St. Mark’s declares its lawn ‘sustainable’

I’ve always referred to the grass in front of St. Mark’s at the corner of Main Street and Route 85 as a “lawn,” but I guess I’ll have to update my terminology. The school recently erected a sign declaring the area a “sustainable meadow.”

A good number of you have said you are less than thrilled with the property’s appearance, but if this photo I took earlier in the week is any indication, some Southborough residents — namely the feathered kind — are quite fond of it.

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Jeremiah Mass
12 years ago

It appears as if there is something more going on here than St. Mark’s simply trying to be green. This may impact two of the great annual events in our town – Heritage Day and Santa’s Day.

Kim
12 years ago

That signs seems to show that St. Mark’s is having a good chuckle at local residents. Someone should investigate to see if they are as “green” inside as they are claiming to be outside.

Carol
12 years ago

I am disgusted with the arrogance that St Marks has portrayed by their decision to let the corner of our center of town look like a hay field. If they do not want to maintain that area, than the town should take ownership of it and put it to good use for the town ie; parking lot, sitting area with fountain Have town officials requested that it be mowed??

Ill-Informed Much?
12 years ago
Reply to  Carol

You DO realize that the town can’t just “take” any property it likes,right? If a town does choose to exercise its right of eminent domain for something very necessary, it must pay fair market value for the property. In addition, there would be legal expenses, which would probably be very high for attempting to take land from an institution like St. Mark’s. So which would you prefer, an unmowed meadow or an outrangeously expensive (and unnecessary) parking lot?

Getting some fact before posting is a good idea.

Kudos to St. Mark’s for standing their ground, setting an example of environmental responsibility, and not caving to the individuals who have the nerve to call them arrogant. I am starting to hope that they deny us access to their property for Heritage Day. It would serve us right.

Can you all just move on to more important matters already?

BTW John Butler, thank you for posting the information on tax exemptions for schools and the relative tax burden they represent. It was very interesting.

Kyla
12 years ago
Reply to  Carol

A parking lot? “Pave paradise and put up a parking lot…” Maybe you could move around a bit in order to get a new perspective. Perhaps you will come to see a hay field as beautiful. I know when i lived in Chicago (think one huge parking lot) I dreamt of being in a hay field back in Iowa. That hay field at St. Marks is much closer to creation than a parking lot. That makes it beautiful to me.

Al Hamilton
12 years ago

The reality is that this is private property and St Marks can do as they please. Heritage day is held there only by their grace.

You may not like it and given that St. Marks does not pay property taxes but uses substantial town services it may not seem fair but that is the reality of the situation.

The town could always choose to take the property by eminent domain but I for one think there are about 1000 better uses of the taxpayers money.

I don’t want the town to tell me how I have to mow or not mow my lawn and so I have to stand up for not telling St. Marks how to take care of their property.

Trixie
12 years ago

So next week the parents who pay $45,000 for tuition and board arrive with their children. I have a hard time believing they would approve of this mess.

Yiwei Sun
12 years ago

Susan, Love the picture you took last week! I drive by that area daily to pick up the kids from schools. I definately would admire those natual view. Too often our lives are too busy and too organized to enjoy those “surprises”.

minimom
12 years ago

Yes, we must treat St. Mark’s with kid gloves….they committed $100K to the fire department for the ladder truck. But I think they may be enjoying the fact that their “meadow” is irritating half the town. They have a lot of pull, don’t they? I really prefer it mowed, it looks so much nicer.

Don
12 years ago

In my 70 plus years living in this town I have found St Masrks does as they please. They have never done anything for the town that they did’nt have an ulterior motive. As for the ladder truck——who really needs it other than St Marks or Fay school. The town should take the corner and use it for the town. After all these years St Marks/Fay school still run the town. Their motto “D——the town RahRah St Marks

djd66
12 years ago

How is not mowing the lawn “green”? I have to laugh at all the “green types” and the things they do to make them selves feel better.

