Restore sustainable spending in schools

The Hollis Brookline Cooperative School District has several warrant articles on this year’s warrant, that if approved will significantly increase property taxes for households in Hollis and Brookline. As the former Hollis Brookline Cooperative Budget Committee Chairman, I am very concerned that we are on an unsustainable spending path. Since FY2010, the coop population has decreased 11 percent, while the proposed budget is up 21 percent to $22.8 million for FY2019.

This year, the coop school board has proposed two bonds: An athletic field ($1.66 million) and a high school robotics expansion ($1.98 million). These expensive, discretionary proposals are clearly “wants,” not “needs.” There are many serious concerns about the chemical safety, maintenance costs and environmental impact of an artificial turf field to be built adjacent to Beaver Brook conservation lands. Also, the timing to build a high school field for $1.66 million the same year the town of Hollis is proposing $860,000 to build two grass fields is questionable. Moreover, the taxpayers are already supporting the robotics club located on the coop campus at the middle school. Consequently, there is no urgent need to spend almost $2 million for the convenience of having robotics relocated to the high school.

Additionally, the school board has also proposed a professional contract (Coop Article 4) that would give teachers substantial raises up to 24.4 percent over three years, plus 17.36 percent in contributions to the New Hampshire Retirement System. Since the contract is Sanbornized, approval this year makes the contract increases automatic for the next three years. If approved, the contract will increase costs over $1.95 million, resulting in an additional $422 (Hollis) and $883 (Brookline) in taxes over three years for a $500,000 home. While teachers deserve reasonable raises, this proposal is clearly unreasonable and too costly. Most households will not see their incomes rise at similar rates. It not surprising that the current budget committee did not recommend this article.

While the first year cost of the two bonds is $43,000 (interest only), the bond payments rise to over $409,000 in each year for nine more years. These bonds along with the $1.95 million professional contract, $21.3 million operating budget and other articles will drive coop expenditures to reach nearly $25 million in FY2021. If all proposed articles are approved, coop taxes will increase at least $1,360 (Hollis) and $2,454 (Brookline) over three years, clearly unsustainable. Please attend the coop district meeting on March 15 at 7 p.m. to help keep spending under control.