Hollis Brookline school bond fails, reapportionment tabled; Meeting to be continued on Thursday, March 6

Controversial petition warrants to change the articles of agreement of the Hollis Brookline Cooperative School District and a proposed $5.5 million bond for high school renovations and a new athletic field drew an over-capacity crowd at the HBCSD annual meeting on Monday, March 3.

By the end of the evening, the bond was rejected, two main articles were tabled, and the meeting was adjourned until Thursday, March 6.

More than 1,000 residents attended, and many had to park down the street at Hollis Primary School and take a shuttle to the high school. The floor seats and bleachers of the gymnasium were full, so dozens of people had to watch the meeting via a feed in another room. Moderator Jim Murphy had to wait more than half an hour from the posted start time to begin the meeting due to the large number of people still waiting in line to register and get their voting cards.

Tom Solon, chairman of the Hollis Brookline Cooperative School Board, reviewed the bond warrant. He presented new information indicating that together, the towns saw 73 new students in kindergarten through grade six move into the district, contrary to New England School Development Council statistics that have shown enrollment to be declining.

Raul Blanche, of the HBCSB Budget Committee, explained why the committee did not support the bond.

“There is an absence of firm bids,” he said. “We don’t want to be in a situation where we start a project and run out of money.”

He said the committee objected to the portion of the bond that would finance a study on obtaining a secondary access road at the high school because they feel it is not appropriate to borrow money to pay for a study rather than the actual project.

Blanche also took issue with the unspecified terms of the bond, and said he would rather see a 10-year term than the suggested 20-year term to lower the amount of interest paid. He further recommended breaking the bond into two separate components, the $2.3 million in building improvements and $3.2 for the athletic fields.

“There are very good ideas here but the package is too big,” he concluded. “It should be split.”

A ballot vote was taken on the bond, which took nearly an hour for the crowd to file to the ballot boxes and for home viewers to drive in to vote. A two-thirds majority of the 1,088 votes cast was required for the bond pass, but the measure failed by that same supermajority, with 361 voting in favor and 727 against.

Article 15 was moved up for discussion next. Eric Pauer, of Brookline, discussed the petition he submitted to change the apportionment formula of the cooperative from the current 100 percent average daily membership (ADM) to the ratio originally adopted by the cooperative of half ADM and half equalized value (EV).

“Individual households pay taxes, not towns,” he said. “Even under 50/50, Brookline will still pay more than Hollis. This is not a healthy situation.”

Pauer’s proposal and data were rebutted by Tom Gehan, chairman of the Hollis Budget Committee, who spoke as a private citizen. His data showed that more people are moving to Brookline than to Hollis, and they also have a higher concentration of children. Because Brookline receives more state aid, Gehan said Hollis actually pays more taxes per student, and even after recent property revaluations, the actual tax burden has always been higher in Hollis.

The issue clearly has divided the towns, and many residents lined up to speak.

“We can argue about towns, but this is a co-op,” said Richard Rimmel, who identified himself as a member of the co-op rather than being from either town. “The entire community benefits from the education of our youth. It costs us this much to educate our students, and we should divide it by the assessed value.”

“I’ve only know Hollis Brookline as one community,” said Maryanne Shanley, who said she has lived in Hollis for six years. “The divisiveness here tonight is despicable. We need to work together for our kids and our towns. This needs to be studied more.”

State Representative Jack Flanagan, of Brookline ,served on the committee when the apportionment formula was determined.

“It was one of the hardest committees I have ever served on,” he said. “We spent weeks researching different formulas and ideas of what was fair. We actually came up with a unanimous decision. State aid should have no bearing (because) it varies based on the number of kids. Since when do we pay by kid?”

He also pointed out that there are many state laws regulating cooperative school districts, and that despite the speculation that this rift could lead to the end of the cooperative, it would not be as easy for either town to withdraw as some might imagine.

Chris Hyde, a member of the Hollis Budget Committee, spoke in opposition of the article, echoing previous comments that the issue needs further study. He moved that Article 15 be tabled, and the motion passed by a vote of 454-430. Voters agreed to restrict reconsideration by a vote of 610-231.

Article 12, also proposed by Pauer, would require a two-thirds supermajority to approve future amendments to the HBCSD articles of agreement. It was also tabled by a vote of 462-128 with a visual majority to restrict reconsideration.

At 11:10 p.m., moderator Murphy proposed adjourning the meeting, which was overwhelmingly supported by those still remaining. The meeting will be continued at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 6 in the HBHS gymnasium.