Haverhill Voters Support Debt Exclusion for Consentino School, But Opponents Put Up a Fight

Yes for Consentino Co-Chairs Joanna Dix and Nathan Hartwell celebrate voter approval of a debt exclusion to pay for the new Dr. Albert B. Consentino School. (WHAV News photograph.)

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Haverhill voters yesterday approved, by a relatively thin margin, paying for a new middle school through a debt exclusion.

Voters approved—3,182 to 2,734, or 448 votes—the exception to the state’s tax-limiting law to pay for the new Dr. Albert B. Consentino School. The ballot question lost only four of 22 precincts, with residents of Ward 4, closest to the borders with Groveland, West Newbury and Merrimac, showing the most opposition. Yes for Consentino Co-Chair Joanna Dix thanked voters, saying the citizens committee is looking forward to the “continuing momentum of a healthy, thriving Haverhill.”

“A lot of community members from all different walks of life came together to do this. We’re really happy with the results tonight,” she said.

Co-Chair Nathan Hartwell largely echoed her sentiments.

“It was a long, hard-fought battle, but really happy that the voters decided what was best for Haverhill was the debt exclusion for the Consentino. Now, we’re going to have the resources for other city services and other schools to help make sure we have a brighter future in Haverhill,” he said.

Hartwell, however, acknowledged the concerns of those who voted in opposition. “We need to make sure that we’re including all of our Haverhill residents in our outreach and canvassing, particularly those who are on fixed incomes and are concerned about tax increases and everything else. We need to be mindful of those folks because they showed up in a big way today. A lot were in support and a lot not. It was a very close vote,” he said.

City Council Vice President John A. Michitson, who said he campaigned door-to-door in favor of the debt exclusion, wasn’t surprised by the small margin of votes between yes and no. He explained what he heard on the street.

“There were a lot of voters that supported the idea, but they were having a hard time being able to afford it. I think that kind of explains a relatively close race,” he told WHAV. He theorized Bradford residents returned the favor to those voters across the river who voted in 2014 in favor of the new Caleb Dustin Hunking School.

The two elected leaders running for Haverhill’s mayor also weighed in.

City Councilor Melinda E. Barrett said she is pleased by the voters’ choice and credited the work of Hartwell, Dix, Rep. Andy X. Vargas, City Council President Timothy J. Jordan, Mitchitson, School Committee member Richard J. Rosa and former Councilor Colin F. LePage.

“I supported them from the beginning and did whatever I could to help provide them with the resources they needed to win. If I am fortunate enough to be Haverhill’s next mayor, they are exactly the type of bright minds I hope to see have continued leadership roles in our community,” she said.

School Committee member Scott W. Wood Jr. did not take any position on the question, but noted supporters ran a “great campaign” and recognized the extra money meets immediate needs.

“It certainly will give us a little more flexibility this year. Obviously, the mayor had committed that, if the debt exclusion passed, the funding request by the School Committee for the total budget number he would be able to honor,” he said.

The new school is expected to cost $160 million with the state paying for half.

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