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Homeowners fight redrawing lines for Brookline schools

A group of Brookline homeowners made impassioned pleas to local officials last week, asking that they discard a proposal that could exclude some homes straddling the town line from sending their children to Brookline schools.

Some homeowners who worried about the values of their homes or their children’s education shook as they spoke, others spoke in voices cracked with emotion, and some sitting in the audience cried as they heard the testimonies before the School Committee’s policy review subcommittee in Town Hall on Monday night.

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“We put our life savings into our home, our life savings,” said Liz Donovan, who has a young daughter who would not be allowed to attend Brookline schools if the proposal is approved. “It’s terribly wrong to treat people like this.”

More than 40 people attended the hearing on the proposed policy, which would determine whether a home could be part of the Brookline school district based on a new combination of property tax payments and voter eligibility.

Children who currently attend Brookline schools would not be affected by the proposed changes. However, the new policy could diminish a property’s value, since it could no longer be marketed for sale or rent as being part of the Brookline school district.

School Committee member Rebecca Stone told the crowd that the policy is being considered as part of the town’s due diligence as it grapples with a surge in the district’s enrollment. Local officials are considering asking voters in the spring to approve property tax increases that would be used to fund expansions of multiple schools to accommodate the increasing number of students.

Stone said school officials don’t want to disrupt anyone’s education, but must also be “just and fair” to the community’s taxpayers.

‘We put our life savings into our home, our life savings. It’s terribly wrong to treat people like this.’

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Donovan said she and her husband, Brendan Quigley, bought their home on Westbourne Terrace, which is on the Brookline-Brighton line, in May after they called the town and were told that their daughter would be able to attend Brookline’s Driscoll School when she was old enough.

Donovan said she and her husband were not about to risk their life savings on buying the home without being assured that the property was part of the town’s school district.

Other homeowners voiced similar complaints — that they had checked before purchasing their homes to make sure their children could attend Brookline’s schools.

Thea Singer, who paused halfway through her testimony Monday to announce that she was shaking, held up a 1995 letter that she said was from the district’s superintendent at the time, James Walsh, stating that her home on West Roxbury Parkway was eligible for participation in the Brookline schools.

“It’s the valuation of my property and my home that you are threatening,” Singer said.

Part of the proposed policy would exclude homes straddling the town borders with Boston and Newton from sending their children to Brookline schools unless they pay taxes on at least 50 percent of the property to Brookline. Homes that were built before June 2005 that pay taxes to Brookline on less than half of their property are grandfathered as part of the school district, but that clause would end under the proposed policy.

Under the new proposal, residents of a home on the town line must also qualify to register to vote in Brookline based on its location. If they don’t, the household’s children would not be allowed to attend Brookline schools.

Chris Dallas, whose family purchased a house on the VFW Parkway last year, said his world was turned upside down when he received a letter from the town last week about the proposed change. He paused while reading from a prepared statement to the subcommittee, fighting his emotions.

“This is very hard,” he said.

Dallas said that he doesn’t see what the town would achieve by approving a policy that would cause so much harm, educationally and financially, for so few people.

Stone has said that the change would affect 32 addresses, some with multiple housing units, that send about 50 students to Brookline schools.

Stone said the testimony of residents will be taken into consideration by the subcommittee, which will next meet to discuss the proposal on Dec. 11 at 8:30 a.m. in Town Hall. If the policy goes forward, Stone said, it could go before the full School Committee this month for consideration, and could be up for a vote next month.

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