HOLBROOK — In front of a standing-room-only crowd of mostly unhappy residents on Tuesday, Holbrook selectmen voted 4 to 1 to ask the state to consider a K-through-8 school among the town’s school construction options.
The change delays the approval process 10 weeks and brings the town close to missing a deadline to stay in the pipeline for state funding. But residents said the change means much more than a delay.
If Holbrook were to build a school for kindergarten through Grade 8, the new building would not solve the problems of the town’s deteriorating junior-senior high school. Rather, the K-through-8 scenario assumes that Holbrook would regionalize its high school or pay tuition to send students to other schools, according to Barbara Davis, chairwoman of the School Committee.
Supporters of regionalization have said it would save money on administration and give students a more diverse academic and extracurricular program, perhaps with more foreign languages and sports. At least one person in the audience Tuesday spoke in support of continuing to explore all of the town’s options in the next stage of the planning, which is a feasibility study.
But the prospect of having no Holbrook high school frustrated many others.
Chuck Greely, parent of a seventh-grader, said Holbrook’s teenagers would be treated like second-class citizens in another town’s high school. Years ago, he said, his mother attended Hingham High School with students from Hull, and she told him some Hingham students did not treat their peers from Hull very well.
“I don’t want my kids treated like dirt,” he said. If the district sends students away, parents will be so desperate to get out of town, they will sell their homes for $150,000 and go, he said.
Abington and Avon have rebuffed overtures from Holbrook in various ways, and Holbrook Town Meeting rejected a regionalization-related article in November, leading one resident to question the Board of Selectmen last week about whether they were ignoring the will of the people.
Timothy Gordon, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said Town Meeting is the town’s legislative body, not the executive. “The town didn’t vote. Town Meeting voted,” he said.
After allowing all questions from the audience, Gordon read a prepared statement in which he said Holbrook has an opportunity and an obligation to do more than build a building. The town should improve educational quality at the same time, he said, such as by taking advantage of economies of scale to offer more programs in cooperation with another school.
He suggested parents go online to see how Abington High School’s offerings differ from those in Holbrook.
The town’s talks with other communities must be sincere, he said, “not just filling a square” at the request of the Massachusetts School Building Authority. The state agency, which controls funding for school construction projects, had previously asked Holbrook to explore regionalization.
In an e-mail sent by building authority staff member Katie DeCristofaro to Gordon on July 20 and distributed to reporters by parents, DeCristofaro said the agency had invited Holbrook into the current step of the approval process with the understanding that Holbrook had exhausted all options for regionalization. She reminded the town that its 270-day eligibility period expires Nov. 5.
After learning of the town’s interest in adding K through 8 to the study, the building authority removed Holbrook from the agenda for the meeting it held Wednesday. The next time the project could go before the board would be Oct. 3, according to the e-mail.
Building authority spokesman Matthew Donovan acknowledged that the e-mail was correct and said the agency looked forward to getting the necessary paperwork from Holbrook by Aug. 10.
On the School Committee, some members oppose the change. But the committee must approve it in order for the application to continue, because the leaders of both boards must sign the paperwork.
“If we don’t, we’re done, and the MSBA will kick us out of the queue,” Davis said.
On Tuesday, approval of a feasibility study agreement was on the selectmen’s agenda, but they took no action on the agreement, choosing instead to request adding the K-through-8 scenario.
Selectman Matthew Moore cast the lone dissenting vote. He pointed to the November Town Meeting, saying that among those who attended, the preference not to regionalize or tuition-out the students was clear. “We need to be bold in our thinking,” he said.
A K-through-12 building would be the only one in Massachusetts, according to Holbrook officials. Some districts have multiple schools on a campus, with shared amenities, and proponents have said the Holbrook project would be similar, with different wings or areas for students at different grade levels.