State should abolish NEASC, restructure school buildings program

editor’s note: Steve Maher is an Auburn resident (and taxpayer).

By Steven R. Maher

Recently the town of Auburn, claiming that overcrowding necessitates it, has begun to look at building a new middle school. Using the square footage of 98,700 reported by the Worcester Telegram on March 21, 2012 and the state reimbursement construction figure of $275.00 a square foot, I calculate it will cost taxpayers a total of $27.4 million and some change. It’s a total waste of taxpayers’ dollars made possible by the stupidity of the Massachusetts School Buildings Assistance bureau and the extremely flawed accreditation process of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).

How did the building get overcrowded? The Auburn Middle School was built as a Junior High School in 1958 for the seventh and eighth grades. Some time ago the Auburn School Committee voted to make the building into a middle school for 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. You put three grades into a building designed for two grades, and naturally you’re going to get some overcrowding.

The obvious solution here would be to send the 6th grade back to the grade schools and convert the middle school back into a junior high. But town officials argued that the “education plan” calls for a middle school, and since the state will pick up 54% to 60%, it makes common sense. Incredibly, the School Buildings Assistance bureau has bought this argument, and has given Auburn the green light to initiate the process.

Billions wasted

One wonders how many billions in state dollars have been wasted on unnecessary building projects like this. A School Committee develops a new “education program” that doesn’t fit the physical plant, so instead of adopting a plan suited to your buildings, local and state taxpayers have to dig deep to finds tens of millions of dollars to restructure the plant. And if a future School Committee determines that the original education plan was satisfactory? Well, that’s just too bad for the taxpayers. If you multiply what is happening in Auburn times the 350 odd municipalities in Massachusetts, it is clear that the Boston bureaucrats are wasting an enormous amount of money on projects like this.

How is this possible? A lot it has to do with the NEASC, the entity which grants accreditation to schools and colleges around Massachusetts.

What the NEASC does is come into a school and look at the local school department’s “self study”. The school department puts into the self study what it wants; if it wants a new high school, it puts in the self-study that the school is overcrowded, has building defects, and other such complaints.

This happened in 1998 with Auburn High School. The accreditation report was extremely negative, saying the building had building code and health violations. New school proponents then launched a scare campaign, saying that the school could lose its accreditation, graduates would not be able to get into college, and property values would plummet. I later sent the school superintendent a public records requesting proof that one student in New England had been denied admission to a college because their high school lacked NEASC accreditation; she was unable to name one student so affected.

I took the NEASC report and sent it to the Auburn building inspector, fire inspector, Board of Health, and wiring inspector, asking them to find and order fixed the health and safety problems cited by the NEASC. They didn’t find a single code violation. The NEASC report was a pack of lies.

Later, I took the NEASC report and compared it to the self study done by Auburn officials. The NEASC had taken large segments of the self study and incorporated it directly into the accreditation report, word for word, without quotation marks. Without knowing this, one would think the NEASC actually researched and discovered these “issues” on their own. But they regurgitated the self-study back to the Auburn school department, giving the department a propaganda weapon to campaign for a new high school.
Abolish NEASC

Incredibly, the NEASC isn’t even a public agency; it is privately owned. What the state should do is abolish the NEASC and replace it with a state accreditation agency operating under a set of standards that could be universally applied to public schools and colleges. These self-serving self-studies should be abolished.

Also, Governor Deval Patrick should fire the bureaucrats at the School Buildings bureau and replace them with public servants who would safeguard the taxpayer’s money instead of squandering it. Spending $27.4 million when there is no need to constitutes profligate waste of the taxpayer’s money of the worst kind. That this is being done during hard economic times makes it all the worse.

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