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Overcrowding leads Brookline to study elimination of METCO, other programs

Posted by Your Town  March 11, 2013 08:32 AM

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Amid concerns about overcrowded schools, a committee in Brookline is suggesting the town consider eliminating the long-standing program that brings some 300 minority students to the towns’s schools.

An ad-hoc committee appointed jointly by the board of selectmen and the school committee is considering doing away with or scaling back the METCO (Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity) program as early as next year.

Other options being considered include eliminating or phasing out a program that allows children of town employees to attend Brookline schools, significantly increasing class sizes, building modular classrooms and using the vacant Old Lincoln School building.

“I hope (these measures) don’t come to pass, but we have not only a student growth problem, but also financial problems,” said Alan Morse, co-chairman of the Brookline School Population and Capital Exploration Committee. “We’re not obligated to educate METCO students or children of staff. “

While acknowledging that METCO parents will likely be upset if the program is eliminated or phased out, Morse said that “they don’t vote or pay taxes in Brookline. This is how democracy works.”

The town also has no legal obligation to continue the METCO program, he added.

There are 300 METCO students enrolled in nine schools in Brookline. The town receives $4,200 per student, or $1.26 million annually.

“This could potentially cause a domino effect of staff reductions,” according to a Feb. 22 memorandum issued by the committee, which will meet on Monday to further discuss ways of addressing anticipated overcrowding in local schools – particularly at the elementary and middle-school levels.

In fiscal year 2010, there were 4,469 students enrolled in kindergarten through eighth grade. In the current fiscal year, there are 5,067 students – a more than 13% increase. The committee maintained that the number will continue to increase in future years.

Suzie Talukdar, director of Brookline’s METCO program, said she does not believe that the program is in immediate danger of being eliminated.

“Short term, we’re not anticipating changes,” she said. But that’s not to say that’s not the case down the line.”

A METCO spokesperson said that she does not believe Brookline’s program – the second largest in the state – is in serious jeopardy now or in the future.

“It won’t happen,” said Jean McGuire, METCO’s executive director, earlier this week.
She said that the program, founded in Boston in 1966, is too large and too lucrative for the town of Brookline to drop it.

However, even though the town receives $4,200 per student annually, it costs $17,000 a year to educate a student in the Brookline public school system, according to the committee’s memorandum.

“METCO enhances the racial and socioeconomic diversity of our student body, enriching the experience of all Brookline students,” the memo read. “Without METCO students, the numbers of African American and Latino students falls to less than half the percentage of those populations nationally.”

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and the Boston University News Service.

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