Crystal Colson, Deborah Paquette and Ron Paquette are joined by City Councilor Anthony Russo in advocating for a new school.

Reminder Publishing photo by Tyler Lederer

AGAWAM — Four Agawam parents have organized the Vote Yes for AHS Committee to advocate for and educate voters on the proposed new high school.

“For us, it was kind of like second nature to jump in and make the committee and try to make a difference in the town,” said Aleksandra Wrobel, president of the Doering School PTO.

The four who formed the state-registered committee in February are Granger PTO President Deborah Paquette, Granger PTO Treasurer Adrienne LaChappelle, Wrobel, and Jessica Schmaelzle, a parent of a Granger student. They also started a “Say YES to AHS” Facebook page.

Caral Potvin poses with her grandson Jace, who got to hold two signs in Feeding Hills Center on May 25.
Reminder Publishing photo by Tyler Lederer

“We dedicated a lot of time, a lot of months to prepare for this June 11 vote,” said Paquette.

The vote she is referring to is the June 11 special election, which will decide whether the $230,245,404 high school building project advances or not.

Specifically, the vote is on a debt exclusion. Debt exclusions allow cities and towns to temporarily increase the property tax levy limit beyond the 2.5% per year allowed by the state law known as Proposition 2½. Mayor Christopher Johnson has previously said the town already has space under its levy limit to raise enough taxes for the project, but that a debt exclusion would give it more financial flexibility.

Voting “no” would set in motion an over $70 million project to renovate and repair the existing building. Those repairs would not qualify for state reimbursement.

Wrobel said people are concerned about a tax increase.

“If you vote ‘no,’ your taxes are going up almost the same amount and you will have nothing to show for it,” said Wrobel.

At a February informational meeting, Johnson said that the tax impact of the new high school on the average single family home would be $465 to $488 per year, depending on the interest rate of the bond. Renovating and repairing the school would have an impact of $340 to $353, a $10 per month difference.

Schmaelzle said she was worried about the high school losing accreditation, which would impact students’ ability to get financial aid for college. Paquette said a “yes” vote would guarantee a future for the town, with Wrobel adding that if the new school were voted down, she’d move to a different town before her kids started high school.

“It’s about time that we started putting money back in our town, and we be proud of where we’re raising our families,” said Paquette.

Vote Yes for AHS Committee members Deborah Paquette, Aleksandra Wrobel and Jessica Schmaelzle attend a sign standout on May 25 in Feeding Hills Center in support of a new high school.
Reminder Publishing photo by Tyler Lederer

Generally, Wrobel said the more accurate information people learn about the project, the more they support it.

“It may be close, but I think it’s going to pass,” she said.

The committee has purchased two billboards, one on Springfield Street and one on North Street, and filmed two commercials, which will air on WWLP, Channel 22, and WGGB, Channel 40. It has also organized sign standouts, delivered over 400 yard signs designed by Wrobel and plans to send out mailers and text messages.

To invigorate young voters, it will also host a family social from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday, June 2, at School Street Park, featuring a face painter, pizza, and ice cream. Johnson will also be there for a Q&A, though committee members emphasized the town is not actively participating in the campaign.

“There’s a clear definition between the Vote Yes committee and the city,” Schmaelzle said. “There’s really no involvement, but we have sat in some of [Johnson’s] meetings.”

Funding for the campaign has come from donations from friends, unions and businesses, said LaChappelle.

Those who have questions, wish to volunteer or want a yard sign can email voteyesahs2024@gmail.com or message the committee members on Facebook.

This article was edited May 30, 2024, to correct the spelling of Deborah Paquette’s name in the photo captions. A further edit June 11, 2024, clarified that all four members were founders of the group.

tlederer@thereminder.com | + posts