Kelly Roney
12 years ago
Reply to  djd66

Yeah, why don’t they just buy a who’ buncha green paint? [ /snark ]

Betsy Rosenbloom
12 years ago

Does anyone know if there has been any discussion between the Town and St. Mark’s regarding Heritage Day this year? Perhaps this has been asked and answered elsewhere, but I was wondering if Heritage Day is going forward “in the meadow” or whether St. Mark’s has indicated that it will cut the grass in October?

Pat Quill
12 years ago

This all cracks me up. Do you all think the administrators at St. Marks sit around in meetings thinking of ways to piss us off? Seems to be a bit of paranoia mixed in with a whole lot of bitterness. I think they have better things to do with their time.

Why don’t they pay property taxes? Was this an arrangement that some brilliant town admisistrator put into place centuries ago? ( If it was, shame on us.) I have to admit ignorance on this one but, would be interested in the answer.

Who in our town deals with St. Marks on a business level regarding having their site on Southborough property, or use of their property? Why all the (imagined ?) acrimony here? Was there are particular incident that led to this apparant bad blood between Southborough and St. Marks? Seems a bit childish to me.

If something happened years ago to cause this sour relationship we either need to get over it or make nice and resolve it…..don’t you think?

Kelly Roney
12 years ago
Reply to  Pat Quill

Pat, St. Mark’s property tax exemption is state law under MGL Ch. 59, section 5, clause Third. (If this is wrong, it’s probably because I’m not a lawyer!) There are many, many categories of exemption, though a lot of them only exempt the first few thousands of value. Churches are fully exempt. So is most property owned by other levels of government.

Betsy Rosenbloom
12 years ago
Reply to  Pat Quill

Pat, I am no tax expert but I believe that if they are organized and operate appropriately as a nonprofit, they are tax-exempt.

Al Hamilton
12 years ago
Reply to  Pat Quill

Kelly is right but that is only 1/2 of the story. While St Marks, Fay and a number of other properties are exempt from property taxes by State Law they use town services which the rest of us pay for.

Aside from Fire, Police, and Roads, if a faculty member living in St Marks or Fay housing wants to send their child to our schools they can, and this does happen on a regular basis. If those children have special needs we are required to pay for those services.

I don’t want to make pariahs out of the children or their parents but this situation does strike me as fundamentally unfair. Against the costs that these 2 institutions impose on the rest of us their contributions to the “Quint” look rather paltry.

For those of you who are really worked up about the lawn you could try picketing as the parents arrive. Make sure to stay on public property and enjoy exercising your free speech rights.

Kathryn Marous
12 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

It is indisputable that working with children, special needs especially, at an early age to maximize their abilities as adults benefits society as a whole. I do not believe your comment advocates turning a special needs child away from services. I believe your intention was a criticism of the larger problem of private schools not having to pay taxes. That, however, is a much larger issue, and I think your emphasis on special needs children is misplaced. Employees of these private schools and their families are still our neighbors and members of our community. Furthermore, I personally know several private school teachers who contribute vast amounts of time to civic organizations that benefit our town.

John Butler
12 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

I feel compelled to raise a cautionary flag on the popular notion that private schools cost the taxpayers money. I have not seen a careful analysis but I doubt that they do. In fact, my guess would be that on cash costs, not including positive impacts such as Town desirability, the schools have been a benefit in most years. I am sure that assertions to the contrary, without supporting data, are unwarranted.

By far the largest single cost that hits the tax rate is the cost of free public education. Everything else is pretty small. Our private schools do send some children to our public schools who live in tax free school housing, but private schools also educate children without burdening the tax rate. Over the the last 25 years the number of Southborough students annually attending private schools is pretty high, (20% at the high school level, and a few % at K8 although it fluctuates with the economy) and I suspect it significantly exceeds the number of faculty children in our schools living in untaxed properties. (Although I won’t take the space here for a full explanation, a cost analysis needs to include the cost savings of Southborough children who attend all private schools, not just those located in our Town, and the cost increase of those who attend our public schools but live in tax free housing. Only in that way, if each Town in the state were to do such an analysis, would all children be counted.)

