WHS needs to comply with Disabilities Act

Saturday, April 18, 2009
By Cary Shuman

By Pete Legasey

For the Transcript

Last Tuesday, Superintendent of Schools Steven Jenkins and School Committee Chairperson Patricia Milano addressed the Town Council, hoping to call attention to renovations needed to Winthrop High to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

During their inspection visit in 2000, the New England Association of School and Colleges (NEASC) agents recommended the school district renovate Winthrop High School to make it more accessible to the handicapped. And with the next inspection scheduled for October 2010, Winthrop is running out of time to make those improvements. If the renovations aren’t made, the school district runs the risk of being placed on warning or probation, or having its accreditation status stripped by the NEASC.

The obvious problem is that Winthrop is in the midst of a townwide budget crisis and can’t provide enough funds for its public schools to avoid making cuts to its staff and services, let alone make significant renovations to school buildings.

For over a year now, the school administration has been undergoing the lengthy process of applying for assistance with funding the renovations from the Mass. School Building Authority (MSBA), which is run through the office of State Treasurer Tim Cahill. Through a list of criteria that includes accreditation needs, the MSBA selects school construction and renovation projects that it assists by providing 50-60 percent of the total cost of the project through grants and state funding.

The MSBA is funded through the state sales tax, so it has had to scale back the number of projects it can assist because of the state’s economic downturn.

However, the MSBA issued a statement earlier this month about projects it still intends to assist, and the Winthrop High renovations were among the 106 projects that remain in the MSBA’s pipeline.

In order to gain and retain eligibility for assistance, the school district (and the town as a whole) has had to provide the MSBA with some guarantees and pieces of information about their needs. But the latest step towards assuring that assistance has gone unfulfilled since January, when Jenkins received an e-mail from Diane Sullivan of the MSBA informing him that the town must form a school building committee to work with the MSBA before the process can progress further.

At last Tuesday’s council meeting, Jenkins reminded the council about the need to submit a letter to the MSBA confirming that such a committee has been formed and listing its members. Among the public officials who must be included in the committee are the superintendent of schools, town manager and the Town Council president.

“Are we moving forward with our request, and do we want to remain in the pipeline?” Jenkins said, summing up his message to the council. “If we’re going to, then we should move forward by providing them with the information they’ve asked for. If not, then what are we going to use to assist with fulfilling the recommendation of the NEASC and, hopefully, doing something to the building prior to their visit in October of 2010?”

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