Category Archives: High school

Brookline High staff, programs and students

Education: looking back, the “coding” wave

Illustrating the proverb that schooling means teaching the children to meet the challenges of the grandparents’ generation, President Obama has advertised a new initiative: teach “coding.” The President, who has many admirable qualities, is leaving a shabby heritage as an educational fool. His Department of Education proved, quite remarkably, coarser and meaner than the one butchered by his predecessor.

Teaching “coding” today has even less promise than teaching “auto mechanics” and “new math” in the 1960s or teaching “leather working” and “machine shop” in the 1940s. It is an invitation to become a victim of outsourcing. For most, it would be more helpful to teach the durable skills of plumbing and carpentry. The President invites comparison with Mao’s Great Leap Backward.

Arts of “coding” became highly valued in the 1960s and 1970s, during the second-generation of mainframe computers–with transistor logic and magnetic core memory–and the first generation of minicomputers. Over the next decade, ordinary “coding”–writing lines of programs–soon took a back seat to the higher arts of project management, software organization and reliability testing. That was an age when complex products of mere “coding” began to crash and burn on an epic scale. Now “coding”–within the industry–has become a low-level skill.

During the late 1970s, Brookline was romanced by “coding” visionaries–including disciples of the late Marvin Minsky at MIT–to buy into long-forgotten “Logo” technology. They promised to teach youngsters computational thinking by having them move around “turtles” on a display screen. The Advisory Commmittee discovered that more than a million dollars, in today’s money, would at best instruct a few dozen students. A potential for public embarrassment erased “Logo” from the budget.

Today, even the higher and practical arts of software development provide good jobs for only small numbers of industrial workers. The vast majority who work with computer technology engage with intermediates: software and Internet sites that are dedicated to specific tasks. A tiny population writes the software for Excel or other spreadsheets, but millions use spreadsheet technology to solve or manage business problems. Applied skills, rather than “coding,” remain broadly useful job qualifications.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, January 31, 2016


Valerie Strauss, All students should learn to code. Right? Not so fast, Washington Post, January 30, 2016

Toluse Olorunnipa, Bloomberg News, Obama: Every child must learn to code, Bangkok Post, January 30, 2016

Tania Branigan, China’s great famine: the true story, Manchester Guardian (UK), January 1, 2013

Robert L. Glass, Software Runaways: Monumental Software Disasters, Prentice Hall, 1997

Board of Selectmen: hearing airs racial tensions

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, January 5, started at 7:05 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. While North Korea was testing its first thermonuclear bomb, the board conducted a public hearing about what it called “diversity issues involving the town”–also an explosive catastrophe, at least on a local scale.

A standing-room-only audience of around 200 gathered in a hearing room with only about 100 seats. For many Brookline residents it was an evening of despair–airing incident after incident of racial discrimination, targeting and harassment–lasting more than two hours.

Commission statement: At its meeting the previous evening, the Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission had reviewed testimony and reports it received about racial issues affecting the Brookline work force. Alex Coleman, chair of the commission, read a statement to the Board of Selectmen that the commission had authorized.

Dr. Coleman said the commission, which began in January, 2015, “spent the last year trying to move forward.” Hopes for progress had been dashed at a December 16 meeting, when two Brookline police officers testified in open session that their department was afflicted with racial tensions, from which they personally suffered. Town government, according to the commission statement, has “a culture of institutional racism” that “the Board of Selectmen…allowed.”

The statement read by Dr. Coleman called on the Board of Selectmen, “as the elected leaders of the town, to exercise your responsibilities and duties, as commissioners of the Police and Fire Departments…to stamp out this culture. This is a matter of extreme urgency, which the Board of Selectmen needs to address with actions, not words, now.” Members of the board listened but did not comment.

Police testimony: Prentice Pilot, one of the two African-American police officers who spoke out on December 16, told the Board of Selectmen he had worked on the force for 17 years. He recalled another minority police officer who “went to the chief about racial incidents” a year ago, apparently joining Officers Pilot and Zerai-Misgun then, but got no action. In response to his recent complaint about a racial insult, he said, “the chief had a preliminary investigation” but called it “inconclusive.”

After his recent testimony to the Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission, Officer Pilot said, the commission “asked Selectman Greene to get more of the story…I haven’t heard anything from him.” Mr. Greene, the first African-American ever elected to the Board of Selectmen, became the board’s delegate to the commission and was present when Mr. Pilot testified on December 16.

Officer Pilot said a recent report on the racial climate in the Police and Fire Departments, sent to commission members, offers “insights from the Police Department leadership: no major incidents” in the department. “The chief,” he said, “had a free diversity report when the three of us went to him in December of 2014.” Applause from the audience lasted most of a minute.

Estifanos Zerai-Misgun, the other African-American police officer who spoke out on December 16, described “the chief’s assurance” of respect in the department. “He gave me his assurance a year ago,” said Officer Zerai-Misgun. “Nothing has changed…All you say is that you’re waiting…Nobody has contacted me.” He told the Board of Selectmen, “It is not a safe environment there. The chief failed me last year…Now you’re failing me today.”

Lee Smith, an African-American former police officer in Brookline, told the board about experiences starting in April, 1998. He also left a much longer version of his remarks in writing. As a beginning Brookline officer, he said, after he wrote a parking ticket a superior officer “chewed me up,” telling Mr. Smith, “That ticket belongs to a friend of mine.” Mr. Smith explained that there was a covert system of marking tickets to indicate they were supposed to be discarded and ignored, which he had not followed.

At a “diversity meeting” held more than 15 years ago, Mr. Smith said, fellow officers ridiculed the training, “complaining, ‘why do we have to be here for this?’” Written materials were distributed at the training, according to Mr. Smith. “I saw guys ripping it up, tossing it in the trash.”

Harassment complaints: Leslie Epps, who operates Finesse Florist on Washington St., told about experiences as an African-American living in Brookline and running a retail business. “I’ve experienced such racism,” said Ms. Epps. “I have filed complaints. These complaints have disappeared. There has been intimidation: ticketing my vehicle falsely, targeting my shop.”

Ms. Epps described herself as “keynote speaker” at the most recent Martin Luther King Day event in Brookline. Now, she said, “I have stress disorder…at the hands of Brookline police.” Not one to give up. Ms. Epps told the Board of Selectmen, “This is my country. I will not be moved…I am looking for restorative justice.”

Cruz Sanabria of Rice Street, a Marine veteran and a public school teacher in Boston, who was a member of the former Human Relations Commission, described harassment from neighbors and antagonism from Brookline police officers. In one incident, he said, he was falsely cited for a crime.

According to Mr. Sanabria, he was charged with “assault with a dangerous weapon…It was dismissed.” Mr. Sanabria told the Board of Selectmen, “The horror I went through is worse than anything else I have had in my life…You put me in a position that I shouldn’t have been in. Why? Because I’m Puerto Rican.”

Reactions: Brookline residents who are not members of a minority had strong reactions. Bob Miller of Copley St., a Precinct 8 town meeting member and a teacher at Heath School, told the Board of Selectmen, “I’ve heard talk about racism in Brookline,” calling it “an issue that can destroy the town that I love.” He urged “the strongest possible actions to let it be known that this will not be tolerated.”

Pat Bartels of Wolcott Rd. said her family “moved to Brookline because we believed it was going to be a caring and liberal community.” Her two children, she said, are graduates of Brookline High School. “Their friends were from Bulgaria, Cape Verde, Korea…from all over the world…Those are the values they shared.”

Shifra-Lilith Freewoman of Longwood Ave. was less forgiving. In Leslie Epps’s shop, she said, “She treated me like gold…It breaks my heart. Everybody black that I know has encounters with police in this town.” The problem, according to Ms. Freewoman, has been that “words don’t translate into clear action.” She told the Board of Selectmen, “If this board can’t do it, then let’s elect another board.”

Years ago: Andrew Leong of Marion Terrace described his experiences inside the Brookline Police Department many years ago. He is a professor of law at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. “We are sick and tired of more studies, more training,” said Prof. Leong. “I did that training 27 years ago.”

At the time, he said, “a black officer told me, ‘I’m so glad you came and spoke…All those racist things [are] happening to me on this police force.’” Referring to Officers Pilot and Zerai-Misgun, Prof. Leong said, “They are risking their jobs. What do we want? We want them to be on paid administrative leave.” Applause from the audience again lasted for most of a minute.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 6, 2016


James Pearson and Tony Munroe, North Korea says successfully conducts first H-bomb test, Reuters (UK), January 6, 2016

Statement to the Board of Selectmen on institutional racism in the Brookline work force, Commission for Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations, Town of Brookline, MA, January 4, 2016

Lee Smith, Statement at Brookline Board of Selectmen hearing, January 5, 2016

Diversity Commission: police and fire department report, Brookline Beacon, December 20, 2015

Town meeting: parks and schools

Warm controversies at this year’s fall town meeting cooled quickly in a flurry of surprises and compromises. In the afternoon before the first session on Tuesday, November 17, town staff learned that Brookline was no longer in line for a major state grant to assist with Larz Anderson Park. We are too rich a town to qualify.

Article 6: Rejection of the state grant application quashed a dispute over Article 6 on the town meeting warrant, seeking matching funds to improve Larz Anderson Park. To qualify for up to $400,000 in additional state aid, the town meeting would have to restrict Larz Anderson to recreation and conservation uses only, invoking Article 97 of the Massachusetts constitution.

A few weeks earlier, consultants hired by the Board of Selectmen had named Larz Anderson as a potential site for a new elementary school. The 1949 will of Isabella Weld Anderson, leaving the land to the town, required that it be used for educational, recreational or charitable purposes. Agreeing to the state’s conditions would abandon potential uses involving two of those three categories. The town meeting took no action.

Political chatter also started to call out Larz Anderson as a potential site for high-school expansion. Never mind that the park is remote from centers of population and not well served by streets and transit. Park, recreation and conservation enthusiasts sounded flustered, to say the least.

