6 of 8 Brookline School District articles pass
Friday, March 29, 2013
BROOKLINE – In less than two hours, with approximately 60 voters present, the Brookline School District warrant was decided with six articles passed and two defeated March 20.
Several voiced concern during a lengthy discussion on the first article of the evening, which requested $8,728,349 as an appropriation for the support of schools, pre-kindergarten through grade 6 in the Brookline schools of SAU 41, where middle school and high school students attend Hollis schools through the Hollis-Brookline Cooperative. The appropriation would also go toward payment of salaries to those Brookline school officials and for statutory obligations of the district. The figure was ultimately approved.
Resident Eric Pauer motioned an amendment to the article to reduce the appropriation to last year’s request by a little more than $300,000, but the amendment was eventually shot down. He said he couldn’t afford to pay the approximate $500 increase in his taxes from this article. Officials said if all the articles passed in total, the tax rate would increase by $1.11 per $1,000 for an annual rate of $9.82.
Chairman of the Brookline School Board Ernie Pistor explained there were many drivers behind the increase for the largest appropriation proposed on the school warrant, including a 9.8 percent increase in employee benefits – an increase of almost $163,000 – and a 9.9 percent increase in special education expenses, for about $142,000.
In a PowerPoint presentation, Pistor also pointed to state aid projected to be less than in previous years, by $38,000, and added the board is not expecting the Rural Education Assistance Program grant of $35,633, to come through. He said the Brookline district has been saving money, though, with a new carrier for life insurance that saves about $15,000 every year, and a reduction in staffing in 2014 in response to changing enrollment.
Resident Rodney Lockwood asked the School Board if there was any consideration for the taxpayers when the increase was budgeted, which the Finance Committee also did not take a position on.
“I think we should really sit back and see how our money is being spent,” he said. “I think it’s going to be close to $1,000 for the average household in Brookline and the Hollis-Brookline Cooperative and I’m not sure we, the taxpayers, are going to get a $1,000 bang out of the buck that’s being spent.”
Resident Beth Lukovits, a mother of children in the district, argued she was in support of the article, stating she has seen the district change bit by bit over the years which has resulted in a reduction of programming for students, she said.
“They have nickeled and dimed themselves over the years,” she told fellow voters.
She also said parents are being asked to buy students more and more supplies and said one staff member was already laid off, though she felt that was an appropriate move for smaller size of students.
Jim Murphy, moderator of the Hollis-Brookline Cooperative, also spoke out in support of the article, along with outgoing Selectman Jack Flanagan. Murphy said officials “hands are tied” when it comes to increases in health insurance and retirement benefits for employees coming “down from Concord.”
Under an article to place $256,633 of the approximate $1.3 million school administrative unit (SAU) budget into the Brookline School District budget, a secret ballot was held, where the article passed 58-3. The total vote between Hollis School District and the cooperative was put at 256-13, according to Moderator Peter Webb. Brookline school officials amended the article to also say rather they did recommend the request, before voters cast their ballots.
An article to appropriate $56,798 for staff salaries and fringe benefits for the first year of a one year contract in staff negotiations, along with an article for $71,870 for the second year of a two-year contract, were also approved, but not without complaint from some in the Captain Samuel Douglass Academy gymnasium.
School board officials said they ark also looking to form a merit-based pay committee to study options for the district on the subject.
Dennis Skey, a member of the Finance Committee, who was voted back into his seat through write-in votes in the recent town election, said he had concerns on those article as well and encouraged school officials to consider “pooling resources” in the future to share health insurance plans with town employees. Pistor said that could be something discussed at future School Board meetings – the next is slated for April 9.
Two articles were quickly passed over following the contract negotiations articles, which were placed in case those articles failed.
Town voters also defeated an article to transfer a sum of $10,000 from the unreserved fund balance to the school facilities maintenance fund. A capital improvement plan was presented by the school board to replace facility windows and repair gymnasiums, to which Chairman of the Capital Improvement Committee Alan Rosenberg informed them he had yet to see this proposal.
An article to authorize the retention of year-end unassigned general funds in an amount not to exceed 2.5 percent in any fiscal year of the current fiscal year’s net assessment was also shut down. Officials explained the article was meant to be in place “for emergencies,” to which many residents asked why the district didn’t already have disasters and other emergencies covered by insurance. One voter asked the last time there actually was an emergency that would fall under that category, too.