerite Rizzi took responsibility for the previous errors. Rizzi told selectmen she has been caring for her gravely ill mother, which caused her to miss the Dec. 6 meeting.

The School Committee approved the revised statements on Dec. 13, just before selectmen voted 5-0 to approve them.

Now, three officials are required to sign the statements before sending them to the state School Building Authority: Crimmins, Stagnone, and School Committee chairwoman Joyce Husseini.


The latter two have signed, and Husseini said that with all outstanding issues apparently resolved, it was her “sincere hope’’ that Crimmins will review and sign the documents in a timely fashion.

“The earlier we submit them, the better,’’ she said. “It doesn’t affect how our projects are rated, but the MSBA may have questions or need additional information.’’

On Dec. 13, selectmen approved a motion from member Cynthia Walsh to direct Crimmins to sign the forms by Dec. 30. Walsh, Stagnone, and John Anzivino voted for the motion; John Anderson and Stephen Anastos voted against it.

That vote raised the hackles of Anderson and Anastos, who said they support the school projects, but don’t believe a deadline was necessary.

“I don’t think we need to direct Mr. Crimmins to do the right thing,’’ said Anastos. “After all, he was the one who found the flaws in the original documents.’’

“It’s his decision to make,’’ said Anderson. “I wouldn’t be happy if someone came to me as a selectman and ordered me to do something by a certain date.’’

Stagnone said the board did not mean to step on any toes with the vote.

“I hope people didn’t take it the wrong way,’’ said Stagnone. “We wanted to get in the statements well before the deadline in case the MSBA needed additional information.’’

Crimmins said the vote didn’t bother him.

“I just saw it as an expression of their desire to expedite the process,’’ he said.

Crimmins said he is still waiting to see minutes of the School Committee meeting held just before the selectmen’s meeting on Dec. 13 to confirm that the committee has adopted the revised statements.

It isn’t the first time Crimmins, who was appointed in February 2010, has been at odds with school officials. A year ago, his proposed budget included a figure for the schools that was $2 million less than the School Committe’s official request.

Some school officials believed he overstepped his bounds, and both proposed budgets were sent along to the Finance Committee, which recommended a $35.9 million budget, about $200,000 less than the School Committee’s figure. Town Meeting adopted that recommendation.

For the high school project, Crimmins urged better communication between the schools and other departments.

“When you have a major capital expenditure such as this one, which would cost $50 million or more, I would hope there would already have been more dialogue with several of the town departments which will be involved in the process,’’ he said.

Crimmins also called for more analysis on the actual needs of the schools.

“It’s no different than what we’d do for the needs in any department, including police or fire,’’ he said.

Since the high school was designated the top priority, Walsh, Anzivino, and Stagnone visited the new $66 million Norwood High School, built as part of the School Building Authority’s Model School Program. Under that program, a new school uses a previous design, with some modifications, to reduce costs.

Rich Fahey can be reached at