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Brookline

New taxes on table for space cure

Brookline officials are mulling proposals that could put two requests to raise property taxes before voters next year in an effort to accommodate the school system’s surging enrollment numbers.

The additional funds could be used to help pay for a new school and for additional staffing and operating costs. But town officials are still discussing alternatives for creating the needed additional space, such as building a new school for eighth- and ninth-grade students, or building what would be the district’s ninth school for students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and expanding the high school.

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A long-term solution, such as opening a new school, would need to be in place by the 2017-2018 school year in order to accommodate the district’s anticipated enrollment, said Superintendent William Lupini.

The School Committee and the Committee on Brookline School Population and Capital Expenditures (referred to as B-SPACE) held a joint meeting in Town Hall to discuss the options Wednesday night, and the Board of Selectmen’s chairwoman, Betsy DeWitt, said if the town decides to build another school, it would have to act fast to have the building open by the fall of 2017.

“There’s not a lot of time to waste in making a decision about it,” said DeWitt, who is a member of B-SPACE.

The first public hearing on the topic is slated for 6:30 p.m. April 8 in Town Hall.

Brookline’s student population has gone from 5,779 in the 2004-05 school year to 7,217 this year, an increase of about 25 percent.

‘There is the small problem of where are we going to put it.’

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In response to the district’s growth spurt, Brookline has expanded its Runkle and Heath schools, and is planning a $90 million renovation and expansion of the Devotion School. But enrollment continues to grow, and Lupini said that by the fall of 2017, the district may not be able to accommodate all of the students that are in line to attend Brookline High School.

The town has considered reopening the now-vacant Old Lincoln School on Boylston Street, but because of space constraints, Lupini said, the building does not appear to be a permanent solution.

Lupini said town officials are discussing three proposals on how to create additional classrooms.

The town could use the Old Lincoln School for all of the district’s eighth-grade students as soon as 2014-2015, while pursuing the construction of a new eighth- and ninth- grade school at an as yet undetermined location.

However, Lupini said, by the fall of 2017, when the number of eighth-graders is expected to grow to about 650, the Old Lincoln School would not be able to hold all of them.

The fall of 2017 is also when Lupini said the district may no longer be able to accommodate all of its students in grades 9 to 12 at the high school.

About 1,770 students attend the school this year, but the number is expected to grow to 2,136 by the fall of 2017, the superintendent said.

“And that is a problem,” Lupini said.

As a result, he said, district officials think a new school may need to open that fall.

Deputy Town Administrator Sean Cronin said the town will likely need both a debt-exclusion override of Proposition 2½, and an operating budget override to provide enough revenue to afford a new school. He said the town could seek the temporary debt exclusion to pay for its portion of the Devotion School expansion, and that would free up money in the capital budget for a new school.

The override for the Devotion School could be put on the ballot in May 2014 alongside a general Proposition 2½ override to cover the cost of operating the Old Lincoln School, and the funding could then be reallocated to run the new eighth- and ninth-grade school once it is completed.

The town is expecting to need about $54 million to pay for the Devotion School project, with state funding anticipated to cover the remaining $36 million. The amount of money needed for the operating costs of a new school has not been calculated.

Lupini said the school district could instead build a new K-8 school. However, the arrangement would still require an expansion of Brookline High School, unlike the proposal for an eighth- and ninth-grade school. A new K-8 school would also require a redistricting process to assign where students attend classes, he said.

A third option that would also require redistricting would be to create a “super-elementary” school, by combining one of the town’s existing kindergarten-through-eighth-grade schools with the Old Lincoln School.

The students would be split between the two buildings, Lupini said, and the proposal would mean that the Old Lincoln School would remain in use. But, he said, creating the super-school would require a massive redistricting effort that would be difficult to complete by the fall of 2014. Also, a solution would still be needed for enrollment growth at the high school, he said.

In addition to deciding which scenario to pursue, Selectwoman DeWitt said, local officials will face additional challenges if they decide to build a new school.

She said the town would need to establish an override committee and find a place to build a school.

“There is the small problem of where are we going to put it,” she said.

Brock Parker can be reached at brock.globe@gmail.com.
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