Open space: Over the past 150 years, since the Civil War, the town acquired about 475 acres of usable open space–not counting the traffic islands and cemeteries. The 53 major sites, totaling about three-quarters of a square mile, represent about 11 percent of the town. Only about a tenth of that space is part of school sites. The rest provides recreation facilities, pedestrian parks and conservation areas.

The distribution of usable, public open space became grossly unequal. Each precinct in the town has nearly the same population. However, Precinct 15 has 257 acres of usable, public open space–over half the total. The average amount of usable, public open space is only about 30 acres per precinct. Precincts 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13 have less than 10 acres each. Precinct 13, snaking along the Brighton line, has none.

 

Brookline’s usable, public open space

Year Acres Precinct Source Site name
2011 10.0 14 purchase Fisher Hill Reservoir Park
1977 1.6 1 taking Amory Woods Conservation Area
1975 3.5 1 taking Halls Pond Conservation Area
1972 0.5 4 purchase Billy Ward Playground
1970 4.2 5 purchase Lincoln School Playground
1967 0.4 5 taking Juniper Street Playground
1961 25.0 16 bequest Blakely Hoar Conservation Area
1961 1.1 9 purchase Lawton Playground
1960 9.5 15 purchase Soule Center
1953 17.2 15 purchase Dane Park
1951 2.4 7 purchase Pierce School Playground
1948 61.1 15 bequest Larz Anderson Park
1946 1.1 12 purchase Schick Park
1945 30.2 15 purchase Lost Pond Conservation Area
1945 15.2 15 purchase Skyline Park
1944 11.1 14 purchase Warren Field
1941 1.3 15 purchase Baldwin School Playground
1939 2.4 5 donation Robinson Playground
1935 11.3 16 donation Baker School Playground
1915 0.5 4 purchase Murphy Playground
1914 8.7 5 purchase Downes Field
1913 0.8 14 purchase Eliot Little Field Park
1913 1.7 5 purchase Clark Playground
1910 4.0 11 purchase Driscoll School Playground
1907 2.1 6 purchase Emerson Garden
1907 119.9 15 purchase Putterham Meadows Golf Course
1905 1.7 9 purchase Coolidge Playground
1903 8.3 1 purchase Amory Playground
1903 3.1 12 purchase Runkle School Playground
1902 32.2 14 donation Brookline Reservoir Park
1902 2.6 1 donation Longwood Mall
1902 2.8 1 donation Knyvet Square
1902 1.1 1 donation Mason Square
1902 1.9 2 purchase Winthrop Square
1902 6.5 14 purchase Heath School Playground
1901 5.6 14 purchase Waldstein Playground
1901 0.3 5 purchase Philbrick Square
1901 3.3 10 donation Griggs Park
1900 13.8 1,3 purchase Riverway Park
1900 4.2 11 purchase Corey Hill Park
1899 0.3 4 donation Linden Park
1897 0.4 10 donation Saint Mark’s Square
1895 0.2 4 donation Linden Square
1894 12.9 4,5 purchase Olmsted Park
1891 6.7 8 purchase Devotion School Playground
1891 5.0 3 purchase Longwood Playground
1890 2.8 15 purchase Singletree Hill Reservoir
1871 4.1 4 purchase Brookline Avenue Playground
1871 5.2 6 purchase Cypress Street Playground
1871 2.0 4 purchase Town Hall Square
1868 1.2 6 purchase Boylston Street Playground
1864 0.2 1 purchase Monmouth Street Park
1827 0.2 5 donation Town Green

Source: Open space plan, Town of Brookline, MA, January, 2011

 

Social justice: Surely Precinct 15–with its giant legacy of usable, public open space–can spare a little for a school site. There are at least three obvious, well qualified candidates:

• Putterham Meadows Golf Course, at 120 acres–a conspicuous luxury. Five acres carved from a corner of this cradle of riches would capably house a three-section elementary school.

• Soule Recreation Center, at 10 acres, a site perennially looking for a gainful occupation. Its rapid churn of personnel has become a community scandal.

• Dane Park, at 17 acres, by far the least used of Brookline’s major parks.

The town has not commissioned a new school site since Baker in 1935. The new Lincoln School, opened in 1994, took over the old, private Park School site–after that school moved away to Goddard Ave. It would take a coldly rigid, greedy set of park, recreation and conservation enthusiasts to find that there is no adequate space they could possibly spare from Precinct 15.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, December 4, 2015


Open Space Plan, Town of Brookline, MA, January, 2011 (8 MB, uses obsolete precinct numbers)

Precinct Map, Town of Brookline, MA, February, 2012 (1 MB)

Craig Bolon, School building wonder: mishegoss from moxie, Brookline Beacon, October 25, 2015

Advisory Committee: don’t lock up town land, Brookline Beacon, October 3, 2015

Education news: Advisory thinks, Chester blinks

The large, first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall, home to the Advisory Committee during town meeting seasons, witnessed another episode in the long-running struggles over regimented testing in public schools, starting at 7:30 pm Tuesday, October 20.

Earlier that day, Mitchell Chester, the state’s current education commissioner, had set off a policy bomb. It blew up a campaign to replace the testing used in Massachusetts public schools for the past 18 years–a campaign that had been led by Dr. Chester himself.

Tarnished icons: The mystique of regimented testing has been burnished and tarnished so often that it was surprising to hear a usually sophisticated Advisory Committee weave around the topics. However, it has been about fifteen years since a town meeting campaign that most recently introduced them into Brookline politics. Only a few current Advisory members have been involved long enough to remember.

Although precursors can be found in ancient China, medieval Europe and mid-nineteenth century Massachusetts, regimented testing is largely a twentieth-century phenomenon. A quantitative approach helped give standard tests a claim to objectivity, shrouding heavy cultural bias. The tests reward informally acquired language skills and penalize lack of those skills, tending to make them tests of home and community backgrounds.

When anyone thought to look, a secret emerged: test scores strongly tracking home and community incomes. Trends were discovered with IQ tests in the 1920s, Iowa tests in the 1930s and SAT tests in the 1940s. The more recent tests do likewise, including state-sponsored regimes. Scores from the early years of the Massachusetts MCAS tests showed strong associations with community incomes.

MCAS test scores versus community incomes

BostonMetroMcasPlotAbs01
Source: Significance of test-based ratings, EPAA, 2001

Dumping PARCC: Dr. Chester, of the state education department, has been serving as national board chair of Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). Despite a glorified title, PARCC is a commercial test series produced by a division of Pearson PLC, a London-based publishing company. Its cachet has been fully computerized test administration and scoring.

Many observers have described the superficially clever construction of PARCC tests, seemingly designed to confuse and mislead. To people familiar with The Times of London or The Nation magazine, they suggest the prompts for British-style crossword puzzles.

In the United States, supposed merits of PARCC were quickly unmasked. As one experienced teacher put it, “Test manufacturers…tell us…their tests require critical thinking. They are lying. They prove [it with] relentless emphasis on test security.” Pearson will not allow teachers to see the questions that students were asked. If their tricks were to become known, they might easily be foiled.

In his day job as education commissioner, Dr. Chester had been in deep and obvious conflict of interest with his night job as chair of the PARCC board. When finally dumping PARCC on October 20, he arrived late to the party at a national trend. Over two-thirds of the state-level jurisdictions that tried PARCC have dumped it. Even by the obtuse standards of educational testing, PARCC was flagged as a loser.

Dr. Chester’s loyalists sententiously claim “there was no ultimatum given [by] Peyser and Baker”–meaning the new governor and his education secretary. Such pre-emptive denials tend to say the opposite. Politicians may not be great at higher math, but they can count.

Thinking about testing: At the fall town meeting scheduled for November 17, Article 16 seeks support for H. 340, pending in the General Court. Filed by Rep. Marjorie Decker of Cambridge, it would forbid, for three years, the use of “MCAS or another standardized test” as a “condition for high school graduation.” That is what many call “high-stakes uses” of test scores. Rep. Frank Smizik, who represents Brookline Precincts 2-4 and 6-13, is a cosponsor of H. 340 and also a co-petitioner for Article 16.

At Advisory Committee on October 20, Brookline resident Lisa Guisbond spoke for Article 16. She is executive director of Citizens for Public Schools, a Boston-based nonprofit founded to support progressive, public education. “With high-stakes uses of test scores,” she said, “the teaching focus is narrowed to the subjects tested…you lose access to a broad curriculum.”

In Brookline schools, that probably tends to happen with students who are identified as at risk of not graduating because they have trouble with one or more of the tests. Many of those students benefit from programs that try to strengthen their abilities in the areas tested. Inevitably, however, teaching to the test crowds out other areas of knowledge, as well as aspects of a topic that are not going to be tested.

Committee member Amy Hummel sounded eager to “put a moratorium on it.” Since 1993, she said, when a law authorizing MCAS was passed, “there are so many things that are different…MCAS is one vegetable in the pot…In my family, it’s converse to learning.” Few other committee members seemed to have such clear perspectives on regimented testing.

Some committee members tried to extrapolate from personal experience but found it difficult. Committee member Janet Gelbart remembered “studying for (New York state) Regents Exams…taking courses to learn how to take exams” but said her daughter was graduated from Brookline High School “long before MCAS.”

Many committee members seemed to discount educational experiences with testing regimes and instead resort to their hunches about policy. Committee member Fred Levitan said he failed “to see how stopping testing allows people to study it.” Clifford Brown saw “no reason to stop the use of testing.” Lee Selwyn said he couldn’t understand “shutting it down for three years.”

