SAU groups deadlocked on needs decisions

HOLLIS – Despite what members estimate to be about 6,000 hours worth of work and research, School Administrative Unit 41’s Long Term and Immediate Needs Evaluation committees have yet to come to a consensus on a solution to meet those needs at Hollis/Brookline Middle School.

Two-and-a-half hours ticked by Wednesday night while board and committee members went back and forth on possible warrant articles for the March cooperative district meeting. According to the agenda, each committee chairman or chairwoman was supposed to share committee recommendations, yet only the Site Study Committee was willing to give any.

“For all the effort that’s gone into this process, we’re nowhere,” said Doug Cecil, Education/Planning Committee member.

SAU LINE Communications Committee member Dan Peterson and many others present agreed with Cecil’s frustrations.

“I believe we are headed down the same road as last year, where the solution was defined by a select group of people,” Peterson said.

One SAU LINE committee thought it would benefit the community more if the committee didn’t exist. An open letter read by Communications Committee Chairwoman Michelle Mosca said, “A consensus of our committee feels it is in the best interest of the district to have the coop board continue communications directly to the communities from this point forward.”

In announcing its intention to disband, the committee did have suggestions for the rest of the group. Another letter signed by some Communications Committee members stated:

“We ask the Cooperative School Board to please keep an open mind through this process. Remember that the citizens of Brookline and Hollis have informed you that the middle school issue is greater than a lack of space within the current Hollis/Brookline Middle School.

“Other issues such as the middle school deed, parking, apportionment, traffic flow, busing, cost and equity have been voiced as crucial issues when making decisions regarding the middle school. Unless all of these issues are addressed, we feel the Cooperative School Board will have another unsuccessful bond proposal.”

Many members spoke about the possibility of Brookline pulling its students in grades 7-8 out of the cooperative district and the circulation of a possible petitioned warrant article that intends to do just that. The Hollis School Board will have a workshop Jan. 28 regarding the town’s responsibilities should a grade reduction – cutting the number of grades a town sends to the cooperative schools – take place.

“A great number of elementary school parents would support grade reduction if the bond fails, or they just plan to support (reduction regardless),” Hollis School Board member Kathy de Lacy said.

“I think they want the animosity between the two towns to end. They want it to be over with.”

Cecil said, “There is no recommendation that’s going to pass until we heal ourselves as a coop or split. There’s too much negative emotion to drive any one of these options to fruition.”

Beth Sulin, Education/Planning Committee secretary, said, “As a cooperative community, we need to work cooperatively. It’s funny that we use that word to describe ourselves.”

Many of those present also spoke about whether there should be more than one choice presented on the warrant, including a grade-reduction option.

“If you’re not willing to walk away from the coop, then you’re too tightly wound up in it and that will be perceived as biased,” Site Study Committee member Bill Beauregard said. “Put all the options on there in descending order (of cost). Let people see that their option doesn’t have support.”

Eric Pauer, co-chairman of the Education/Planning Committee, said, “I think we need to present a couple of options, because the voters are very divided.”

SAU Chairwoman Janet Listowich said, “I’m afraid if we don’t get people to support something, I think people will support grade reduction and children will suffer.”

There were also a number of board and committee members who said they don’t believe a reduction or split is in the best interests of the towns. Many prefaced their comments by saying they continue to support the cooperative district.

“Brookline’s responsibility is to educate all the children in the town,” said Kathy O’Sullivan, Brookline School Board chairwoman. “Brookline’s not ready to take on that task. They can’t provide the same quality of education as the coop.”

Site Study Committee Chairman Forrest Milkowski said there was a cost to the towns for doing nothing should voters reject solutions for the third year in a row.

“If we wait another year, we lose 12 percent in state building aid,” Milkowski said. In 2005, the state will reduce the amount of space for which it will pay by 20 square feet per student.

Milkowski also said that if the cooperative district recommends building a new school, there are two possibilities for locations.

Scott Rumley of Tyngsborough, Mass., has offered to sell a 52-acre plot on Route 130 in Brookline, just over the Hollis line. Should the cooperative district choose to buy it to build a new middle school, Milkowski said the location has already been approved for 17 buildable lots with site plans included.

The land, referred to as parcel H75, is accessible by Sawtelle Road.

The other site is a 6-acre plot behind the high school.

A month remains for the cooperative board to recommend any warrant articles; the articles are due in final form on Feb. 17. The public hearing on those articles will be Feb. 4.

Emily Cavalier can be reached at 594-5833 or