Of course some might adopt the view that, although private schools do save the taxpayers a lot of money, it would be nice if they were all located, tax free, in someone else’s town, while we continued to offload some of our public education headcount to them. This is a little like the adolescent who thinks it’s cheapest to drive dad’s car when the tank is already full. The rational response by the municipalities that do host more tax free properties is not to vituperate against these private institutions that do public good, but to suggest that the state tax law would be more fair if the effect of unequal non-taxable properties was rebalanced in State aide calculations. The state has all the data and, believe me, performs far more arcane and pointless balancing acts between the communities.

In conclusion, unless you have a careful supporting analysis to show, don’t assume that the private schools are a tax burden.

Al Hamilton
12 years ago
Reply to  John Butler

John:

I am not trying to bash either institution. If I ran them I would do exactly the same thing.

I think you give private institutions far too much credit though. Yes, they do provide education services. But fundamentally it is the parents of their students that make the economic decision to pay for a private education not the schools. It is the parents that make the decision to unburden the rest of us of the obligation of educating their children not St. Marks or Fay and they deserve the credit.

As for the idea that the Commonwealth is going to provide Southborough with some extra state aid because St. Marks and Fay don’t pay taxes… Somehow I don’t see that happening because they don’t pay State taxes either.

I think it is unlikely that anything will change but I do think it is important that folks know who is and is not shouldering the burden.

John Butler
12 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

Al,
At some other place and time, and equipped with the actual numbers, it would be useful to fully examine the question of the tax impact of private schools.

My main problem was that many people in Southborough seem to assume that private schools cost the taxpayer money. My point was that this should not be asserted as fact without a careful analysis. It is quite possible, I would guess likely, that they remove more children from the tax burden of public education than they add children in tax free residences, perhaps a lot more. I get tired of reading the opposite, unsupported by data or analysis.

As for who “deserves the credit” in all transactions there is a buyer and a seller. The current policy, which applies to all non-profits, encourages this transaction from the side of the seller, the school, by lowering the seller’s costs. Occasionally in the US a debate surfaces about whether parents of private school students should get a tax credit in some form, because their decision reduces the tax burden of education. If you are in this camp, at least you are implicitly recognizing the cost offsetting characteristics of private education, the main point that I wanted to bring to the public attention. (Personally, however, I think the current approach is preferable.)

John

Al Hamilton
12 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

John

I certainly agree that better numbers would better inform the debate.

I suspect that you are right that in aggregate private schools do not cost the taxpayers money. In fact I will freely concede that in aggregate their existence probably benefits taxpayers.

However, as you note, the benefits and costs are not uniformly distributed and the cost side of the equation falls heavily in Southborough.

So I think from a strictly local perspective the question is more than legitimate and I think that from a strictly local perspective the benefits out weigh the costs.

If for example St. Marks was magically transported to Wayland and the grounds were committed to conservation land I believe that our overall school population, and associated costs would decline.

Interested in Truth
12 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

Al,

Please provide proof that students from Fay and St. Marks are using special education services from Southboro schools and Algonquin. Your statement makes no sense to me.

Thanks

Al Hamilton
12 years ago

Interested:

I believe that I made a statement of fact. I started the sentence with the word “IF”

Who gets special ed services is confidential and frankly, non of my business.

I agree with Ms. Maruos I don’t want to make this discussion about the families or their children. If you live in the Town of Southborough you have the right to use our schools and receive special ed services if necessary. PERIOD!

Rather Ms Marous is right it is a larger issue about how we will share the burden of providing these necessary services. Most of the money that is required comes from property taxes and that burden is not being divided fairly in my opinion.

