Haverhill for Consentino Begins Organizing Ahead of June 6 Debt Exclusion Ballot Question

Architect’s rendering of planned new Dr. Albert B. Consentino School.

With three months before a special election in Haverhill, a citizen committee is ramping up its campaign to pay for a new Dr. Albert B. Consentino School outside of the city’s usual budget.

Haverhill for Consentino was organized in January to advocate for an override of the state’s tax-limiting law to allow the school to be built through a debt exclusion. If approved by voters during a special election Tuesday June 6, borrowing costs would be added to tax bills. Tri-chair Nathan Hartwell told WHAV why he supports the alternative method of paying for the school.

“I think it provides the financial flexibility for us to invest in our schools and city services. It’ll allow the city to succeed and grow,” he said.

Hartwell shares the chairmanship with Joanna Dix and Carmen Garcia-King. He explained the campaign in favor of an override is being “very transparent and clear” that this is not a question of whether or not the city will build a Consentino School, but rather “how to responsibly pay for that and not negatively impact other schools and other city services.”

He said, by contrast, the debt related to the former city-owned Hale Hospital restricted the city’s ability to pay for basic services for decades. Hartwell said he fears paying for a new school out of tight city funds would “represent another Hale.”

Hartwell said last fall’s labor action by the Haverhill Education Association opened his eyes.

“My view on this and really what kind of got me interested and involved started with the teachers’ strike and just trying to understand what are the different factors and forces that impact Haverhill and our ability to address the needs of the city,” he explained.

He contests the notion voters don’t approve Proposition 2 ½ overrides. “When you can get them on a ballot and you can get a campaign around them, they’re actually highly successful.”

Hartwell points to the successful override to build the Caleb Dustin Hunking School and notes information from the state show that of 58 instances of ballot questions relating to debt exclusions for constructing, remodeling and/or adding to schools since 2017, the measures were approved by the voters with 69% in favor.

Hartwell and his wife Kacey have three children and they have lived in Haverhill nearly 11 years.

A “Yes for Consentino” campaign kickoff takes place next Wednesday, March 15, at 7 p.m., at Barking Dog Ale House, 77 Washington St., in downtown Haverhill. During the meeting, residents may learn more, serve on a committee, sign up for literature and lawn signs and donate. Hartwell said early estimates suggest the campaign will cost about $35,000.

Mayor James J. Fiorentini is advocating paying for a new school out of city savings. In a social media post, however, the city leader conceded a debt exclusion would be required to pay for a replacement Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School. “While it is conceivable to pay for two schools without a debt exclusion, I feel that this will hamper us financially and I do not recommend it,” the mayor wrote.

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