Advisory Committee members seemed confused when voting on the topics. When Sean Lynn-Jones first counted votes on a motion to approve Article 16, he found 9 in favor and 9 opposed, but some committee members said they did not understand what was proposed. After more explanation, a recount found 9 in favor, 10 opposed and 2 abstaining–putting the committee on record as narrowly opposing Article 16.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 21, 2015


Warrant for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Article explanations for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Michael Jonas, Chester abandons PARCC, Commonwealth Magazine, October 20, 2015

Andy Hargreaves, Mary Bridget Burns and Shanee Wangia, The success of schools in Massachusetts cannot be explained by testing, Diane Ravitch on Education, June 18, 2015

An act relative to a moratorium on high stakes testing and PARCC, H. 340, Massachusetts General Court, 2015

David A. Goslin: The Search for Ability, Russell Sage Foundation, 1963

Craig Bolon: School-based standard testing, Educational Policy Analysis Archives 8(23), 2000

Craig Bolon: Significance of test-based ratings for metropolitan Boston schools, Educational Policy Analysis Archives 9(42), 2001

Lisa Guisbond, Testing reform victories, the first wave, National Center for Fair and Open Testing, 2014

Forum: regimented testing in Brookline public schools, Brookline Beacon, October 27, 2014

Craig Bolon, Dr. Lupini moves to Brookline, Brookline Beacon, June 21, 2014

School Committee: Driscoll plans, policies, technology and testing, Brookline Beacon, May 27, 2014

School Committee: celebrations, programs, policies and test scores, Brookline Beacon, May 12, 2014

Advisory Committee: don’t lock up town land

The first Advisory Committee warrant review for the fall, 2015, town meeting got underway at 7:30 pm on Thursday, October 1, in the first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall. The committee tackled Article 6, likely to be one of the most contentious. It recommended against adding more restrictions on use of town land–specifically, Larz Anderson Park–until community needs for school expansion are better understood.

Lakeside view at Larz Anderson Park

LarzAndersonLake
Source: Brookline Recreation Department

Larz Anderson Park: The land now known as Larz Anderson Park was conveyed to the Town of Brookline through the will of Isabel Weld Perkins Anderson, wife of Larz Anderson, III (1866-1937), after she died in 1948. The Weld family, from whom she was descended, had owned the former Windy Top estate since the 1840s. It also owned the site of today’s Hancock Village, using it for a private golf course until 1945.

Although it might seem odd now, Brookline’s 1949 annual town meeting struggled over whether to accept the gift of land. Some said Brookline could not afford to maintain it. The large parcel was then occupied by a mansion, by Italianate gardens at the hilltop and by several support buildings–including a handsome garage for classic automobiles that had interested Mr. Anderson.

Eventually doubts were overcome, and the town meeting voted to accept the bequest. That said the land must be used for park, educational or charitable purposes. A location at the edge of town–64 acres bordering Jamaica Plain, far from the town’s population centers–led to use for what has become Brookline’s best known public park. It includes a small lake, picnic and grill facilities, baseball fields and an outdoor skating rink.

Unfortunately, the Brookline DPW description of Larz Anderson Park on the municipal Web site omits nearly all the rich historical context of the site. The DPW map display offers text that will be unreadable with most browsers and monitors. The map information is not page-linkable, does not name, locate or describe the park features and does not outline the park boundaries–a disgrace.

Parkland protection: For many years, most involved in Brookline’s government had thought the major town parks were protected under Article 97 of the Massachusetts state constitution. However, several may not be, including most of Larz Anderson Park. Parkland protection under Article 97 requires a declaration by a town meeting.

At a public hearing held September 30 by the Advisory subcommittee on capital, Joslin Murphy, the town counsel, testified that the status of protection for several Brookline parks is uncertain. Recent cases from state appellate courts say protection is not active simply because of ways land has been acquired or used.

Restrictions in wills, deeds and trusts are not generally permanent, under Massachusetts law. Brookline was sharply reminded of that by the recent Court of Appeals decision affecting Hancock Village. In many circumstances, those restrictions expire after 30 years. Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 184 (Real Property), Section 23, provides (in part):

“Conditions or restrictions, unlimited as to time, by which the title or use of real property is affected, shall be limited to the term of thirty years after the date of the deed or other instrument or the date of the probate of the will creating them, except in cases of gifts or devises for public, charitable or religious purposes.”

There are other exceptions to the 30-year rule. Conditions of wills and deeds involved with Brookline parks will need review. Brookline also needs to review which parks or parts of them are covered by town meeting declarations protecting land under Article 97. Such protection can be altered, but according to Ms. Murphy that takes a unanimous vote of the supervising board and two-thirds votes of both a town meeting and the General Court. Only votes in the General Court are required by Article 97. Ms. Murphy did not cite any sources for other requirements.

Proposal and background: In Article 6 for the November town meeting, the Park and Recreation Commission is proposing to declare about 55 of the 64 acres at Larz Anderson Park protected under Article 97. That would be needed to satisfy requirements for a state grant, reimbursing parts of planned improvements. The hilltop, now occupied by the town’s skating rink, was protected in 1998. According to Ms. Murphy, most of the remaining park area is probably not similarly protected.

In 2013, under item B.15 of Article 8, the annual town meeting appropriated $0.66 million for a program of improvements at Larz Anderson Park. However, the DPW Division of Parks and Open Space had developed a plan needing more than $1 million. For the balance, the division expected to seek state support. The division has prepared an application for a $0.4 million grant, not yet acted on.

Brookline’s continuing surge in school enrollment became a wild card in the deck. In December, 2014, the town hired a consultant to review needs and possibilities to build new schools. After a surge of school building during the middle and late nineteenth century, school sites have become a foreign topic. During the twentieth century, the only new school site was for Baker School on Beverly Rd., opened in 1939. The new Lincoln School opened in 1994 at the former, private Park School site on Kennard Rd.

It has been more than 75 years since Brookline had to search for a wholly new school site, one that was not in similar use before. Over that time, the town has become fully built-out, and land prices have escalated. If Brookline tried to buy land equivalent to Larz Anderson Park today, $50 million might not be enough. Most of that parkland area apparently remains eligible for use as a school site.

Advisory review: The Advisory subcommittee on capital brought in a recommendation against Article 6, by a vote of 1-4. Amy Hummel took more than ten minutes to present it, mentioning only at the end that all the other subcommittee members opposed Article 6. A prospect of locking up $50 million or more in permanent land value in return for $0.4 million or less in one-time state aid had not convinced them.

Erin Gallentine, the director of parks and open space, tried to sway the committee with arguments about a 1989 “master plan.” She said park improvements were “the next big vision for the community.” The 1989 document has not been available on the municipal Web site–a plan that few committee members had even heard about. The recently prepared grant application has not been available on the municipal Web site either.

Strangely, Ms. Gallentine did not distribute details of the grant application to Advisory Committee members, who were left to imagine what it proposed. Committee member David-Marc Goldstein asked how likely Brookline stood to get $0.4 million. Ms. Gallentine offered a rambling reply that sounded uncertain. An amendment was offered to restrict spending to any amount awarded. John Doggett asked about protecting a smaller part of the park. Ms. Gallentine complained she would have to change the grant application.

Exploring an activity that seemed contrary to restrictions of the Anderson bequest, Leonard Weiss asked how DPW equipment garages came to be built on Larz Anderson land. Ms. Gallentine claimed not to know, saying that had happened “before my time…done by the Park Department.” The former independent department was made into a DPW division through a 1981 town meeting article, after long-time director Daniel Warren retired.

Carla Benka, chair of the subcommittee on capital, described her work years ago to get Larz Anderson Park listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That insures a process of review for most proposed changes. She questioned the relevance of a 1989 plan, comparing school versus open-space priorities and saying, “It’s not right to play favorites…a whole lot has changed in 26 years.”

Several committee members defended Article 6 against detractors, including Mariah Nobrega, Michael Sandman and Stanley Spiegel. However, few votes were there for those views. Ms. Benka joined a majority of more than two to one, recommending that town meeting turn down Article 6.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 3, 2015


Larz Anderson Park information and reservations, Recreation Department, Town of Brookline, MA, 2012

Memorandum and order, case number 2014-P-1817, Town of Brookline and others v. Massachusetts Development Finance Agency and others, Massachusetts Court of Appeals, September 25, 2015

Sanjoy Mahajan v. Department of Environmental Protection, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, 464 Mass. 604, 2013

Board of Selectmen of Hanson v. Melody Lindsay, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, 444 Mass. 502, 2005

Adele Toro v. Mayor of Revere, Massachusetts Court of Appeals, 9 Mass. App. Ct. 87, 1980

Massachusetts Constitution, as amended through 1990, see Article XCVII (97, approved 1972) and Article XLIX (49, superseded)

Warrant for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Article explanations for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Advisory Committee: new park land for Putterham neighborhoods, Brookline Beacon, April 10, 2015

Craig Bolon, School enrollment: no room in the inn, Brookline Beacon, December 26, 2014

Kehillath Israel: renovation and Chapter 40B development

On Wednesday evening, July 8, representatives of the Kehillath Israel congregation announced at a public meeting held at the site that they were starting real estate development, in two parts. Part 1 renovates the synagogue building, dedicated in 1925, and adds about 10,000 square feet of support space on the north side. Part 2 builds an undisclosed amount of partly subsidized new housing, replacing the community center opened in 1948 and using Chapter 40B of the General Laws to override Brookline zoning.

Rabbi William Hamilton opened the meeting, saying the congregation was planning for a next century. The membership has shrunk from a peak of around 1,200 families in the 1950s to around 400 now. He introduced Joseph Geller, a landscape architect and developer, member of the congregation, Precinct 9 town meeting member and former member of the Board of Selectmen, who led most of the discussions.

Mr. Geller introduced Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a local real estate lawyer, Precinct 16 town meeting member and former member of the Board of Selectmen with whom Mr. Geller served. Mr. Allen is representing the congregation’s legal interests in development plans. Asked about potential disruptions from pursuing development while nearby Devotion School is being rebuilt, Mr. Allen merely said it could be “a problem.”

According to Alison Steinfeld, Brookline’s director of community planning and development, about a year ago Mr. Allen met with members of the department for an initial discussion. Ms. Steinfeld said she did not know the amounts of housing Kehillath Israel might have in mind. Such a discussion, as well as such a meeting as happened July 8, are among steps in Brookline’s design review process for any development on Harvard St.

Location, location: Stories about a potential large housing development have circulated around nearby neighborhoods for many months, with a wide range of speculation about locations, amounts, sizes and heights. The presentation on July 8 settled only location: space now occupied by the community center, which representatives of the congregation called the “Epstein building.”