Interested in Truth
12 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

Al,

How many students that attend St Marks and Fay live in Southboro? My guess (and it is only a guess) is around 45 to 50. Being conservative that is 45 X $6,000 (which I’m guessing is the average cost per pupil to educate) or $275K. At the same time, those families of private school students still pay property taxes. Let say those student represent 25 families. Since families that send their children to private schools tend (but not always) to be higher income I assume and average of $15K in taxes per family. That is $375K of total taxes paid to the town. Please keep in mind to me that all the numbers I’m using are guesses, but it still seems to me that it isn’t too bad of a deal.

Since they don’t use the schools the only town services they utilize are fire and police. I can’t even guess how common that use is. All I know is that I have lived in town 15 years and only called the police once.

djd66
12 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

Interested in Truth –

You could also look at it this way,…. there are 400 people that live at St. Marks consuming town services and they are not contributing to the for the delivery of those services. The town is not only missing out on the property tax on the real estate, its the excise tax on the all the furniture, equipment + vehicles. Look,… what they are doing is perfectly legal, I just don’t think it is right.

On top of that,…. now the field that occupies my town center is ugly.

Al Hamilton
12 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

Interested:

I don’t think the number is as high as the 45-50 that you guessed.

1. St Marks, according to their web site has a student body of 335. Your estimate would make Southborough Residents 15% of their student body.

2. We currently matriculate into Algonquin in excess of 90% of the Trottier graduates. (This is much higher than in the past)

So, I think your guess is quite high even if you count children of faculty living in tax exempt housing.

On the other hand your cost to educate is low. I think particularly for the HS it is closer to 10k

minimom
12 years ago

betsy – would love to know the answer to that question myself!

Pat McGroyne
12 years ago

Was that a crop circle I saw forming on the St. Mark’s hayfield this morning?

Former Townie
12 years ago

A tempest in a teapot. Not something to get riled up about in my opinion. Lawns are a modern obsession and for the most part a waste of time. Mowers are noisy, smelly and we all just do it because we don’t want to stand out or offend anyone. Maybe St. Mark’s would consider some fenced in sheep, they are quiet and would keep the grass clipped.That would satisy the greenies and the overly lawn obsessed. How about it?

HelenL
12 years ago

I personally don’t care if they mow the lawn or not, I think it was stated during an earlier discussion that they plan on mowing it in time for Heritage Day, if not, why not have it at Neary or Woodward? Woodward is closer to the downtown and the library. They used to have more at the Library and up at Pilgrim Church/Town Hall in the “old” days anyway.

But while we’re on the subject of “Heritage” Day, why don’t the organizers try for a little more of people’s heritages? There’s no booths or demonstrations to speak of anything “colonial”, you have to go to the Sudbury Fair (3rd Sat in Sept) for any of that. It would also be cool for the different cultures we have in town to have something…. RIght now, except for people getting to see each other/yelling at the kids to stop shooting the potato guns, etc., Heritage Day is just a bunch of people trying to sell you stuff.

minimom
12 years ago
Reply to  HelenL

Helen – thanks for the date of the Sudbury Fair – I always forget that one until the last minute or the Monday afterwards!

Momagement
12 years ago

I am also wondering about Heritage Day. Will the meadow become unmowable due to nature? I am not a wildlife expert, but I’m wondering if creatures are building homes in the meadow, which will make it impossible to mow without destroying their habitat and even killing the animals. Anyone know?

Perhaps Heritage Day will be moved to one of the school’s fields. Not the same as having it in the center of town, of course. But it’ll be interesting to see how this shakes out.

Matthew Brownell
12 years ago

I think it looks fine, and certainly more beautiful than several acres of level-cut, baked-out crabgrass.

WIth the tudor architecture of the St. Marks buildings in the background, it reminds me of the naturalized surroundings of St. Andrews golf course.

St. Mark’s could easily turn this same area into a stunning wildflower meadow / prairie garden.

Kelly Roney
12 years ago

Amen!

carrie alpert
12 years ago

whatever about the lawn. it is their property and they can and will do with it what they please-if you are really so into what St. Mark’s is doing with their property then send your child to their establishment and get on some regulatory board, reallly do you want people telling you what to do with your land?

