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February 26. 2014 8:26PM

School funding is divisive issue in Hollis, Brookline

HOLLIS — A warrant article that could potentially change how much the towns of Hollis and Brookline pay for their children to attend the district’s middle and high schools will head before voters next month.

Article 15 on the Hollis/Brookline Cooperative School District warrant is asking voters to amend the existing agreement between the school district and the towns of Hollis and Brookline.

If the article passes, the school district would determine each town’s tuition costs based equally on the middle and high school students’ average daily memberships in the preceding fiscal year and the most recent equalized valuation of each district.

The warrant article, submitted by petition, doesn’t have a set cost value as written, but some Hollis residents and town officials still fear the cost would ultimately prove too high.

Right now, the district operates on an “average daily membership” basis, meaning the number of students each town sends to the cooperative district determines tuition costs charged to each of the two towns.

Last year, Brookline paid an average of $13,010 per student in tuition costs, while Hollis paid $15,053, according to the 2012/2013 annual report for School Administrative Unit #41.

The state’s 2012/2013 average for per-student tuition is $15,589.

There are 874 students enrolled at Hollis/Brookline High School and 386 students enrolled at Hollis/Brookline Middle School.

According to school officials, if all of the (nonpetitioned) School Board and Budget Committee Articles 2-10 pass next month, the end result would be an overall tax rate of $12.45 per thousand dollars, representing an 8 percent increase for Brookline residents.

For Hollis residents, passage of Articles 2-10 would mean a tax rate of $6.77 per thousand dollars, representing a 4.9 percent increase.

Hollis Budget Committee Chairman Tom Gehan said he’s “invested a lot of time researching possibilities and has become acutely aware of a risk” associated with the petitioned Article 15.

Gehan said that if Article 15 passes, he believes an estimated $1.7 million in taxes could be shifted from Brookline to Hollis over the next five years.

The end result, he said, would be a $1.40 per thousand increase in property taxes, or about $600 per year for the owner of a typical Hollis home.

“It’s a huge, huge risk we’re facing,” said Gehan.

The topic was debated heavily this week on the Hollis/Brookline Community Facebook page.

“Sadly, there still exist those in Brookline and Hollis who would like to achieve their objectives by dividing the towns,” wrote Keith Thompson. “The whole story is that when Hollis was sending more students to the co-op, Hollis residents were OK with a different formula. Then the number switched.”

Petitioner Eric Pauer of Brookline said he believes the 50/50 formula proposed in the warrant article is “more balanced.”

“Right now, Brookline is to the breaking point tax-wise,” Brookline resident Michelle Tutt-Jimeno further noted. “Hollis is not. Personally I think it is in Hollis’ best interest to correct the situation and put it to 50/50.”

Also appearing on the March warrant is Article 2, which asks voters to approve a $5.2 million building expansion and multi-purpose athletic field at Hollis/Brookline Cooperative High School.

If passed, the district would need to appropriate $143,000 next year for the initial interest payment on the construction bond.

The article was unanimously supported by the Hollis/Brookline Cooperative School board, but wasn’t recommended by the budget committee.

A two-thirds ballot vote would be needed for Article 2 to pass.

Town and school officials said that any changes made to the co-op contributions would be locked in place for the following five years, in accordance with state Department of Education rules.

“I do think we need to work as a united front,” Hollis Board of Selectmen Chairman David Petry said. “But the one thing I’d like to stress is that 25 signatures on a petition doesn’t represent the entire community of Brookline.”

Gehan said, “a best case scenario would be having this article tabled Monday night.”

“We need to get as many people at that meeting as possible,” he said. “Everyone’s input is critical.”

The Hollis/Brookline Cooperative School District will hold its annual meeting on Monday, March 3, at Hollis/Brookline High School. The meeting begins at 7 p.m.

Ballot voting on all articles will take place March 11.
aguilmet@newstote.com


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