Issues & Analyses: More Unnecessary Delays on Track and Field Project


Amherst Regional High School track. Photo: Art Keene

By Maria Kopicki

Several members of the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee (RSC) have pointed out that the next phase of the high school track and field project (site assessment and design) requires revision of the existing debt authorization, which currently limits the committee’s options. In addition to the need to address the question of whether natural grass or artificial turf should be used for the interior field surface, there remains a significant gap between secured funding and anticipated expenses for an artificial turf option which prompted the District to explore multiple approaches to this project. Although committee members have tried over the last two meetings to restore all options for the track and field project, they have been hampered by a lack of cooperation from Interim Superintendent Doug Slaughter. 

Amending the debt authorization requires a simple two-step process: first the RSC would vote to rescind the existing authorization and then take a second vote to approve a new authorization. This is not an unusual municipal action and it can, and should, occur at one meeting. For example, the Amherst Town Council rescinded and replaced a debt authorization for replacement of the Centennial Water Treatment Facility earlier this year, both actions taken consecutively at the same meeting with no complications. The RSC action would be similar, requiring only the removal of the restrictive language that limits the project to an artificial turf field surface. 

Two weeks earlier, Slaughter claimed that he did not know whether specific language is required to rescind a debt authorization and said he would need to consult with the District’s bond counsel. This despite the fact that he has told the RSC on many occasions how easy it would be to do so. While he did provide motion language to rescind for this week’s RSC meeting, he failed to provide the language for a new replacement debt authorization that would allow all options. Replacement was the clear intent of several RSC members who specifically discussed the desire to have the proper language to make that happen. Without provision by Slaughter, two members of the RSC offered replacement language that they had prepared, using the existing authorization as a template. Slaughter, however, recommended that a vote be delayed until he could again consult with bond counsel, and the RSC was once again forced to table the vote until their next meeting (in January).

For a finance director to state that he did not know what language would be required to rescind or replace a debt authorization defies belief. For Slaughter to neglect to provide information in a timely manner and twice cause a delay in the business of the RSC is unacceptable. 

Slaughter’s concern about whether a replacement debt authorization should occur closer to the 2024 Spring Town Meetings of Pelham, Leverett, and Shutesbury in case their Select Boards want to have Town Meeting vote on it does not hold water. The proposed change in debt authorization does not preclude what they have already allowed; it simply opens up additional options that cost less and does not affect each town’s share. None of the Select Boards brought the existing authorization to their Town Meeting for a vote so it received a “pocket approval”. In addition, there is ample evidence that the member towns want the RSC to pursue options other than artificial turf. All four Boards of Health advised against artificial turf, Community Preservation Act funds were denied by two towns because of the inclusion of artificial turf, and two Town Meetings passed resolutions directing their RSC representative to pivot to natural grass. 

While the RSC remains unnecessarily stalled out, the cost of replacing the track and field continues to grow further out of reach and students continue to be relegated to substandard facilities. 

Maria Kopicki is a resident of Amherst’s District 5.

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