The current community center’s building outline is about 120 by 65 feet, plus a depth of about 30 feet for front entry and steps. If there were to be no further incursions past those perimeters, that could provide a gross area near 10,000 square feet per floor. A modern 4-story building, similar in overall height to the community center, might house around 40 medium-size apartments.

North Brookline neighborhoods have had two previous experiences with 40B developments. A private developer near the synagogue substantially scaled back initial plans and built a double wood-frame quadruplex at 107A through 113B Centre St. in the late 1990s, replacing a large house. Occupancy of these condominium units has proven fairly transient, with turnovers every several years.

After about seven years of disputes and negotiations, the development arm of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston scaled back initial plans for the former St. Aidan’s Church by about 60 percent and put up mostly modern, fireproof new construction around 2008. However, adaptive reuse, unprecedented for the Archdiocese, placed several apartments inside the historic church structure and preserved the large courtyard at the corner of Pleasant and Freeman Sts. and its huge copper beech tree.

Senior housing: Mr. Geller said Kehillath Israel was planning “senior housing”–favorable for a community in which escalating costs of public schools have been driving up budgets, leading to tax overrides passed this year and in 2008. While age-restricted housing is clearly a form of discrimination, under some conditions it is allowed by laws and regulations.

Massachusetts has had antidiscrimination housing laws for many years. They were partly subsumed by the federal Fair Housing Act, Title 8 of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (PL 90-284). The original version of the law prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin in the sale and rental of dwellings. Other protected categories have been added.

Section 4 of Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 151B, “Unlawful Discrimination,” prohibits discrimination because of race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, age, ancestry, veteran status, sexual orientation, marital status, children, handicap and receipt of public assistance or housing subsidy in the selling, renting or leasing of housing accommodations, commercial space or land intended for those uses. Fines are up to $50,000 per violation. Massachusetts regulations in 804 CMR 02 implement the law.

One of the few general exceptions in housing discrimination laws has allowed, after 1988, qualified “senior housing” developments, as modified under the federal Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995 (PL 104–76). Such a qualification requires 80 percent of dwellings to be occupied by at least one person who is 55 years of age or older. The federal qualification can be lost if that operating status is not maintained.

The Kehillath Israel congregation would almost surely be able to qualify a development as “senior housing.” Asked how the congregation might guarantee that “senior housing” will continue to qualify and operate that way, Mr. Geller said he expected there would be a continuing agreement with the Town of Brookline. By contrast, the management at Hancock Village in south Brookline has been moving away from “senior housing,” actively marketing to mostly foreign families with children. They are not planning “senior housing” as a part of their current Chapter 40B housing project in Brookline.

When a religious organization sponsors housing, some assume members and affiliates of the organization will become occupants or may be favored. Occupants of new housing at the Kehillath Israel site need not be Jewish or otherwise share some background that might tend to exclude people protected against discrimination. During controversy over redevelopment of the former St. Aidan’s Church, at least some former parishioners seemed convinced they would be favored to occupy new apartments there. Since that did not agree with housing laws and regulations, it did not happen.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 9, 2015


Fair housing regulation, Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, 2015

Town elections: tax override for schools passes, Brookline Beacon, May 5, 2015

Craig Bolon, Hancock Village: development pressures, Brookline Beacon, February 22, 2015

Board of Selectmen: back to the drawing board

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, June 30, rambled into unfamiliar territory, hearing an appeal from a decision of the Brookline Transportation Board. Arguments and discussions about the case took nearly half of a 4-1/2 hour meeting.

Last May 21, the Transportation Board had approved building a giant peninsula near the corner where Clinton Rd. branches away from Buckminster Rd. west of the High School. It would bloom out the sidewalk from the northeast sides of Clinton and Buckminster Rds. at the junction, pushing edges of those streets up to 35 feet away from their current alignments.

Peninsula at intersection of Clinton and Buckminster Rds.

BuckminsterClintonProposal20150630
Source: Transportation Division of Brookline DPW

The advertised purpose was to slow cars going westbound on Buckminster Rd. and bending onto Clinton Rd. Past the intersection, Clinton Rd. goes downhill, and cars sometimes reach 40 mph or higher. With the peninsula in place, cars would have to slow at the intersection and then turn right. However, no “traffic calming” had been planned for Clinton Rd., so speeds could rise quickly once past the intersection.

Most of the giant peninsula would sit in front of a house at 79 Buckminster Rd., obliterating its streetscape. Owners Michael and Tania Gray are less than pleased. On May 31, they called on the Transportation Board to cancel or radically shrink plans for the peninsula. When that board failed to act, they circulated a petition appealing the case to the Board of Selectmen.

Arguments: Although provided for in Brookline’s state enabling law since 1974, appeals from Transportation Board decisions to the Board of Selectmen have been rare. Neil Wishinsky, chair of the latter board, remarked, “We don’t have traditions for how these things are done.” He had decided to hear from the Transportation chair, then the house owners who brought the appeal, then more than 30 residents who came.

Joshua Safer, the Transportation chair, scoffed at the appeal, saying “I’m a little surprised to be here.” Perhaps he shouldn’t have been. Lack of concern for neighborhood impacts from Transportation initiatives has been raising hackles in other parts of town, too–a pattern for at least a few years. Dr. Safer made himself seem tone deaf, saying the dispute was only about “loss of a parking space or two.”

Mr. Gray painted a different picture, contending that a supposed safety benefit would become a safety hazard in winter, “a place for plows to deposit snow.” Blocked lines of sight could turn a difficult intersection into a dangerous one. On-street parking spaces that are “currently the safest parking on the street” would be replaced by “dangerous parking spaces” along the border of the proposed peninsula.

The house at 79 Buckminster Rd. shares a driveway with its neighbor at 3 Clinton Rd., including a sharp turn and a steep slope at the back. According to Mr. Gray, “The problems are now compensated by parking in front.” Those arrangements would be disrupted by the proposed peninsula. Mr. Gray, whose family has lived in the house for over 20 years, commented, “We would not have purchased the home with the Transportation plan in place.”

Since the May 21 Transportation meeting, Mr. Gray had examined conditions and regulations said to justify the Transportation proposal. He said they did not stand scrutiny. Fewer than half the federal standard of 20 peak pedestrians per hour, justifying a new crosswalk, had been tallied. Crash records showed less than a tenth the frequency of five or more per year needed to identify a “dangerous intersection.”

Comments: Roberta Winitzer of Beacon St., a former Library trustee, described herself as an aunt of Mr. Gray and a frequent visitor at 79 Buckminster Rd., calling the Transportation proposal “overkill.” Judy Meyers, a Precinct 12 town meeting member and former School Committee member, said it was “not fair to approve a plan that has such an adverse impact on the Grays.”

In a preview of comments to come, Ms. Meyers claimed, “The Transportation Board has a strong bias in favor of [altering] streetscapes, as opposed to [using] signs and paint.” The board “should have a comprehensive plan,” she said. Their current plan would not stop Clinton Rd. from being used as “a speedway.”

Not all neighbors sounded convinced. Andrea Bleichmar of 3 Clinton Rd., whose house shares a driveway with 79 Buckminster Rd., said she had “listened to the engineers.” Conditions near the intersection were “an accident looking for a place to happen,” she claimed. George Tolis, who lives two houses away, agreed. Dr. Tolis, a heart surgeon, said he had rearranged his operating schedule to be present. “Maybe,” he asserted, Brookline “should make Clinton Rd. one-way uphill.”

Residents farther down the hill on Clinton Rd. proved less supportive. Most remarks suggested that a pause in speeds at the intersection with Buckminster Rd. would not prevent their part of Clinton Rd. from continuing to be used as “a speedway.” Even Todd Kirrane, Brookline’s transportation administrator, seemed to back those views. He estimated the average speed entering Clinton Rd. at the intersection would be reduced from 23 to 15 mph by the proposed peninsula, not much of a difference.

Beth Epstein of 111 Clinton Rd. protested faulty public notice. She described herself as a resident for 20 years, bringing up five children on the street, saying “I was kind of appalled.” A notice came on a Saturday for a hearing the next week, she said. It provided “no drawings or plans.” For occupants of the many “houses beyond this intersection,” [the proposal] “will not solve their problems.”

Review and decision: During their review, members the Board of Selectmen sounded sympathetic to concerns of the Grays. Nancy Heller said the proposed peninsula was “harmful to a family.” Nancy Daly said, “I don’t know of any place in town where we’ve stuck something like this in front of somebody’s home.” She was also “convinced that there needs to be traffic calming” downhill along Clinton Rd.

Ben Franco called for Public Works to “delay the Buckminster [repaving] project,” which had started a process leading to the peninsula proposal. Peter Ditto, the engineering director, said, “We’ll do Buckminster this year but not the intersection.” Ms. Daly turned adamant, saying, “I’m not approving a [roadwork] contract unless we know that the current proposal is not part of it.”

In the end, members of the Board of Selectmen voted to “remand” the peninsula proposal to the Transportation Board, with instructions to “examine another solution for the intersection.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 1, 2015


Craig Bolon, Transportation Board: tone deaf, Brookline Beacon, June 19, 2015

Craig Bolon, Transportation: good intents, cloudy results and taxi rules, Brookline Beacon, May 23. 2015

2015 annual town meeting: budgets, bylaws and resolutions

Unlike last year, Brookline’s 2015 annual town meeting rolled along at a brisk pace and needed only two sessions–Tuesday, May 26, and Thursday, May 28–both starting at 7 pm in the High School auditorium. The generally progressive tones of Brookline civic engagement remained clear, and some of the musical theatre of years past returned for an encore. This is the one-hundredth year for Brookline’s elected town meeting.

Budgets: Disputes over budgets that roiled the winter workups to town meeting had evaporated after voter approval of a major tax override at the Tuesday, May 5, town election. Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, the moderator of town meeting, mentioned “controversy” over a three-word amendment to one special appropriation. The Advisory Committee proposed two changes to the “override” financial plan as proposed by Mel Kleckner, the town administrator.