With that said i find it troublesome if what Al is saying is true, that a St. Mark’s employee is allowed to send their child/children to our school system at no cost to the institution that is St. Marks. That is something i would be a part of to lobby to be changed; however, i have a feeling that it is something that is stated in a law (naturally!) that if you can provide a legal address of where you live then voila! your child is enrolled in our school system.

first time blogger
12 years ago

This “sustainable meadow” is a tiny fraction of all of the land that St Marks owns. If they were truly concerned about being sustainable, the lawns in front of the faculty houses, and the administration houses, and so much more of the land that they own would also be allowed to become “sustainable meadows”. My guess is that reason that the lawns in front of the faculty houses, and the administration houses aren’t allowed to grow out of control is that the faculty and adminstration would complain about how ugly it looks.

Let’s be consistent – if the triangle park in its current condition is worthy of all the complaints that have been logged, then so is this meadow. If we like the look of this meadow, let’s cancel the landscapers contract at the triangle.

Jerry C
12 years ago

Kelly and Betsy; How about creating sustainable meadows on our front lawns. Maybe we can bring down our property values and get a tax rebate. If we do really really good, we’ll pay the same amount of taxes that St Marks pays.

I have an idea for St Marks. Take ,1% of the revenue for your over-priced Explo camp, or .000000000000001% of your endowment and mow the lawn. I know this is unkind to the butterflys, frogs, fleas and ticks, but what the heck, why be nice guys.

Kelly Roney
12 years ago

Go for it, Jerry. Think outside the suburban box where everyone has to conform to a single idea of picket fence perfection. (By the way, I think my neighbor Betsy has been neutral on this.)

Just don’t expect a tax abatement.

Tick-borne Lyme disease is endemic in Southborough – ask your vet. Yet most of us have well-mown lawns. Hmm, maybe that’s the problem. (No, I’m not serious.)

Like it or not, we don’t get to vote on St. Mark’s School’s decision. We also don’t get to vote on the landscaping in your yard (or mine). This is a good thing.

Betsy Rosenbloom
12 years ago
Reply to  Kelly Roney

Thank you, Kelly, for your clarification. You are correct, I have not taken a position to date on the St. Mark’s meadow issue. My first post asked whether anyone knew whether they were planning to mow it for Heritage Day and my second post was a reply that I thought St. Mark’s was tax exempt. For the record: (1) I agree with “first time blogger” that the field at issue is a very small fraction of St. Mark’s land and, I suspect, does not have a huge impact on the school’s overall environmental impact; (2) I question whether this intersection is the best choice for an experiment in building a “sustainable meadow” and (3) I agree with Kelly that since it’s private property, we don’t get to vote and that is, on balance and all things considered, a good thing.

Buffalo Bill
12 years ago

Bring back the buffalo!!!

Jeremiah Mass
12 years ago

St. Mark’s owns 250 acres. They selected this particular piece for their “meadow”. Also, do they have similar signs on their property that read: “St. Mark’s Sustainable Pond”, “St. Mark’s Sustainable Hill” or “St. Mark’s Sustainable Field”?

Deb Moore
12 years ago

A town parking lot? For what? The only time I ever had trouble parking was for the Unogate selectmen’s debate at the library, and I ended up just up the hill.

It is private property. Enough said about that.

I believe the children of faculty members living on campus are the same as children of families renting homes, right? They are not freeloaders of any stripe. Your argument is with the landlord, not the tenant.

If I understand the gist of this past year’s comments, we don’t want any businesses with drive-throughs in town, or anything that increases traffic, or any schools or churches that are nonprofit because they don’t pay property taxes, or any young families because they increase the burden on our schools and raise our property taxes. So who can move in without controversy?

(And I don’t think the meadow is ugly, and I think any wildlife homes in the grass are summer homes and it’s OK to mow in the fall (opinion, not knowledge).)

