Brookline parents and teachers are rallying against cutting METCO and a host of other programs in an effort to lessen the blow of a potential property tax increase of as high as 11 percent.
More than 200 people crowded into two floors at Brookline Town Hall Wednesday night to speak out against the cuts being considered by an Override Study Committee, which is charged with making recommendations about whether the town needs a property tax override to address surging enrollment in public schools.
“How ironic that the week after Martin Luther King’s birthday we are discussing the end to a program that was designed to promote equity, diversity and help end the achievement gap,” said Brookline parent and teacher Daniel Lipton. “Let’s not send this wrong message to the families and the kids involved in these programs.”
Cuts to the Metco program are among dozens of ways being considered by the committee to either save money or generate more revenue in an effort to mitigate the need for a property tax increase to meet surging school enrollment costs in Brookline.
The committee’s work has developed a rough early estimate that an override totaling $19.3 million could be needed to help build new classrooms, staff them and implement technology initiatives. If voters approved an override of that amount, property taxes on the typical single family, condo and commercial property, would increase by 11 percent in Brookline, according to the committee.
Even after qualifying for a residential exemption, as most single-family homeowners in Brookline do, the tax hike would be about $1,175 a year on the average single-family home valued at more than $1.1 million.
Selectmen Dick Benka, who is co-chairing the committee, said the committee is still gathering and analyzing information, and has not reached any conclusions, yet.
Enrollment in Brookline schools has jumped by about 23 percent since the 2004-2005 school year, and to keep up with the growing number of students the district is considering almost $240 million worth of expansions to the Devotion and Driscoll schools, as well as Brookline High School.
To offset the cost of building and staffing the expanded schools, the override committee is considering everything from hiking parking meter rates to fines for overdue library books.
Among the most controversial cuts being considered by the committee is the reduction or elimination of the town’s participation in the Metco program, which buses city students to suburban communities to provide them with better educational opportunities and create more racially diverse student bodies.
But other cuts being mulled by the committee are also drawing fire, such as a proposal to cut or eliminate a program that allows teachers and town employees to enroll their children in Brookline schools, and a proposal to eliminate a fire company or reduce the minimum manning of fire trucks.
A group of firefighters attended the hearing Wednesday opposing cuts to the fire department.
“Firefighting is not a profession where you can do more with less,” said Paul Trahon, the president of the Brookline Fire Fighters Association. “It puts everyone at risk.”
The committee is slated to provide an interim report on its recommendations for the coming fiscal year to selectmen by March 1.