In the traditional presentation of an annual budget, Sean Lynn-Jones, newly elected as chair of the Advisory Committee last winter, called 2015 “an interesting year.” He noted that new revenues were going to be involved in maintaining a stable budget, singling out parking meter and refuse fees. Mr. Lynn-Jones said he expects “fiscal challenges…another general override in three to five years…possibly a ninth elementary school…high school [expansion] at over $100 million, not $35 million,” as most recently estimated.

In the traditional response from the Board of Selectmen, Neil Wishinshy, recently elected as the new chair, said strongly contested elections, like those this year, “make our town and democracy stronger.” He spoke of new efficiencies contributing to a stable budget, singling out trash metering, which has been mentioned at official meetings but so far not detailed. Mr. Wishinsky called on town meeting members to “put aside narrow self-interest,” saying, “We live in the real world.”

Staff for preservation planning will increase from 1.8 to 2.0 full-time-equivalent positions, a budget hike of $14,119. It is expected to provide a full-time position for preservationist Greer Hardwicke. The Public Works budget for pavement markings got $2,673 more, to cope with after-effects from a harsh winter. Those had been wrapped into Advisory Committee motions. A $264 million spending plan sailed through, mostly on voice votes.

A three-word amendment to a $100,000 special appropriation had been proposed by Craig Bolon, a Precinct 8 town meeting member who edits the Brookline Beacon. Offered on behalf of Brookline PAX, it asked that a study of Coolidge Corner parking be done “with neighborhood input.” Town meeting agreed in a unanimous voice vote.

Instead of parochial concerns with Public Works, this year’s town meeting focused more on the Police budget. Lynda Roseman, a Precinct 14 town meeting member, asked about progress coping with mental health issues. Daniel O’Leary, the police chief, compared last year–when three members of the force were involved–to this year, when two grant-funded programs are underway. By the end of the year, he said, about a quarter of the force will have completed 40 hours of training.

A large municipal solar-power array, in effect a budget item, was approved out-of-line under Articles 15 and 16. Brookline is contracting with Blue Wave Capital, a company endorsed by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, which is to build and operate it, using part of the former landfill site near the waste transfer station off Newton St. Rated capacity is to be 1.4 MW, peak. Expected income is about $0.08 million per year.

Bylaw, Living Wage: Under Article 10, the Recreation Department proposed to gut much of the Living Wage bylaw enacted several years ago, by exempting from coverage several employee groups and by eliminating the Brookline minimum wage: a one-dollar premium over the state minimum. Patricia Connors, a Precinct 3 town meeting member who was the chief sponsor of the bylaw, had resisted the effort strongly.

Scott Gladstone, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, was entirely opposed to Article 10. “The bylaw is already a compromise,” he claimed. “Junior lifeguards,” whom it would remove from coverage, “are lifeguards…with the same Red Cross certifications as anybody else…What we’re trying to teach here…is work values…Should we teach them that they should not be demanding a living wage?”

Ms. Connors was supported by Brookline PAX. Co-chair Frank Farlow, a Precinct 4 town meeting member, stated, “PAX supports working people and fair wages.” Board member Andrew Fischer, a Precinct 13 town meeting member, called Article 10 “an assault on working people,” saying, “I wonder how many [town-funded] cars it would take to cover the wages of students with first-time jobs.”

Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a Precinct 16 town meeting member and former member of the Board of Selectmen, tried to deflect those arguments. saying that when the now-disbanded Living Wage Committee proposed the bylaw, “We were way out front.” He favored some compromises being sponsored by the Advisory Committee. Pamela Lodish, a Precinct 14 town meeting member who lost this year when running for the Board of Selectmen, agreed with Mr. Allen. “If we pass the [Connors] amendment,” she said, “we’ll be hiring college students instead of high-school students.”

Ms. Connors was proposing to maintain the current bylaw’s definitions of seasonal and temporary employment. It was not certain whether Mr. Allen or Ms. Lodish understood, but Merelice, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, clearly did. The current bylaw’s approach is not supported by the HR module of Munis, recently adopted for maintaining employment records by the Human Resources (HR) office. According to Merelice, the attitude of HR is “an example of being concerned about the dirt when we hold the broom.” She contended, “We can certainly find the technology.”

Town meeting members sided strongly with Ms. Connors, Merelice and Brookline PAX. In an electronically recorded vote, the Connors amendment passed 141 to 48, with 10 abstentions. The amended main motion on Article 10 passed 144 to 42, with 5 abstentions. Although the Brookline minimum wage premium is maintained, so-called “junior” employees in the Recreation Department will no longer be covered by the Living Wage, reverting to the Brookline minimum wage–currently $10.00 versus $13.19 per hour. Recreation claims to be able to support more positions.

Bylaw, snow clearance from sidewalks: Town meeting grappled with the latest edition of a snow-clearance bylaw under Article 12. For about 30 years a bylaw initially proposed by Stanley Spiegel, a Precinct 2 town meeting member, has required property owners to clear adjacent sidewalks of snow. However, until a push last year from Frank Caro, a Precinct 10 town meeting member who filed a resolution article, and from the Age-Friendly Cities Committee, enforcement proved erratic.

During the 1970s and before, Brookline plowed most of the sidewalks, but after budget trims in the aftermath of Proposition 2-1/2 it cut back to only a few, including ones near schools. Article 12 was proposed by a Sidewalk Snow Removal Task Force, appointed in the summer of 2014 by the Board of Selectmen to strengthen the town’s law and its enforcement. The group–including staff from Public Works, Health, Building and Police–acknowledged that a complaint-driven approach had worked poorly.

Last winter, the four departments contributing to the task force divided Brookline’s streets into four sectors and began proactive enforcement during weekdays, with Police assuming most duties at other times. Despite the unusually harsh winter, enforcement generally improved, as described to town meeting by Nancy Daly, speaking for the Board of Selectmen. However, Martin Rosenthal, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, pointed out the lack of coordination in the current form of enforcement.

In its town-meeting article, the task force proposed to discontinue automatic warnings for first violations at residential properties, to raise fines and to institute a $250 fine for placing snow into a street–forbidden by Brookline’s general bylaws since the nineteenth century.

Compromises made as outcomes of several reviews had gutted most of the original proposal, leaving relatively weak enforcement, modest fines and no administrative appeals. Tommy Vitolo, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, offered two amendments intended to address some compromises. One would have limited a period of enforcement delay, at discretion of the public works commissioner, to no more than 30 hours after the end of a snowfall.

Amy Hummel of Precinct 12, speaking for the Advisory Committee, objected to an arbitrary time limit for the commissioner’s discretion. During the Blizzard of 1978, many streets remained impassible for several days, because Brookline then lacked much equipment capable of clearing them. That amendment was rejected through an electronically recorded vote, 78 to 108, with 6 abstentions.

Dr. Vitolo’s other amendment sought to restore the schedule of fines that the task force had proposed. Those called for a $50 fine on a first violation at a residential property, rather than an automatic warning, and a $100 fine for subsequent violations.

Dennis Doughty, a Precinct 3 town meeting member who served on the task force, supported the amendment on fines. He compared hazards of sidewalk snow with other hazards now sanctioned by $50 fines and no warnings, including putting refuse out for collection earlier than 4 pm the previous day. Town meeting members approved the amendment on fines through an electronically recorded vote, 135 to 52, with 5 abstentions.

Unfortunately, Dr. Vitolo’s amendment on fines for failure to clear sidewalk snow seems to leave the Brookline bylaws inconsistent. According to the main motion before town meeting, proposed by the Advisory committee on p. 5 of its supplemental report section and amended per Dr. Vitolo, the snow clearance bylaw was changed by town meeting to read, in part:

“The violation of any part of Section 7.7.3 [that is, the requirement to clear sidewalk snow at residential properties]…shall be noted with a $50 fine for the first violation and subject to a fine of $100.00 for the second and subsequent violations….”

However, according to the main motion, revised penalties are stated again in Article 10.3 of the bylaws, Table of Specific Penalties. What Dr. Vitolo’s amendment did was to revise penalties stated in the bylaw on snow clearance but not those stated in the Table of Specific Penalties. There will likely be no more snow before a fall town meeting, which might make the Brookline bylaws consistent.

Bylaws, tap water and bottled water: Articles 13 and 14, the two “water articles,” had been filed by Jane Gilman, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, Clinton Richmond, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, and several other petitioners. Both were “watered down” during reviews before the town meeting, yet significant parts of each survived and won approval.

Ms. Gilman and Mr. Richmond are co-chairs of the “green caucus” in town meeting, which counts over fifty town meeting members as participants and has been effective at marshaling votes for some recent, environmentally oriented initiatives. Brookline PAX, with a somewhat overlapping base of support, was recommending voting for motions offered by the Board of Selectmen in favor of parts of the two articles.

Article 13 sought a bylaw requiring Brookline restaurants to offer tap water. They already do, said Sytske Humphrey of Precinct 6, speaking for the Advisory Committee. She called the proposed bylaw “unnecessary and ineffective.” However, the petitioners had found some sinners. An Indian restaurant in Washington Square did not offer tap water on its take-out menu, and one pizza place did not seem to offer it at all.

Differing from the Advisory position, the Board of Selectmen saw little objection to such a law but added a phrase, “upon request,” and removed a sentence: “Establishments may charge for this service item.” That might give an impression, they wrote, that charging for water “was a requirement.”

Diana Spiegel, a Precinct 2 town meeting member, said the topic could be handled by conditions on restaurant licenses and moved to refer the article to the Board of Selectmen. In an electronically recorded vote, the referral motion failed 78 to 103, with 5 abstentions. The motion for a bylaw drafted by the Board of Selectmen passed 124 to 56, with 7 abstentions.

Article 14, seeking to ban sale and distribution of bottled water at town events and on town property, encountered stiffer headwinds at reviews before town meeting and quickly lost altitude. According to Mr. Richmond, the purpose was not banning water but banning the plastic bottles usually supplied. Hundreds of billions a year are sold. While they might be recycled, at least in part, they are mostly thrown away.