Deb Moore
12 years ago
Reply to  Deb Moore

Oh, I finally figured this out! The sign isn’t to thumb anybody’s nose at anything! It’s St Mark’s taking full responsibility for the meadow/eyesore, lest anyone unfamiliar with the situation should drive through the middle of town and be shocked! shocked! that “we” allowed one corner to be in such a condition. :)

Reader
12 years ago

omg, susan…..start another thread!! I can’t take this much longer!!

Kelly Roney
12 years ago
Reply to  Reader

Yeah, we’re really way off in the weeds. Heh.

Don
12 years ago

St Marks could well afford to donate to the town the so called meadow . It may even be a good will jester considering all the untaxable housing that their employees live in. It would be very interesting if the locations were published for all the tax payers to see just what is considered so called school property. I know of several and I also know that there are many more. Is St Marks taking advantage of the law by calling these homes untaxable school property?

"good will jester"
12 years ago
Reply to  Don

I am going to assume you meant “gesture” but thanks for the early morning laugh.

You are highly delusional if you think St. Mark’s is going to just give acres of property to the town. Just because they are a very pricey private school does not necessarily mean that they are swimming in money. These comments are just become ridiculous now.

Alex Neihaus
12 years ago

Since I wanted to respond to this at some length, I’ve posted my thoughts on my blog here.

Al Hamilton
12 years ago
Reply to  Alex Neihaus

Alex – Your contention that there are plenty of other sources of revenue to support local services is not borne out by the facts.

Over 3/4 of the funds required for local government (police, fire, roads, schools etc) come from local property tax. This is one of several taxes that St. Marks does not pay.

Put another way St. Marks occupies about 2% of the land area of the town. If they paid taxes based on this simple algorithm they would be pay about $600k in property taxes. Each year St Marks donates about $10k to the town which is sligtly more than the amount paid on an single family home in Southborough. So that is the fundamental source of the friction.

Yes, the employees pay income taxes and sales taxes like the rest of us and St. Marks pay employment taxes as well but very little of that money makes its way back to Southborough.

Alex Neihaus
12 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

I understand your point, Al. But the town isn’t going to change the tax-exempt status of Fay, St. Mark’s and the New England Center anytime soon.

What interested me about this kerfuffle is how it lays bare (again) the assumptions, resentments and stereotyping on both sides.

A purely financial analysis of what these tax-exempt institutions “extract” from the town, as described through the lens of the town’ dependence on the property tax, misses the immutable fact that they are here, the tax laws are out of the town’s hands and what these institutions contribute to Southborough.

For their part, these institutions are larded with waste (I know, I’ve paid tuition at two of them), could easily contribute more to their upkeep, and have no earthly intention of doing so willingly. They have…ahem…the tax laws on their side.

So, it’s a face-off. What interests me is how both sides hold dear to their assumptions — and how that tight, but comfortable, grip makes each side less aware of how they appear to the other.

BTW, NPR ran an interesting story> this morning about individuals’ total tax burden. They profiled a couple in (high-tax) Connecticut. Turns out property taxes are much less significant than income taxes. While that doesn’t help the town from a revenue perspective, it should reduce the veins throbbing in the necks of at least a few Southborough Tea Partiers who are bent out of shape over local property tax rates.

wow.
12 years ago

this is ridiculous. its a meadow for animals… let the animals be.

Annie Oakley
12 years ago

Like buffalo bill said, we obviously need to bring back the buffalo. I will be having a booth at heritage day to help raise money to BRING BACK THE BUFFALO! Any contributors are greatly appreciated.

Buffalo Bill
12 years ago

NEW SOUTHBORO MOTTO:
“DON’T MOW, GET BUFFALO!”

George C
12 years ago

IS Buffalo Bill on next weeks ballot? He should be!

John Kendall
12 years ago

My wife was driving to work this afternoon and called me to say that the St. Mark’s grounds crew was mowing the meadow.

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