Communities with visions of expensive new schools may have to turn to residents for more money or scale down their plans if they expect to get state funding, Treasurer Timothy Cahill warned yesterday.

Communities with visions of expensive new schools may have to turn to residents for more money or scale down their plans if they expect to get state funding, Treasurer Timothy Cahill warned Thursday.


Pointing to Newton's proposed $197 million high school as a poster child of poor financial planning, Cahill, who oversees the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which is charged with assessing school construction for state reimbursement, warned the state would "hold the line" on funding for exorbitant new schools.


Newton's failure to pass a $12 million property tax override Tuesday shows voters have lost confidence in the city's ability to manage taxpayer dollars, Cahill said.


"We are committed to not letting it happen anywhere else," he said during a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast yesterday.


"That goes for Wellesley, that goes for Springfield, that goes for my hometown of Quincy. We're not going to be spending $160 million and financing half of that for a high school in any one of our communities. I don't care how wealthy they are or how poor they are."


The building authority reimburses 40 percent to 80 percent of the cost of school construction and repair projects, which it selects based on a need and wealth formula.


The authority is in the process of awarding up to $250,000 contracts to several architectural and cost estimate consulting firms that will review project proposals and work with cities and towns on planning, according to a memo that authority Executive Director Katherine P. Craven wrote to board members last week.


"When it comes to high schools, they're usually the most expensive, so it's worth it to us ... to spend a few extra thousand dollars to save millions," Cahill told the MetroWest Daily News.


Katherine Babson, a Wellesley selectman who heads the town's School Building Committee, said the committee based its $159 million high school proposal on other recently approved projects and has not yet met with the authority to discuss cost estimates and state requirements.


"We want very much to meet with them and we want very much to produce a school building that is reasonable and meets the needs of our community," she said. "We've had a very public process and our costs are at the conceptual stage."


During an interview, Cahill said he does not "want to just be in the business of saying no," but that the Wellesley estimates seem excessive when compared with the $80 million Norwood high school proposal the authority approved this week.


Babson said she wasn't sure how the project could come in under budget, and was waiting to speak with the authority to work out the details.


The authority has an annual budget of $500 million for school construction grants and has approved eight school repair projects and one addition since 2007, said spokeswoman Carrie Sullivan.


Last July the authority began approving new projects after a four-year legislative moratorium that froze new spending while the authority paid for projects that were previously approved by the Department of Education.


The new Newton North High School was among more than 400 projects on that waiting list.


"We had to shut down the program because these schools became too extravagant, cost too much," Cahill said of the moratorium. "I do not want that to happen on my watch. I refuse to let it happen on my watch."


Cahill said both Newton and Quincy, which was also on the waiting list for a high school, have "exhibited a stubbornness that they were going to build what they wanted to build and our job was just to give them money and not question (the preapproved projects)."


Newton Chief Administrative Officer Sandy Poller said the city could not discuss the project because Jeremy Solomon, the mayor's spokesman, was out of the office yesterday.


Natick, which is also contemplating a new high school, recently approved a $250,000 study, the first step in getting state funding. Acting Superintendent Joseph Keefe did not return calls for comment.


Lindsey Parietti can be reached at lindsey.parietti@cnc.com.


MetroWest Daily News