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Emotional pleas made to nix Brookline borderline proposal

Posted by Brock Parker  November 26, 2013 11:17 AM

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A group of homeowners gave impassioned pleas to officials in Brookline Monday 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 voices cracked with emotion and some sitting in the audience cried as they heard the testimonies before the Brookline School Committee’s policy review subcommittee in Town Hall Monday night.

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

More than 40 people attended the hearing on the proposed policy that would determine if a home is part of the Brookline school district based on a new combination of property tax payments and voter eligibility.

Children living in properties on the town borders who currently attend Brookline schools would not be affected by the proposed changes. However, the move could impact the value of homes because they could no longer be marketed as part of the Brookline school district when sold or rented anew.

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 an enrollment surge. The town is likely to ask voters to approve property tax increases in the spring 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 people paying property taxes for the schools.

But Donovan said she and her husband Brendan Quigley bought their home on Westbourne Terrace on the Brookline/Brighton line in May after they called the town and were told their young 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 home unless they had been assured their daughter would be eligible for Brookline schools.

Other homeowners voiced similar complaints that they had checked before purchasing their homes to make sure their property was part of the Brookline school district.

Thea Singer, who paused halfway through her testimony Monday to say she was shaking, held up a letter that she said was from former Brookline Superintendent James Walsh in 1995 stating that her home on the West Roxbury Parkway was eligible to send children to 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 property taxes on at least 50 percent of their homes to Brookline. Homes that were built before June 2005 that pay taxes to Brookline on less than half of their property are currently grandfathered as part of the school district, but that grandfather clause would end under the proposed policy.

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

Chris Dallas, whose family purchased its home on the VFW Parkway in 2012, said his world was turned upside down when he received a letter from the town last week about the proposed policy. He paused while reading from a prepared statement to the subcommittee because he was getting emotional.

“This is very hard,” he said.

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

Stone has said that 32 addresses, some that have multiple housing units, which are intersected by the town line and about 50 students in Brookline schools live in those homes.

She said the testimony of residents Monday will be taken into consideration by the subcommittee, which will next meet to discuss the proposed policy on Wednesday, 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 in December for consideration, and could be up for a vote in January.

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