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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Hollis Brookline voters uphold school tech program

HOLLIS – The high school’s technology program will remain intact after voters at the annual Cooperative School District Meeting amended the Budget Committee’s budget to add $700,000. Proposed cuts to the technology program, including the elimination of the FIRST robotics program, had been anticipated if the Budget Committee’s $18.1 million budget passed Monday night. But Article 6, amended to $18.8 million, was approved by nearly two-thirds of the roughly 500 voters in attendance. Before the vote, Budget Committee Chairman Steve Pucci gave a long, detailed PowerPoint presentation to show that spending in the Hollis Brookline middle school and high school is increasing while enrollments are declining. “We have got to have a commitment to responsible budget trends,” he said. “The board’s numbers put us on a path to higher spending.”

Pucci also criticized the School Board for not doing enough to plan for a future that will include higher health benefit and retirement costs and a declining school population.

“We are on this journey. … We don’t have a map or a compass or know what it will cost,” he said.

Several Hollis and Brookline voters went to the microphone to support either the committee or the board.

“I commend the Budget Committee for trying to contain spending year after year,” said Alfred Chase, who also said “anyone who believes there is a correlation between spending and quality should look at city school budgets.”

Fred Hubert of the School Board listed the reasons for spending increases, including higher teacher retirement costs, special education transportation costs and health insurance.

Hollis Brookline costs per student are below the state average and less than those of Milford, Souhegan, Conval and other similar-sized school districts, he said.

On Tuesday morning, Betsey Cox-Buteau, associate superintendent, told The Telegraph that the budget does cut the equivalent of two full-time teachers, one at the middle school and one at the high school, due to enrollment reductions. But, she said, the budget now maintains “all programs as they are.” “There is a long history in town” of voters “always supporting the School Board,” she said.

The annual meeting lasted four hours and 20 minutes. Other warrant articles approved were teacher and support staff contracts for staff who are off the salary table and no longer eligible for step increases and three related articles having to do with a trust fund for student athletic program fees.

A petition article asking that revenue from vending machines, parking fees and other sources go into the general fund was defeated.

For the first time, the School Administrative Unit budget was on the warrant, and voters voted by ballot on the $1.3 million plan, $706,087 of which will be the responsibility of the co-op district. The results of the co-op district’s vote will not be revealed until after both the Brookline and Hollis elementary school districts vote.

The Brookline School District Meeting is Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Capt. Douglas Academy, and the Hollis School District Meeting will be March 19 at 7 p.m. in the middle school.