By town meeting, motions under the article had been trimmed back to a proposed ban on spending town funds to buy water in plastic bottles of one liter or less for use in offices. The Board of Selectmen proposed to refer the rest of the article to a study committee, to be appointed by the board. The Advisory Committee stuck with its original approach, recommending no action.

John Harris, a Precinct 8 town meeting member and a past participant in the “green caucus,” was not in line this time. The bylaw favored by the Board of Selectmen would have negligible impact, he claimed, and if widely emulated elsewhere, then companies selling bottled water would easily subvert it. Speaking for the Board of Selectmen, Nancy Daly disagreed, saying the debates over Article 14 had “succeeded at least in educating me.”

The Advisory Committee remained unmoved. Robert Liao of Precinct 15 recommended voting for the Harris motion to refer, consistent with the Advisory position. There will be “adverse unintended consequences” from a bylaw, he claimed, saying, “Reusable bottles require planning and changes in behavior.”

Robert Miller, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, asked whether the town was spending money on either bottled water or bottled soda. The answers were yes as to both, according to Mel Kleckner, the town administrator. Echoing a topic heard often during reviews, Jonathan Davis, a Precinct 10 town meeting member, asked whether vending machines on town property would be affected. Mr. Richmond conceded they would not be, since “the machines are put out to bid” and do not involve spending town funds.

Mr. Gadsby, the moderator, took a motion for the question–that is, a motion to terminate debate. Not enough town meeting members were ready to do that. On an electronically recorded vote the motion failed 129 to 71, with 2 abstentions. Such a motion takes a two-thirds margin but got only 65 percent.

Susan Helms Daley of Chatham Circle and her son Jackson, a fourth-grader at Lawrence School, told town meeting members about an alternative that is catching on. For the past few years, the school has had a “green team” and tried “to discourage use of bottled water.” Ms. Daley asserted, “Bottled water is the same as cigarettes.” Jackson Daley said after the school installed “water bottle refill stations”–a PTO project–”more people brought water bottles” to school. So far, he said, “We have saved 10,129 plastic bottles. How cool is that?”

After hearing similar opinions from a junior at Brookline High School, Mr. Gadsby again accepted a motion for the question. He declared it had passed, on a show of hands. The motion from Mr. Harris to refer all of Article 14 failed on an electronically recorded vote, 97 to 102, with 2 abstentions. The motion from the Board of Selectmen for a bylaw banning some uses of town funds passed by a substantial majority, on a show of hands.

Resolution, recreation land: Article 18 proposed a resolution seeking a study of acquiring land in the Putterham neighborhoods of south Brookline for park and recreation uses–specifically, so-called “buffer” areas of Hancock Village near Beverly and Russett Rds. Regina Frawley, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, and Hugh Mattison, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, prepared the article. Although not an abutter to Hancock Village, Ms. Frawley has lived nearby since 1968.

While it is possible that the current landowner, Chestnut Hill Realty, might agree to sell the land, a series of development plans, currently tapping powers under Chapter 40B of the General Laws, have left the company at loggerheads with the Board of Selectmen. A purchase-and-sale agreement now looks unlikely, so that Ms. Frawley suggested the land would probably have to be taken by eminent domain.

In the Putterham neighborhoods, Ms. Frawley showed, there is little public open space. She described the current open spaces and showed that the Hancock Village buffers look to be the largest undeveloped areas likely to be suitable. The only sizable public spaces now are around Baker School. They are laid out for specialized uses and are unavailable to the public during school days. For over 70 years, neighborhood residents have often used the buffer areas for recreation instead, as tolerated by a succession of landowners.

Moderator Gadsby immediately took comments from Rebecca Plaut Mautner, a Precinct 11 town meeting member, ahead of normal order and before hearing from the Advisory Committee and town boards. He did not explain the unusual conduct. Ms. Mautner operates RPM Consulting, according to the Web site of Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association in Boston–providing “affordable housing development services” in New England.

Ms. Mautner delivered a broadside against Article 18, saying it “will be perceived by the outside world as an effort to undermine creation of affordable housing…a message that Brookline will stop at nothing to prevent affordable housing.” That did not seem to resonate well, broached in the first town in Massachusetts to build public housing, where inclusionary zoning has been active for over 20 years.

Lee Selwyn of Precinct 13, speaking for the Advisory Committee, recalled that the proposed “Hancock Village project did not start out as 40B…there was no affordable housing in the original plan.” The owner, he said, is “using 40B as a means to pressure the town.” He said Article 18 proposed “a reasonable public use” of land, and he noted that a parcel adjacent to Hancock Village had been “taken by the state by eminent domain to prevent an inappropriate development.” The Hancock Woods area was taken as conservation land about 20 years ago.

Janice Kahn of Precinct 15, also an Advisory Committee member, supported the study. She said it could teach the town about using eminent domain. There has been no substantial taking since the Hall’s Pond and Amory Woods conservation projects in the 1970s. Given the ongoing disputes with Chestnut Hill Realty, the Board of Selectmen had declined to take a position on Article 18. Members had said they would abstain from voting on it.

Mr. Mattison of Precinct 5, a suppporter, said the buffer “space has served as informal recreation space.” Some 1940s correspondence with the town, he said, describes “how the commitment would be binding” to maintain it as open space. However, that was not part of an agreement presented to a 1946 town meeting, when the bulk of Hancock Village was rezoned to allow apartments.

Lauren Bernard, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, asked whether a “prescriptive easement” would be possible, given the long history of public use, and whether that would be “mutually exclusive with eminent domain.” Joslin Murphy, the town counsel, said easement issues were “not considered yet,” but easement and eminent domain would probably “be mutually exclusive.”

Even though the hour was getting late, at 10:30 pm, town meeting was willing to hear more arguments. A motion for the question failed on an electronically recorded vote, 88 to 78, with 17 abstentions. Julie Jette of Payson Rd. spoke. She said she had been “very surprised” when moving there “that really the only fully accessible playground is in West Roxbury.”

Crossing the rotary and the VFW Parkway with young children seemed too dangerous, Ms. Jette said, and she had never tried. However, she said, “yards are not a substitute for social and community opportunities. It’s time to create a true neighborhood park in south Brookline…Time is of the essence, given Chestnut Hill Realty development plans.” After a few other comments, town meeting approved Article 18 on a show of hands, looking like a ten-to-one majority at least.

Resolution, Boston Olympics: Article 19 proposed a resolution, objecting to plans for holding the Olympic Games in Boston during 2024. The plans never gained traction in Brookline, where many people see heavy costs and slender benefits. The Board of Selectmen had nevertheless postponed making a recommendation, reaching out to the pressure group pushing for the Olympics, but no one from that group responded.

At the town meeting, Martin Rosenthal, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, led off–speaking for Brookline PAX, of which he is co-chair. Unlike his fellow co-chair, Frank Farlow of Precinct 4, Mr. Rosenthal said he is a sports fan and “was excited at first.” However, he had realized “there might be some issues here…it was more for the benefit of non-Brookline people.” PAX opposes plans for 2024 Olympic Games in Boston.

Christopher Dempsey, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, was giving no quarter. He has co-founded a volunteer group, No Boston Olympics, and was on the warpath, armed with PowerPoint slides. The pressure group behind the Olympics plans, he said, is aiming to raid public funds. A long article published the previous day in the Boston Business Journal revealed much of that story to the public.

According to Business Journal staff, previously secret sections of the Olympics “bid book” said public money would be sought to “fund land acquisition and infrastructure costs.” The plans were also “relying on an expanded Boston Convention and Exhibition Center”–a deluxe Patrick administration venture that the Baker administration has canned.

Mr. Dempsey was having a field day, saying, “Boston 2024 is not going to fix the T…In London and Vancouver the Olympics Village financing was from public funds…Olympics budgets are guaranteed by taxpayers…The more you learn about 2024 Olympics, the less you like it.” Ben Franco spoke for the Board of Selectmen, simply stating that the board “urges favorable action” on Article 19.

Speaking for the Advisory Committee, Amy Hummel of Precinct 12 said that “the money and resources spent would benefit the Olympics shadow.” The current plans have “no real public accountability,” she contended, and “Brookline will be heavily impacted…The biggest concern [of the Advisory Committee] is the taxpayer guarantee…Lack of public process is unacceptable.”

Olympics boosters did have some friends. Charles “Chuck” Swartz, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, advised caution, saying, “Who knows what will happen in Boston? We don’t have to make this decision now.” Susan Granoff of Precinct 7, attending her first town meeting, said, “Let’s give Boston 2024 more time.” The Olympics, she contended, “would create thousands of jobs and bring billions of dollars…It’s private money being donated.”

Most town meeting members were not convinced by such claims. They approved the resolution in an electronically recorded vote, 111 to 46, with 7 abstentions. Katherine Seelye’s story in the New York Times on Saturday, May 30, may have deep-sixed the Olympics plans. She included the Business Journal disclosures and cited the Brookline town-meeting resolution.

Other actions: Under Article 9, town meeting voted no action on a proposal to make holders of state and federal offices living in Brookline automatic town meeting members. After encountering opposition, Ernest Frey, a Precinct 7 town meeting member, offered a “no action” motion on the article that he and other petitioners had submitted.

Article 17 proposed a resolution seeking changes to Sections 20-23 of Chapter 40B, the Comprehensive Permit Act of 1969 that was encouraged by the late Cardinal Cushing. Nancy Heller, the principal petitioner, now a member of the Board of Selectmen, had not seemed to recognize the complexity of the issues and soon agreed to refer the article to the Planning Board and Housing Advisory Board. That was the course taken by town meeting.

Under Article 11, town meeting voted to create a Crowninshield local historic district, on petition from the owners of about 85 percent of the houses on Crowninshield Rd., Adams St., Elba St. and Copley St. Speaking in favor were David King, chair of the Preservation Commission, Robert Miller, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, George White, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, John Sherman and Katherine Poverman, both residents of Adams St., Angela Hyatt of Precinct 5 for the Advisory Committee and Nancy Daly for the Board of Selectmen.

