Tuesday’s town election proved to be every bit as interesting and dramatic as had been expected. Town Council President Peter Gill’s successful bid for re-election by a margin of 183 votes (2817-2634) over challenger and former Town Council President Jeffrey Turco (whom Gill had unseated two years ago) was an affirmation of Gill’s performance in that post over the course of the past two years.
In addition to differences in their personalities and leadership style, both men differed widely on the issues, most notably on the question of a new Winthrop middle/high school. Gill supported the project in the debate between the two, while Turco voiced his opposition to it. Given the overwhelming support that voters expressed for the new schools in the Prop. 2 and 1/2 debt exclusion vote, it is clear that Gill stood with the vast majority of the town’s residents in desiring to provide our children — and our community– with a middle/high school facility that is compatible with 21st century learning standards.
We congratulate both Peter and Jeff on running a fine and spirited campaign that drew the attention and interest of the voters of our community.
The overwhelming support of the voters for a new Winthrop middle/high school by a substantial margin, 3824-1881, truly was a vote of historic proportions. New school projects always have been a difficult proposition to place before the voters, especially in this era of Prop. 2 and 1/2 (which has been the law for about 32 years), because they are expensive and therefore impose a large tax burden on a community’s taxpayers. Those who do not have children in the public schools often believe that new schools are not in their interest and therefore typically do not support such projects.
As readers of our through the years column soon will discover, the construction of the present high school 50 years ago was fought tooth and nail by opponents of the project. Town Meeting originally gave its approval to the project, but then a citizen’s group demanded that it be placed on the ballot, which required a two/thirds majority vote pursuant to the town by-law at that time that governed bond issues.
Needless to say, the first new school project in 50 years, coming at a time of rapidly-escalating school budgets, had little chance of winning by that margin of approval at the ballot box and it failed. Town Meeting then had to change the by-law to require a simple majority vote and another election on the question had to be held, which eventually succeeded. However, the votes and revotes on the issue delayed the construction of a new high school by a least a year.
More recently, the late 1990s also saw a huge debate in town concerning the construction of our two new elementary schools to replace aging facilities, with voter approval finally coming (as we recall) only after multiple attempts.
So for voters to give such overwhelming approval Tuesday to the new middle/high school project signifies a welcome change in voter sentiment on this issue, the likes of which most of us will not see again in Winthrop in our lifetimes. Winthrop now will have a complete set of brand new schools that (barring a population explosion!) will serve our community for the next 50 years.
Congratulations and thanks are in order to the school building committee, chaired by Mary Lou Osborne and David Dockendorf, which obviously did a wonderful and thorough job in making the case to the voters for a new middle/high school.
Finally, congratulations are in order to Rich Boyajian, who upset Councilor-at-Large Larry Powers in the at-large Town Council race. We welcome Rick to the council, while at the same time thanking Larry for his many years of service both as our Fire Chief and as a member of the council.