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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Proposed Brookline School District budget reflects 4.5 percent decrease

BROOKLINE – As public budget hearings go, the School District’s meeting on Thursday night was short and sweet.

It was short because the budget is so spare, roughly $410,000 lower than last year’s operating budget.

And it was sweet, because there was little, if anything, that sparked controversy or debate.

The School Board is proposing a 2012 operating budget of $8,617,692, a 4.5 percent decrease from last year’s budget of $9,027,238.

The final budget number and associated tax rate for the local portion of the tax bill won’t be set until after the School District factors in revenues, still an unknown, and the state Department of Revenue Administration does the math.

Still, the budget as it was presented Thursday reflects a no-frills spending plan that includes $21,787 for the support staff, as contracted, and a decrease of about $300,000 in special education because of changes in population, renegotiated transportation contracts and the addition of a half-time psychologist, which eliminates the cost of sending students out of district for testing.

Only eight people showed up at Captain Samuel Douglass Academy for the hearing, but most of them brought concerns.

One resident wanted to know why the School District doesn’t charge the operator of a longtime, for-profit before- and after-school program for using the school facilities. Another asked whether parents of children who need special education services can get “whatever they want” at taxpayer expense.

Neither question was new, School Board Chairman David Partrige said, explaining that the before- and after-school program run by Sylvia Mansfield had been grandfathered into the district in response to community demand.

The issue isn’t directly related to the proposed operating budget, although it could affect the revenue column in future budgets if the district decided to charge rent.

The School Board is supporting seven of eight warrant articles that will appear on the ballot at the annual meeting in March. In addition to the operating budget, among the articles the board voted to recommend are:

 • Article 3, support staff salaries and benefits.

 • Article 4, to transfer $50,000 from the unreserved fund balance to the school facilities maintenance fund.

 • Article 5, authorizing the district to apply for state and federal catastrophic funds if needed.

 • Article 6, to discontinue a capital reserve fund for equipment for a future kindergarten.

 • Article 8, to transact other business that comes up at the annual meeting.

The School Board voted 4-1 against recommending Article 7, a petition warrant article asking voters to make the School Administrative Unit budget a warrant article at the annual Town Meeting. The petition warrant article will also appear on Hollis and the Cooperative School District ballots at their respective town meetings.

To gain passage, the article requires a majority vote in each of the three school districts.

Hattie Bernstein can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 24, or hbernstein@cabinet.com.