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HULL, COHASSET

Schools merger rebuffed

Shared purchasing might be explored

Cohasset has 1,500 students in three schools, and Hull has 1,225 students in the high school (bottom right) and two other schools. Both towns expect enrollment to drop. Cohasset has 1,500 students in three schools, and Hull has 1,225 students in the high school (bottom right) and two other schools. Both towns expect enrollment to drop. (Boston Globe/ File 2001)
By Johanna Seltz
Globe Correspondent / June 20, 2010

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Cohasset has rejected Hull’s proposal for a marriage between the two towns’ school systems, but has left open the possibility for a less binding relationship — such as combining some of their purchasing power.

While acknowledging that in these financially trying times there might be economic and educational advantages to joining forces with another town, the Cohasset School Committee made it clear Wednesday night it wasn’t interested in even discussing the formation of a regional school district.

“We’re not talking about a merger,’’ said Cohasset School Committee chairwoman Helene Lieb. “We’re talking about where did you get your toilet paper, where did you get your paper towels?

“We need to have a cooperative spirit, but it needs to be beneficial to both towns,’’ she said. “We’re very different schools with very different financial situations.’’

Hull came to Cohasset with the idea last month, asking for a meeting to discuss regionalizing or working together.

“The advantages to both communities would be economies of scale,’’ said Hull School Committee chairwoman Stephanie Peters. “And spreading out costs over a larger student population, you definitely would be able to have many more course offerings.’’

For example, each town alone might have too few interested students to justify hiring a Latin teacher, but together they could share one, said Hull Superintendent Kathleen Tyrell.

Combining to buy supplies and services also could save money, Tyrell said, noting that a report from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said that “once you get over 2,000 students you start saving money.’’

Hull reached out to affluent Cohasset because it was the closest neighbor and also had a small student population, Peters said.

Cohasset has 1,500 students in three schools, and projects declining enrollment. Hull is a more populous town — with 11,000 people compared with Cohasset’s 7,300 — but with fewer students: 1,225 in three schools. Hull also expects enrollment to go down, officials said.

The Cohasset Skippers and Hull Pirates are high school football rivals, but that didn’t seem to be a deal breaker since the towns already field combined Hull-Cohasset sailing and cross-country and track teams.

The catalyst for contacting Cohasset, though, was Hull voters’ rejection this spring of a $2.3 million property tax increase, with the money exclusively for the schools, said Hull School Committee member Marianne Harte. It was the second year in a row that Hull voters rejected an override of Proposition 2 1/2, the state law that limits property tax increases to no more than 2.5 percent a year.

“Everything’s on the table because when the override didn’t pass, and even before that, we were trying to figure out ways we could manage our resources more efficiently,’’ Harte said.

But Hull’s financial troubles are also one reason Cohasset school officials said they’re wary of any formal connection.

“Cohasset schools are in a fairly good position right now,’’ said School Committee member Alfred Slanetz. “We are one of few districts that hasn’t been cutting programs or doing layoffs.’’

Slanetz said the small size of Cohasset’s schools also has advantages. It’s easier for students to make a team or get a part in a play, he said, and “it builds a sense of camaraderie and community. It’s a district where the teachers get to know the students really well because it is small.’’

And he said Cohasset already has taken steps to improve its financial viability by partnering with larger schools to buy fuel, and sharing a food services director with the Hingham schools.

Cohasset School Committee members voted to meet with their Hull counterparts to discuss similar ways they could join forces to save money or improve education.

Cohasset Superintendent Denise Walsh warned, though, that pressure was building from the state for small districts to regionalize. “We may be forced into these conversations,’’ she said.

In encouraging smaller districts to combine, the state is offering financial incentives with transportation subsidies and planning grants, said a spokesman for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. There are 83 regional districts in the state, 29 of them for vocational students.

Johanna Seltz can be reached at seelenfam@verizon.net.

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