Dr. White recalled that the neighborhood had been home to well-known writers and artists. He mentioned novelist and short-story writer Edith Pearlman, an Elba St. resident for many years, and after a little prompting the novelist Saul Bellow, winner of a Nobel Prize in literature, who lived on Crowninshield Rd. in his later years. Only Clifford Ananian, a Precinct 10 town meeting member, took exception. He said preserving “single-family homes is a waste of a valuable resource,” although he lives in one of those homes. Despite the objection, the town meeting vote to create the district proved unanimous.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 30, 2015


Katherine Q. Seelye, Details uncovered in Boston’s 2024 Olympic bid may put it in jeopardy, New York Times, May 30, 2015

BBJ staff, Boston 2024 report highlights need for public funding, expanded BCEC, Boston Business Journal, May 28, 2015

Matt Stout, Gov. Baker puts brakes on $1 billion convention center plan, Boston Herald, April 29, 2015

Warrant report with supplements, May 26, 2015, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Age-Friendly Cities: health fair, outreach, snow and parks, Brookline Beacon, May 25, 2015

Board of Selectmen: police awards, paying for snow, Brookline Beacon, May 20, 2015

Board of Selectmen: new members and leadership, Brookline Beacon, May 13, 2015

Craig Bolon, How we voted, costs of business, Brookline Beacon, May 10, 2015

Craig Bolon, Field of dreams: a Coolidge Corner parking garage, Brookline Beacon, May 4, 2015

Board of Selectmen: landmarks, permits and town meeting controversy, Brookline Beacon, April 22, 2015

Board of Selectmen: farmers’ market, promotions, golf and town meeting, Brookline Beacon, April 29, 2015

Advisory Committee: budgets, bylaws and lectures, Brookline Beacon, April 14, 2015

Advisory subcommittee on human services: tap water and bottled water, Brookline Beacon, April 12, 2015

Advisory Committee: new park land for Putterham neighborhoods, Brookline Beacon, April 10, 2015

Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation: new historic district, Brookline Beacon, March 31, 2015

Craig Bolon, Advisory Committee: in a generous mood, Brookline Beacon, March 19, 2015

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, budget reviews, Brookline Beacon, March 4, 2015

Solid Waste Advisory Committee: recycling and trash metering, Brookline Beacon, September 3, 2014

2014 annual town meeting recap: fine points, Brookline Beacon, June 7, 2014

Craig Bolon, Recycling makes more progress without trash metering, Brookline Beacon, April 11, 2014

How we voted, costs of business

On Tuesday, May 5, we Brookline voters approved a major tax override, mainly to support our public schools, and we also approved a major school renovation and expansion project. Some had thought higher or lower voter turnout might mean better or worse chances for the override, but the results did not shape up that way.

HowWeVoted2015

How we voted
When the percentages who voted Yes are charted against voter turnouts, by precincts, there are no clear patterns. Statistical regression finds standard probabilities of 70 percent or more association by chance–insignificant patterns by usual standards. However, when the percentages who voted Yes for the Devotion School project are charted against the percentages who voted Yes for the tax override, a strong pattern appears. Statistical regression finds standard probability of less than 0.01 percent association by chance–highly significant.

The results show no linkages between voter turnouts and votes on the ballot questions. Strong linkage between the results from the two questions tends to indicate issue-oriented voting: specifically, voters favoring funding for public schools through property taxes–or not. Overall, at least 60 percent of Brookline voters appear to favor funding schools, even when facing the third-highest override to be approved in Massachusetts during our 34 years with Proposition 2-1/2 limits.

The chart comparing results for the two questions also shows precincts falling into three clusters. Four of them–Precincts 2, 6, 8 and 9–appear at the high end of support for school funding. One of them, Precinct 15, shows a much lower level of support. The other precincts are in a middle group, supporting the tax override by about 60 percent and the Devotion School project by about 80 percent. Precincts 2, 8 and 9 are North Brookline neighborhoods, essentially the Devotion School district. Precinct 6 is well south of Beacon St., clustered around the High School.

Costs of business: marijuana dispensaries
Marijuana dispensaries that mean to make money and stay in business will need to divide their enterprises, as New England Treatment Access (NETA) plans, between retail and production. Jack Healy recently wrote in the New York Times that federal tax laws treat marijuana production and wholesale as ordinary businesses, factoring expenses against revenue. Marijuana retailers are treated like burglars, who cannot legally deduct the costs of getaway cars against the fruits of theft, on federal tax filings.

While burglars probably rarely report undercover incomes and expenses, registered medical marijuana dispensaries are more likely to want to behave like good citizens. They need coping strategies. An obvious one–not reported by Mr. Healy–is to load expenses and incomes onto production and wholesale and to minimize retail operations for tax purposes. That might be possible for a vertically integrated business like NETA, when it might not be for a thinly capitalized retail shop.

At a public meeting in Brookline, NETA representatives said that over three-quarters of their costs of business are expected to be in production. That suggests they have already given the tax situation careful study and might be back-loading their business model. It is not against the law to organize financial affairs so as to reduce taxes. Their local transactions might, for example, be divided into fairly low prices and fairly high fees–routed to the production business. In such a way, high costs NETA claims for production might be offset by high revenues passing from consumer to manufacturer.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 10, 2015


Ballot question results, Brookline town election, 2015

Town elections: tax override for schools passes, Brookline Beacon, May 5, 2015

Zoning Board of Appeals: zoning permit for a registered marijuana dispensary, Brookline Beacon, April 25, 2015

Licensing Review Committee: registered marijuana dispensary, Brookline Beacon, January 29, 2015

Jack Healy, Legal marijuana faces another federal hurdle: taxes, New York Times, May 10, 2015

Advisory Committee: budgets and reconsiderations

The Advisory Committee met Thursday, April 30, starting at 7:00 pm in the first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall. Review season for this year’s annual town meeting is winding down, with work on most articles now complete for the town meeting starting Tuesday, May 26. The committee reconsidered three articles:
• Article 8. annual appropriations
• Article 9. town meeting membership, by petition
• Article 17. Chapter 40B resolution, by petition

Budgets: At the annual town election Tuesday, May 5, Brookline voters will decide whether or not to approve a permanent, general override that would increase total Brookline tax collections by $7.665 million per year above amounts allowed under Proposition 2-1/2, the statewide budget act passed by voters in 1980. So far the Advisory Committee, like the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee, has worked with so-called “base budgets” that will govern should voters reject the proposed override.

If required to proceed with base budgets, the committee will find itself backed into a financial corner by recommending, so far, about $0.5 million more in spending than the town has projected in revenue and other available funds. Hopes for a reprieve from balances in overlay accounts were recently dashed by the need to fund an overrun of about $3.4 million for snow clearance, the result of an historically severe winter.

While some committee members spoke about $2.5 million in “unallocated revenues”–account balances held against major unexpected needs–apparently none understood the mechanics for tapping those funds to solve an imbalance in their base budgets. Committee member Janet Gelbart, not a town meeting member, seemed to think growth in school enrollment, combined with extraordinary winter expenses, justified action. “The purpose of a reserve,” she said, “is so when you have an emergency you can pay for it.”

Partnership: There was discussion of the so-called “town-school partnership” that for 20 years has divided tax revenue between municipal and school programs. It was begun in 1995 by Richard Kelliher, then the town administrator, and James F. Walsh, then the superintendent of schools.

Since 1995, the partnership has been managed by a Town/School Partnership Committee with two representatives each from the Board of Selectmen, the School Committee and the Advisory Committee. The partnership committee is dormant. Its members from the Board of Selectmen, Ken Goldstein and Betsy DeWitt, did not run for re-election. One member from the Advisory Committee, Harry Bohrs, resigned this winter. The other, Leonard Weiss, moved from chairing the Advisory subcommittee on schools to the subcommittee on administration and finance.

Stanley Spiegel, a Precinct 2 town meeting member, asked how the town-school revenue division could be changed. Mr. Weiss, the only Advisory member now delegated to the partnership committee, was not on hand to respond. David-Marc Goldstein of Precinct 8 said, “Town meeting does not feel part of that partnership.” Actually, the Advisory Committee plays a role representing town meeting–as on several other boards and committees, including Climate Action and the Devotion School Building Committee.

Automatic town meeting members: Elected Brookline town meetings have long included several members designated automatically because of offices they hold. In the 1970s, these were cut back to people who hold other, major elected offices: currently the moderator, the town clerk, the members of the Board of Selectmen and members of the General Court who live in Brookline.

Led by Ernest A. Frey, a Precinct 7 town meeting member, a group of Brookline voters submitted Article 9 for the annual town meeting by petition. It seeks to add, as automatic town meeting members, elected federal and state officials who live in Brookline. Those are now Deborah Goldberg, the state treasurer, and Joseph P. Kennedy, III, who represents Brookline in the U.S. Congress.

The Board of Selectmen had supported Article 9, but thus far the Advisory Committee had opposed it. Dr. Spiegel, who chairs the Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation, proposed a compromise at this week’s meeting of the Board of Selectmen. It would designate elected federal and state officials who live in Brookline as “honorary town meeting members,” non-voting but welcome to participate in town meeting debates.

Amy Hummel of Precinct 12 seemed unconvinced. “It sounds like we’re talking about celebrities,” she said. Since any registered Brookline voter is eligible to run for town meeting, all current automatic town meeting members and all those proposed could run–and likely win–if they chose. Mr. Goldstein favored ending the designations. The committee voted to reject Dr. Spiegel’s proposed compromise and to recommend no action on Article 9.

