School-related Issues Facing the Town of Lincoln

Update: The proposed school building was approved by residents at a December 1, 2018 town meeting.It will cost roughly $110 million, $93 million in official spending plus another $15+ million in disguised borrowing via contracting to buy power from a company that will supply and own the solar panels. The handful of folks who stood up to question whether it made sense to spend money on physical plant rather than on in-classroom education were silenced by the moderator after 1-2 minutes. Folks who started from the assumption that a new building holding the same teachers, same students, and same curriculum would automatically yield superior educational results were permitted to speak at length. Divided by the 440 town-resident K-8 students, this will be $250,000 per child and the most expensive school ever built in the United States. (Comparison: the nearly Newton North High School, famous for its $197.5 million construction cost, indoor swimming pool, etc.,  has more than 2,000 resident students and therefore cost roughly $100,000 per learner.) There was an inverse correlation at the meeting between working for wages and enthusiastic support for the project. Stay-at-home moms and successful alimony and child support plaintiffs were the principal cheerleaders. Most of the two-full-time career couples did not show up. A Fortune 500 executive, after she was informed of the result: “These people are crazy. I’m looking at houses in Wellesley.”

March 2019 update from Philip: I took a Facebook executive from Silicon Valley for a quick tour of the campus and then to a 4th grade dance performance in the auditorium. Informed of the impending demolition and planned spending after seeing the building condition first-hand, he said “Your neighbors are idiots.”

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The volunteers who run the Town of Lincoln, Massachusetts have proposed spending roughly $100 million of taxpayer funds to demolish the current K-8 school building, move the students into trailers for three years, and construct a new building in roughly the same location within the 71-acre campus.

Perhaps it is time to consider the higher-level question of “Given our desire and ability to pour additional financial resources into school spending, how can we make our school better?”

Questions to ask at the December 1, 2018 town meeting:

  1. Why are we gutting/demolishing the current school, which our own architects and engineers say will last at least 20-30 more years with minimal maintenance expense? (see this analysis of the 2017 Existing Conditions report and this comparison with the 2012 report and the 2017 report itself, which gives the expected life of many building systems)
  2. Why do we think that a new building will improve academic outcomes? The best-performing schools in Massachusetts were built in the 1950s. Average SAT scores at Newton North dropped slightly for students who’d enjoyed four full years in the $197 million new building. (details)
  3. Given that we have been paying into a state fund for a new school every time we shop (via a sales tax earmark), why wouldn’t we just wait for the experts at the MSBA to fund and manage our new school project? There is no urgent need for a new building (see above). SBC members say that it could be 5 years before it is Lincoln’s turn to be funded (roughly 50 percent) by the MSBA, but why can’t we wait 5 years to save $50 million? (enough to give each current teacher a $1 million bonus) (see “Is Lincoln eligible for MSBA funding?” for notes on an 11/19/2018 conversation with an MSBA Board member)
  4. Why wouldn’t we build a new school somewhere else on the 71-acre campus and use the current building for some other purpose? The current building was renovated or new in 1994, just 24 years ago. From the 2017 existing conditions report: the building has been very well maintained” and “The building structure, including the foundation, walls and roof is generally in satisfactory condition.” Why demolish a building worth at least $50 million?
  5. MSBA-funded projects, even on much smaller campuses, build the new school in a parking lot or athletic field of the old school, so that students need not be displaced into trailers. Given our 71-acre campus, why are we pushing students into trailers for three years? (best case; assumes no project delays) Who gave us the right to impair a current student’s education with a trailer environment so that a future student could have an improved education in a newer-than-1994 school building?

This site provides background and supports discussion on at least the following topics:

See also notes on an April 2018 School Building Committee meeting.



  • October 2018: Over a four-month period in which no actual work was done, the project ballooned in cost from $94 million to $110 million. This 17 percent increase was disguised via Enron-style off-balance-sheet accounting in a scheme to borrow money from a solar panel vendor. Instead of $94 million and a $0 electricity bill, the town would agree to a multi-decade “power purchase agreement” from the folks who pay up front for the solar panels.

Off-topic, but fun

Down in the Weeds: