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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Hollis Brookline School Board’s $19.8m proposal gains favor

HOLLIS – The School Board wants to spend. The Budget Committee wants to save. And voters usually support the School Board.

That’s what happens every year in the Hollis Brookline Cooperative School District, and it was the same Monday night.

Indeed, a majority of the 200 people who showed up at the Budget Committee’s public hearing on the operating budget gave emotional testimony supporting the board’s proposed $19.8 million budget, which is 2.3 percent higher than the current $19.3 million budget.

As of 10:30 p.m., School Board member Fred Hubert, who sits on the Budget Committee as the board’s representative had tallied 23 speakers in favor of the School Board’s budget, five against it.

The Budget Committee prefers a budget of $18.1 million, a figure it took the committee more than six hours to calculate after public comment.

If the School Board’s budget is passed, the impact on the tax rate represents an annual increase of $103 on a $300,000 home in Hollis and $370 on a $300,000 home in Brookline.

The Budget Committee did not provide tax impact information for its proposal Monday night.

“We need to look at the big picture,” Budget Committee Chairman Steve Pucci told the audience before the public comment session began. Pucci said the committee was focused on a “fact-based analysis.”

Many of the voters who took their turn at the microphone, however, disagreed with how the Budget Committee presented its numbers.

An analysis of teacher raises in the district that revealed a 4.5 percent annual increase, for example, used only eight teachers although there are 114 full-time equivalent teachers in the district.

“I am so disgusted, I can’t even tell you,” said Pierce Lane resident Claire Helfman. “For Brookline, the increase is eight pizza nights; for Hollis, it’s four pizza nights. Keep doing what you’re doing.”

Historically, the School Board and the Budget Committee have been at loggerheads. On Monday, Michael Patz, a candidate for the Hollis School Board, publicly acknowledged it.

“We need more cooperation between the School Board and the Budget Committee,” Patz said.

After the meeting, in a conversation with a Budget Committee member, Patz said, “If this was private business, you’d all be fired.”

It was after 1:15 a.m. when another voter, who had stayed to the bitter end, walked to the front of the room where committee members had begun to close their laptops and gather their belongings, and yelled.

“You took six hours to do this?” the voter screamed at the top of his lungs. “This is why nobody wants to go to your meetings!”

The purpose of the public hearing was to elicit voters’ opinions to be used in making spending decisions. But at one point late in the night, Pucci told his Budget Committee colleagues during a discussion of possible areas to cut: “I don’t want to leave that to the public.”

The public will have the final say, when the proposed budget goes before voters at the annual School District Meeting on March 5.

Hattie Bernstein can be reached at 673-3100, or