Save Lowell High

Voters Deserve to be Heard

MICHAEL GALLAGHER: High school ballot initiative is in city’s best interest

The Lowell Sun ran Michael’s response to their August 15 Editorial in today’s edition.

Over the last few weeks, literally scores of volunteers – Lowell High School students, parents, educators, retirees, and others from every neighborhood in the city – have gathered over 6,000 signatures so that Lowell citizens can vote in November on the most important issue confronting them in a generation:  whether the city’s sole public high school should remain, and be renovated and re-built, in its historic downtown location.  While The Sun has in the past complained about voter apathy and sought to encourage civic involvement, it has now twice editorialized against this signature drive, contending that it is “spreading a false impression that Lowell residents are deeply divided” and, disturbingly, that this grass roots effort is “treading on dangerous ground” which “amounts to treason against the people.”

“False” impression that we are “deeply divided”?  Taking out duplicate votes, the tally of City Council, School Committee, and School Building Committee votes on this issue to date is 14 to 14.  Our elected and appointed officials could not be more deeply divided.

Treason?  Really?  These volunteers, who have donated their time to knock on doors and stand outside grocery stores, have engaged in the most un-treasonous action we as American citizens can take when we disagree with our government – collecting signatures on a petition.  And, notably, when the necessary 6,500 signatures are certified, they will have collected more signatures than any City Councilor got votes in the 2011, 2013, or 2015 elections.

These volunteers have done so as they firmly believe that this decision is one that will affect generations to come and that it is in the best interests of Lowell’s students and citizens that the high school remain in the downtown.  

They strongly feel, like multiple Lowell School Superintendents and High School Headmasters, that the downtown site is much preferable because it is centrally-located and the most equitable location for all students, allowing many to walk to school and to access the numerous programs, internships, and services offered downtown through UMass Lowell, MCC, the MRT, museums and galleries, the LCHC, UTEC, CTI, Lowell Makes, etc. which distinguish LHS from suburban high schools (and which have helped to dramatically reduce dropout rates); because the downtown site is the most cost-effective for Lowell’s taxpayers, avoiding the unreimbursable roadway improvement expenses at Cawley and saving millions every year in bussing costs; because the downtown site keeps a vital piece of the downtown economy in place; and because of the disproportionate impact on one city neighborhood of about 4000 students and staff, 900 vehicles, and 50 buses passing through and into it every school day.

In one of The Sun’s intemperate editorials, the author quoted Abraham Lincoln.  When Lincoln was upset about an issue, though, he would write what he called a “hot letter” which he would put aside until his emotions calmed down and then he would note “never sent, never signed” (after his assassination, they found such notes in his bottom desk drawer).  Maybe the writer of the editorial should have followed President Lincoln’s example.

And maybe the newspaper can now take a different tack.  Fueled by its editorials, this critical debate at times has become too personal.  It is now clear that the necessary number of signatures will be timely gathered and that this issue will be on the ballot.  Rather than demeaning this effort, maybe the newspaper could fulfill its community-focused mission, as it has in the past, and work with all sides to uncover all the facts – as to cost, traffic, equity, economic and neighborhood impact, etc. – and broker a city-wide conversation so that we all can fairly and honestly debate the issue and make a truly informed choice in November.

Michael Gallagher is a local attorney and chairman of the Save Lowell High Committee.

You can read this op-ed on the Lowell Sun.