Financial worries deepen school district dilemma

HOLLIS – Members of the town’s School Board, Budget Committee and Board of Selectmen met last week to evaluate what would happen to the town’s financial situation in the event of a grade reduction in the Hollis/Brookline Cooperative School District.

The co-op educates grades 7 to 12, but a petitioned warrant article was presented to the Cooperative District last week that would move for the two towns to take grades 7 and 8 out of the cooperative district.

If a grade reduction passes at the co-op’s School District Meeting, Brookline voters face losing out on equity on their investments in the middle school. At the same time, Hollis voters have to consider a steep reduction in state aid for education.

Hollis Budget Committee Vice Chairwoman Melinda Willis said Hollis this year is receiving $1.6 million in state aid. Next year, that number will drop to $956,000, Willis said.

Willis said that because of the reduction, the town will have to raise more money through taxes in the coming years to fund schools, even if operating costs stay level.

Hollis School Board member Harry Haytayan said, “The numbers that Melinda is giving are state law.”

Haytayan also serves as one of Hollis and Brookline’s state representatives. “To project on beyond the current year is an impossibility,” he said, “but I’ve made it clear that the trends for the state and for Hollis are not favorable. That’s a $600,000 drop between last year and this year.”

The drop in state aid is being considered along with another development in the district.

A clause in the deed for the middle school property means the middle school and the land it is built on would revert to the Hollis School District or the town of Hollis if the cooperative district stops using it for two consecutive years.

At Thursday night’s meeting, many people implied that the question at hand is: If Hollis would still have a middle school after a grade reduction, why should Hollis voters support a bond to renovate or add onto the school this year?

Lorin Rydstrom of Hollis, a member of the School Administrative Unit Long Term and Immediate Needs Evaluation Finance Committee, said, “I think there has been a disconnect between the interests of the co-op and the interest of Hollis.

“I think we’re either going to be all of a $1 million bond issue (the estimated cost of renovating the middle school for Hollis School District use if Brookline pulls out of the cooperative middle school) or almost 70 percent of an $8 million bond issue (the previous projected cost of renovations/additions to the middle school in order to maintain it for use of the cooperative district).”

Betty Hall, a member of the Brookline Finance Committee and the Cooperative School Board, suggested that the various school and town budget boards work together to forecast the financial implications of the changes in state aid and the financial benefits of maintaining or decreasing the cooperative district.

Longtime Hollis Selectman Richard Walker said, “Some of my disappointment over the past couple of years has been over the ‘us versus them.’ The days of ‘we’ and ‘they’ have gone away. It has to be ‘us.’ (Hall’s) suggestion is more than appropriate.”

The Hollis Budget Committee will revisit the middle school issue after the committee’s public hearing on the Hollis School District Budget on Feb. 10.

Emily Cavalier can be reached at 594-5833 or