HANOVER — The Massachusetts School Building Authority has voted to invite South Shore Tech into its Core Program, Superintendent/Director Dr. Thomas J. Hickey has announced.
The MSBA board made the decision on the first step in the process of determining which schools might win eventual approval for a renovation or new building at its Wednesday, March 2 meeting. SST’s eligibility period extends from April 4 to Dec. 30, 2022.
“This is welcome news for the school district (on its seventh application!), and we will begin the orientation process with MSBA in April,” Hickey wrote in a letter to town administrators and managers. “An important factor to mention early is that this invitation will not require any additional funds from our towns as part of our FY23 budget.”
He shared the letter, and one to him from MSBA Executive Director John K. McCarthy, with The Express last week.
“The letter basically puts in a pretty exclusive club — at least 17 schools out of at least 58 received this letter saying, ‘Your needs that you identified and our own research confirms that you have been invited to show us in the next nine months that you are ready to begin this process,’” Hickey said Sunday. “We’ve been applying since 2015.”
He said those previous applications, and the funds set aside during those years, puts SST in a position to move very quickly through this first phase.
An important part of the news for SST down the road — as a vocational school — is they have to tell MSBA what school officials think the school’s program of study should look like. What programs in a revamped school does SST want to offer?
Hickey said they will get a few months to outline that on paper, something the school has been doing internally for a long time.
“Is there a chance that we might want to consider offering new programs? Yes,” he said. “But that has to be tied to a local labor market.”
Electrical is the best example, Hickey said.
“There’s a strong market,” he said. The school could only place 20 out of 38 students who wanted to take electrical after the shop exploratory phase this fall.
“We need a bigger instructional space so we can take more kids,” he said. There are other programs that are adequately sized based on student demand, and others that are not now offered, but for which there might be a labor demand if they were offered, including the growing EV market.
“Part of what I want to do is make sure our programming is not so rigid and siloed that we could not be adaptive,” he said. “If, down the road, what we need to do is to have some of our automotive majors take courses taught by electrical teachers, we need to make sure that we’ve got the space to do that.”
For example, the school would need to adapt space for electric vehicles and charging stations, he said.
MSBA will be forming its own team of experts to examine SST’s vision for what the school should offer for the next 50 years. The school has also been approached by Marshfield to see how that town might be accepted into the district. The school currently fits 650 students. For next year, he already has 292 applications for 170 seats.
While about 20 percent who are offered admission decline the offer, he estimated they could still end up with a waiting list of between 50 and 70 kids. Non-resident students can no longer be accepted as freshmen.
“We’ve been very supported by our eight towns and we’ve been able to set aside funding for the feasibility study,” he said. “That’s one of the biggest reasons they give the schools nine months to get things in order.”
But McCarthy was careful to warn that school officials should not “get ahead” of the MSBA without MSBA approval, or they will not be eligible for grant funding.
“All that we need to do right now is show the MSBA that we are willing to set aside the funds if we get moved to the next step,” Hickey said. “The good thing is we don’t have to go back to our eight towns in the middle of a budget cycle and say, ‘Oh, by the way, we’re going to need about $800,000 for a feasibility study.’ We’ve been saving that money in our stabilization fund.”
A vote of the SST regional school committee is all that is needed to show that the district is ready to undertake a feasibility study since they have the fund in place, according to Hickey.
The next step is a series of procedural votes demonstrating that district officials understand the terms and conditions of the program and forming a building committee.
Another positive is that SST can act toward the next steps in less than the nine months allotted, placing them at the top of the list to onboard. While SST has been given an April start date for that phase, some other schools have been slated to begin it some six months after that.
“This is a multi-year project … and if we can expedite some of the easier parts of it, that’s great for everyone, I think,” Hickey said.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said state Rep. Josh Cutler, whom Hickey said has been very helpful in advocating for the school, including speaking at the MSBA meeting.
“It’s a first step, it’s a big step,” Cutler said of the MSBA letter. “The fact that they’ve been invited to this round is very significant… There’s still lots of work ahead.”
Cutler also credited state Rep. David DeCoste, R-Norwell, with who, he teamed up on a bipartisan way to advocate for the school, for helping achieve the successful outcome.
“They want to make sure you have local support, that you have feasibility funds that you need, that you have plans that make sense,” he said of the caution not to get ahead of things. “[SST] has put some thought and time into this. I have every confidence that they’re going to fulfill all the particular requirements.”
Despite the “don’t get ahead of things” warning, Hickey said he thinks the letter is good news that’s worth getting excited about, because there is support for the project that would permit SST to go before the MSBA with a project team and manager in place before working with the MSBA on design.