Summary of the Brookline Selectmen’s Public Hearing about a Tax Override to benefit the Brookline School District

Last Tuesday night (2/27/18), at Town Hall, the Brookline Selectmen conducted a Public Hearing to provide the public with the opportunity to voice their concerns or support for a proposed tax override to supplement the School District’s budget and address challenges resulting from enrollment growth among other things.  After a 4-month review, an independent Override Study Committee (OSC) proposed that to address enrollment growth issues (class size, educators, paraprofessionals, critical special services, etc.), and critical new investments (anti-racism work, transportation, building maintenance, etc.) there would need to be an increase to the School District’s budget of $11.7m over 3 years (Full report can be found here: http://www.brooklinema.gov/DocumentCenter/View/13674).  The second proposal, recommended by the Advisory Committee (Brookline’s Town Finance Committee), reduced the OSC’s budget proposal to a 1-yr $3.5m increase with a goal of first reaching a class size of 25 and only addressing enrollment issues (Full Minutes from the Advisory Committee meeting from the 2/22/18 meeting can be found here: http://www.brooklinema.gov/DocumentCenter/View/13792).

Support for 3-year Override: Almost 20 members of the Brookline community spoke in favor of a 3-yr override.  These members represented the following groups: Occupational Therapists Group, Several Town Meeting Members (Precincts 1, 7, 8, 9, & 16), Brookline School Psychologists, Brookline Educators Union, Public Transportation Advisory Committee, Brookline Parents Organization, SEPAC, current educators, current high school students, and individual town residents.

  • Need to keep “education Brookline’s brand.”  Brookline is known for its excellent schools.  In addition, the influx of families seeking excellent educations for their children increases property values.
  • Education is the single best resource that can be provided to children who are the Town’s future contributors.
  • If OSC is rejected, Occupational Therapists (OT), which is legally mandated for IEPs, would be reduced from 12 to 11 resulting in the need to consolidate students with different needs into the one group reducing overall attention to the particular problems and the individual student.
  • 27% enrollment growth in last 10 years.  Other Towns spend more per student than Brookline does (ex., Boston 3%, Cambridge, Wellesley, Weston 24%, Watertown 10%).
  • Class sizes of 25+ means that educators will only be able to educate “most kids not all,” and only parts of individuals.  Kids who are already vulnerable will be at highest risk.
  • If OSC is rejected, the number of School Psychologists will be reduced by 1. One third of time is spent on the general population, while two thirds of time is spent on special education.  However, they perform other important services such as providing support in crisis situations.
  • There is limited transportation for students to get to their schools- especially south Brookline to the high school.  Currently, transportation is provided by limited T bus service which is frequently overcrowded (backpacks hanging out of doors) and unreliable.  
  • If we cannot guarantee competitive funding for more than one year for educators they may leave for other School districts and we would lose some of our best educators.  Additionally, teachers and paraprofessionals are already going above and beyond what they are paid for and are already “plugging holes” in the system.  It took 3 years to produce an accepted teacher contract.  There is a need for more stakeholders to be part of the process.  If OSC goes through, more funds should be allocated to teachers than administrators.  Finally, the practice of “pink slipping” teachers at the end of each year because they do not fit the budget is demoralizing and not attractive to future candidates.
  • If the OSC is rejected, critical improvements such as building maintenance, school supplies, and special programs like combating racism will not be funded.
  • The Town does have the “capacity to pay.” As of 2018, Brookline is in the bottom10% of all municipalities for tax rate in the state and 1 of 20 residents has a residential exemption.  But still a need to get more creative with exemptions.
  • The 2015 override only lasted for 3 years and there was no “fat and waste” or funds from that override were efficiently used.

Against 3-year Override: Around 10 members of the Brookline community spoke against the Override.  These members included representatives from:  Town Meeting Members (Precincts 2, 3, & 14) and individual town residents.

  • The OSC proposal calls for about $10.4 m over 3 years for School funding and $1.3 m for Town funding.  There was a call to carefully examine outside Contractor expenditures.
  • “Capacity to Pay,” One third of households are at or below the poverty line.  Brookline median household incomes are comparable to Towns like Billirica, Foxboro, etc. yet property taxes are three times those comparables.  Need to look at the well-being of the whole town such as elderly residents on fixed incomes.  CA, CO, TX, and AR have exempted residents 65+ from property taxes.  
  • Even the lowest tier of the proposed OSC override would result in a 4% tax increase, and if the whole override goes through it could result in a 20-23% tax increase over 3 years.  Should be noted that this override would not be one and done.  Other costs may arise and current school projects (i.e., high school expansion and Devotion expansion) may need additional funds.
  • Not enough time was spent by the OSC on their review of the tax override.  They were given 3-4 months to complete the review but to be more fully developed they needed more like 6-9 months.  Most members of the Advisory Committee felt that the OSC’s proposal lacked in depth analyses.  
  • Should consider funding extensions based on merit.

Concluding remarks from Selectmen: All 5 members of the Brookline Select Board were present

  • The Select Board needs to set the ballot by March 13, so the hope is to have an initial proposal by Friday, March 2 so that the Select Board can review it on March 6.
  • There will be other items on the same ballot as the tax override.
  • There is a possibility that the whole proposed OSC override amount will not be included on the ballot vote because there may be other means in which to fund some of the OSC proposed items.  For example, this year the Town has a surplus of $800,000 because healthcare premiums for town employees did not increase, so funds like these may be earmarked to cover some of these proposed expenditures.
  • In light of the needs that have been addressed in the OSC report, please be open minded to other revenue streams such as funds that can be generated through growth in commercial properties.  
  • They will keep in mind “what the costs of not providing these services are to the community.”
  • They will be looking at benefits/costs to all Brookline residents (i.e., elderly, low income, residents with school aged dependents, etc.) However, in MA, exemption tax breaks are strictly regulated.  

If you would like to contact the Select Board about the Override Study Proposal for 2018 before they reconvene on March 6, 2018, the contact information is as follows:

  1. Neil Wishinsky, Chairman, nwishinsky@brooklinema.gov
  2. Benjamin Franco, bfranco@brooklinema.gov
  3. Nancy S. Heller, nheller@brooklinema.gov
  4. Bernard Green, bgreene@brooklinema.gov
  5. Heather Hamilton, hhamilton@brooklinema.gov