PEABODY — If you vote at Higgins Middle School, prepare for an adjustment next election.
The School Committee met with the Board of Registrars last night to discuss a proposal by the former to eliminate voting in the city’s schools. Members, led by Brandi Carpenter, gave compelling reasons for the change, including the safety of students and the loss of learning time due to the disruption caused by elections.
None of these arguments impacted the registrars’ decision to find an alternative to voting at Higgins, however. Rather, it was Superintendent Joe Mastrocola’s warning that construction of the new Higgins will eliminate the parking needed for voters. Registrar Judith Blodgett conceded that a move will be necessary, but she balked at committing to a permanent change.
“I don’t know if we’re ready to make that decision,” she said.
School Committee member Beverley Griffin-Dunne, who has opposed moving voting from the schools, cited her involvement in the design of the new middle school and said, “I don’t think you’ll be able to have voting there when it’s done.”
Colleague Tom Rossignol backed up her contention that the design of the new building will make it an impractical voting location.
Blodgett said her board had some “brainstorming” to do in dealing with the Higgins situation, as well as additional changes.
“I’m keeping my eye on Danvers,” she said, referring to Danvers’ one voting location, the high school.
Registrar Michael Moutsoulas said that the Higgins issue is enough for the city to react to at this time.
“Our superintendent said the Higgins should be a priority,” he said.
Carpenter noted that City Clerk Tim Spanos and the registrars have already explored alternative locations, getting preliminary approvals from sites including Community Covenant Church and the West Branch Library.
“More and more locations have come,” she said, suggesting these could work out even better for voters. “It’s just one step of many to get back to the educational process. ... In my opinion, it’s a proactive step.”
Carpenter predicted other cities and towns will soon be taking the same steps.
Spanos fielded questions from the School Committee regarding voting at other places. Of Smith Barn on Felton Street, he said, “You go out onto a large grassy, uneven area. Walking at night is difficult. And then you throw in the elderly.”
The barn at Brooksby Farm isn’t heated, and fall is their busiest time, Spanos said.
“With all due respect,” School Committee member Ed Charest said, “October and November is the busiest time for the schools, too.”
Carpenter withdrew a motion that would have required moving voting booths from Higgins and Burke schools.
Members Dave McGeney and Jarrod Hochman wanted to rely instead on the good faith of the registrars.
“I don’t think it’s necessary or productive to kick you out of the schools,” McGeney said.
“I’m not going to question the places that you picked,” Griffin-Dunne told the registrars. “It’s not my job. And I’m sorry you had to do this.”
She raised the possibility that the schools could continue to allow voting with a few changes.
“Somebody can’t use the gym that day. That to me is a small sacrifice to being part of the community,” she said.
The School Committee and the Board of Registrars is planning another meeting in 30 or 45 days to plan for future voting locations.