Proponents of a non-binding referendum about whether Wellesley should keep all 7 of its elementary schools have collected the required signatures to get their question on the March 17 Town Election ballot.
The town has confirmed that the volunteer team collected signatures of at least 10% of Wellesley’s registered voters by Feb. 4. The signature drive began Jan. 3, and ended on Jan. 18, as more than 2,500 signatures were in hand, according to Mari Passananti, who has spoken out on the initiative at physical and virtual forums.
The petition reads:
Do you believe the Town of Wellesley should keep our current seven neighborhood elementary school model by rebuilding and/or renovating the Hardy, Hunnewell and Upham Elementary Schools, instead of closing one school and redistricting all of our elementary students into six schools? Please vote YES or NO.
A YES vote would advise the Town of Wellesley to retain our current neighborhood school model by renovating and/or rebuilding the Hardy, Hunnewell and Upham Elementary Schools.
A NO vote would advise the Town of Wellesley to close either Hardy Elementary School or Upham Elementary School, without voter input on which school to close, and to re-district all our town’s elementary school students into six schools.
This wording didn’t sit well with several Board of Selectmen members, who rejected by a 4-1 vote an initial bid for their approval at a December meeting. Town Meeting members at a Special Town Meeting in December voted overwhelmingly to approve $5M in funds for design plans and more for a new or reconstructed Hunnewell Elementary School.
Undeterred, those in favor of Wellesley retaining 7 neighborhood elementary schools went out and got those signatures.
“Wellesley residents are extremely engaged on this looming decision, which will affect our town for multiple generations,” Passananti says. “Our walkable neighborhood schools have been acclaimed for many decades. Walkability boosts property values and builds community. Consolidation would put significantly more cars on our roads—more than nullifying any energy efficiency in the new building, increase congestion in our central business district, and send very small kids to school in huge buildings. (The currently proposed Hunnewhopper would be 75,000 square feet—much larger than either Bates or Sprague.)”
Passananti acknowledges scaling up of facilities is needed to accommodate special education programming, and that Hunnewell is in need of renovation in a reasonable way.
If Wellesley voters prove to be in favor of keeping all 7 schools, Passananti says she’s hopeful the town’s government will reconsider current plans.
“After the election, we will have much more clarity on whichever path our town’s electorate prefers,” she says.
Redistricting review on Feb. 11
All of this ties in to the town’s redistricting plans, which are tricky to formulate given the Hardy Hunnewell Upham plan is still unfolding.
Wellesley Public Schools is asking for input on updated draft elementary school redistricting maps (see planned presentation embedded below).
The maps were developed by the Redistricting Advisory Committee and originally shared with the community in January.
After input from residents at two community forums, a survey, and other communications, the committee used this feedback to refine and develop updated map options.
The maps will be presented to the School Committee at a public hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 11 at 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall. The School Committee will not be making any decisions on the maps at the hearing. That won’t happen until its Feb. 25 meeting.