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Brookline parents voice concern over school re-opening plan

Posted by Your Town  July 15, 2013 11:03 PM

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Discord among parents and residents continues to rise as town officials near a decision on how to address surging enrollment that is leading to overcrowding in the public schools.

Parents opposed to one of the proposals under consideration, re-opening the vacant Old Lincoln School on Route 9 in Brookline as a Kindergarten through 8thgrade school, have gathered more than 400 signatures on a petition asking the town to back off the idea.

On Monday about 30 opponents to re-opening Old Lincoln building wore T-shirts to Town Hall saying no to the site “Because a highway is no place for school kids.”

Among the opponents to the plan is Robert Sperber, a superintendent of schools in Brookline from 1964 to 1982, who said he was trying to get students out of the old Lincoln School and off of Route 9 when he was still in office. The school was finally closed in the early 1990s, Sperber said.

“In our judgment, it would be a tragedy to return to a school we fought so hard to leave,” Sperber said.

The opponents to re-opening the Old Lincoln School attended a meeting Monday of the Committee on Brookline School Population and Capital Expenditures, referred to as B-SPACE, in town hall.

The committee is exploring a number of options to create more space for students, including building a new Kindergarten through 8th grade school, expanding existing buildings, re-opening the old Lincoln school, and possibly building a second high school.

The town expects the proposition 2 ½ override that would be needed for the projects could lead to tax increases of well over $600 on the median single family home in Brookline valued at $1,071,750 .

The B-SPACE committee is planning to vote on its final recommendations to the town’s School Committee in mid August, according to a timeline laid out by co-chair Alan Morse Monday.

Enrollment in the town has jumped by about 25 percent since the 2004-2005 school year, with especially sharp increases in the number of students in the early grades.

Brookline has already expanded its Runkle and Heath schools, and is planning a $90 million renovation and expansion of the Devotion School in Coolidge Corner in an effort to accommodate more students. But enrollment continues to grow, and school officials have said that by the fall of 2017 , the school district may not be able to accommodate all of the students at the Brookline High School campus.

Before the town can even approach voters asking for a tax increase, town and school officials must decide how to create the needed space when each of the options raise difficult problems or opposition from parents and community members.

Last month, dozens of people wore green shirts to another meeting at Town Hall to oppose a proposal to build a new Kindergarten through 8th grade school on a portion of Amory Park in what is already a densely developed North Brookline.

Opponents to building on the park also made their presence felt Monday, and B-SPACE members indicated they are taking the idea off the table, in part because of the lack of support.

“Is just not going to pass town meeting,” said Selectman Ken Goldstein .

But some committee members said they aren’t ready to take using the Old Lincoln School for a Kindergarten through 8th grade school off the table.

Committee member George Cole said that when the town begins seeking an override there will be people who would question why a vacant school is not being used to address the enrollment surge. He said the option needs to be explored.

“To eliminate it early on, I think is a mistake,” Cole said.

Susan Rothstein, a longtime Brookline resident whose children attended the Old Lincoln School in the 1980s, said she was fighting to get her kids out of the school then. She said the building is a poor site for a school, but she worries officials may opt to use it as a permanent fix because town already owns the land.

“We don’t want it to be the easy plum that they pick off the tree,” Rothstein said.

The committee is working on criteria to rank its options, but each of the ideas seem to pose their own set of problems. The town has little land to build on in North Brookline, where school officials have said that most of the new students are moving.

A new school could be built on town-owned property in South Brookline, but it would likely require a major round of redistricting.

School officials are also awaiting a consultant’s report on whether it would be possible to build additions to many of the existing Kindergarten through 8th grade schools simultaneously.

Several options are also being considered to expand Brookline High School, including adding classroom space where a gym is now located, expanding the school by using the Old Lincoln school as an extension of the campus, or attempting to buy some land near the high school for an expansion. A more expensive option would be to build a new high school for about $72 million , according to the committee, and that price does not include the cost of buying property for the school.

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