Chapter 40B resolution: Led by Precinct 8 town meeting member Nancy Heller, a group of Brookline voters submitted Article 17 by petition: a resolution advocating changes in policy for Chapter 40B projects. As the subcommittee led by Dr. Spiegel proposed and the petitioners have agreed, the Advisory Committee voted to recommend referring the article to the Planning Board and the Housing Advisory Board.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 1, 2015


Advisory Committee, Town of Brookline, MA

Warrant for 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Explanations of Articles, 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Richard Kelliher and James Walsh, Memorandum of understanding: town/school budget partnership, Town of Brookline, MA, May 16, 1995

Board of Selectmen: farmers’ market, promotions, golf and town meeting, Brookline Beacon, April 29, 2015

Board of Selectmen: landmarks, permits and town meeting controversy, Brookline Beacon, April 22, 2015

Advisory: new park land for Putterham neighborhoods, Brookline Beacon, April 10, 2015

Board of Selectmen: $7.665 million tax override, Brookline Beacon, February 12, 2015

Advisory Committee: budgets, bylaws and lectures

The Advisory Committee met Tuesday, April 7, Thursday, April 9, and Monday, April 13, starting at 7:30 pm in the first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall. Review season for this year’s annual town meeting is underway, with many committee members attending four or more meetings a week. According to the chair, Sean Lynn-Jones, a Precinct 1 town meeting member, the committee has begun to address a backlog of missing meeting records.

At these sessions, the committee reviewed budgets, to be proposed under Article 8 at the annual town meeting starting May 26, for Library, Town Clerk, Information Technology, Finance, Board of Selectmen, Advisory Committee, reserve accounts and miscellaneous. It heard lectures on fiscal policy from Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, from Melissa Goff, the deputy town administrator and from Stephen Cirillo, the finance director. The committee also voted recommendations on three warrant articles:
• Article 12. snow bylaw amendments, from the Board of Selectmen
• Article 13. bylaw requiring tap water service in restaurants, by petition
• Article 14. bylaw banning bottled water on town property, by petition

Human services: The most recent Advisory session, on Monday, was human services night, reviewing the Library budget and the two “water” articles. With subcommittee chair Sytske Humphrey absent, subcommittee member David-Marc Goldstein, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, reviewed the library budget with Sara Slymon, the library director, and Michael Burstein, chair of the Library Trustees.

Lea Cohen of Beacon St., not a town meeting member, reviewed Article 13, about water service in Brookline restaurants. Robert Liao of Meadowbrook Rd., not a town meeting member, reviewed Article 14, seeking to ban bottled water on town property and in the town budget. Jane Gilman and Clinton Richmond, town meeting members from Precincts 3 and 6, responded for the petitioners who submitted those articles.

Water aerobics: The subcommittee on human services had reviewed the “water” articles the previous week and was recommending no action on both. With Mr. Lynn-Jones out-of-town, Carla Benka, vice chair of the committee, led the meeting. She allowed Ms. Gilman and Mr. Richmond another bite of the apple, rehashing most of their arguments and taking up nearly two hours.

After heavy weather the previous week, at the Board of Selectmen as well as the subcommittee, Ms. Gilman and Mr. Richmond tried a tactical retreat on Article 14. That would have removed about three-fourths of the proposed bylaw, including its key feature: generally banning the sale and distribution of bottled water on town property. What remained would have forbidden spending for bottled water and stocking it in vending machines, under most circumstances.

Alan Balsam, the public health director, opposed restricting water from vending machines. As at the Board of Selectmen, he called commercial plastic beverage bottles “nasty,” saying most of what they contained was also “nasty.” In his view, though, water is much less “nasty” than sugared beverages, and trying to keep it out of vending machines would likely encourage substitution–worsening risks of obesity and diabetes. “Why not get rid of vending machines?” asked Dr. Balsam. “That’s what I did at the Health Department.”

Committee members wrestled with alternatives, offering motions to chop still more out of the proposed bylaw and to refer it to a committee appointed by the Board of Selectmen. Ms. Benka struggled in parliamentary muddle. A motion for bylaw surgery from Alisa Jonas of Precinct 16 failed: 2 in favor, 15 opposed and 1 abstaining. A motion to refer from Michael Sandman of Sewall Ave., not a town meeting member, also failed: 4-13-1. A motion on behalf of the subcommittee for no action passed: 16-2-0. That became the Advisory Committee recommendation to town meeting.

Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2 suggested the committee consider use of funds for bottled water when it reviews conditions of appropriations for town budgets. The committee had less trouble with Article 13, a proposed bylaw change requiring tap water to be available in Brookline restaurants. Ms. Gilman and Mr. Richmond still could not cite a Brookline restaurant that did not offer it. By a unanimous vote, the Advisory Committee is recommending no action on Article 13.

Lecture series: At its April 7 and 9 meetings, the committee heard lectures on fiscal rectitude from Stephen Cirillo, the finance director, from Melissa Goff, the deputy town administrator, and from Mel Kleckner, the town administrator. They were probably inspired by an unusual generous committee approach this year, boosting rather than cutting budgets.

The program budget presented by Mr. Kleckner and his staff last February showed $682,000 in cuts to municipal services within the base budget, without an override. School budgets would benefit from a corresponding boost, while observing “Proposition 2-1/2″ tax limits. School staff and the School Committee are hardly celebrating. Their base budget, without an override, involves cuts totaling $1.16 million from current school programs, despite a $0.68 million transfer from municipal accounts.

Some long-time observers say Advisory budget turbulence stems from a confluence of weather systems: traditional town liberalism mixing into traditional town conservatism that sees unwarranted trimming of municipal resources in order to enlarge school accounts. Practicing freedom of speech, some Advisory Committee members have taken to sporting campaign buttons advertising their factions on the budget override that the Board of Selectmen has proposed to voters at May 5 town elections.

At the April 9 meeting, Mr. Kleckner let a cat out of the bag. It was “very distressing,” he said, “to hear some of this disagreement.” The “elected officials” have a right “to make those judgments.” In the context, Mr. Kleckner was clearly referring to members of the Board of Selectmen, who hire and fire town administrators. He might know something about perils of town administrators, through past service to the fairly conservative Town of Winchester and Town of Belmont.

Somehow, Mr. Kleckner didn’t seem to appreciate at the moment that elected members of town meetings–and not members of boards of selectmen–appropriate all town funds. For the Advisory Committee of Brookline, charged by law with proposing annual appropriations to our elected representative town meeting, that is just Politics 101. Committee members welcomed Mr. Kleckner to Brookline with some choice remarks.

During the lecture series, the need advertised for fiscal probity was to protect the town’s credit rating, but at the April 7 meeting Gary McCabe, the chief assessor, had undercut some of those arguments. He revealed that about $1.1 million stands to be available from overlay accounts for 2009 and prior years. So far, the Advisory Committee’s budget votes would restore about $0.3 million of municipal base-budget cuts, well within amounts Mr. McCabe described as available, outside usual credit-rating factors.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 14, 2015


Advisory Committee, Town of Brookline, MA

Warrant for 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Explanations of Articles, 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Advisory subcommittee on human services: tap water and bottled water, Brookline Beacon, April 12, 2015

Advisory Committee: missing records, more skeptical outlooks, Brookline Beacon, April 2, 2015

Support for the May 5 override, Yes for Brookline, Brookline, MA, April, 2015

Opposition to the May 5 override, Campaign for a Better Override, Brookline, MA, April, 2015

Advisory: a night at the opera, Brookline Beacon, March 27, 2015

Advisory Committee: in a generous mood, Brookline Beacon, March 17, 2015

School Committee: budget bounties and woes, Brookline Beacon, March 13, 2015

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, financial plan, Brookline Beacon, February 21, 2015

Board of Selectmen: $7.665 million tax override, Brookline Beacon, February 12, 2015

Board of Selectmen: larger tax override, Brookline Beacon, January 14, 2015

Advisory: learning about spending on schools

The Advisory subcommittee on schools met at 6 pm Wednesday, April 1, in the first-floor north meeting room at Town Hall. All subcommittee members were on hand: new chair Michael Sandman of Sewall Ave., not a town meeting member, new subcommittee members Kelly Hardebeck of Precinct 7 and Amy Hummel of Precinct 12, and returning subcommittee members Bobbie Knable of Precinct 11 and Sharri Mittel of Precinct 14.

They met with Peter Rowe, the deputy school superintendent for administration and finance. Visitors at this meeting included Susan Wolf Ditkoff, chair of the School Committee, Barbara Scotto, vice chair of the School Committee, and Carla Benka, vice chair of the Advisory Committee. The Brookline School Committee had held its legally required annual budget hearing on March 26, with slim attendance–including no Advisory Committee members–and only one public comment.

School budgets: The schools subcommittee has traditionally been the most difficult Advisory assignment–partly because of size of and complexity in the budget and partly because of the limited influence of town meetings. Under Massachusetts laws from 1939 through 1980, school committees were effectively taxing authorities. If a town meeting did not appropriate at least as much as a school committee asked, a “ten taxpayer” lawsuit could compel the town to raise more taxes and provide the full amount.

The “Proposition 2-1/2″ law, enacted by voters [Chapter 580 of the Acts of 1980], ended the fiscal autonomy of Massachusetts school committees. However, while town meetings now regulate total amounts of money for schools, they can only recommend how money should be spent. [Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 71, Section 34] School committees allocate the funds appropriated among school programs. The role of the Advisory Committee remains, in part, finding opportunities for efficiency.

Special education: The Advisory subcommittee spent much of its meeting on costs of “special education”–really a misnomer here. Brookline began to provide compensatory services to students with learning disabilities in the 1960s, well before state and federal mandates. Mr. Rowe explained that Brookline has been managing costs during recent years by providing compensatory services directly to more students, within the current schools, rather than sending them to outside programs. However, all students remain eligible for individual evaluations, and some students are still sent outside.

It was not clear whether subcommittee members grasped that the “special education” services, as seen by the school administration, are part of a continuum. A greater variety of services is available today than fifty years ago, when former Superintendent Robert I. Sperber–still an active Brookline resident–began to develop “individualized education.” Mr. Sandman estimated current spending on special education, per student in these programs, as equivalent to about half the cost of a teacher, on average.

Information technology: Information technology has been a growth area in recent budgets, particularly for school programs. In 1979, Dr. Sperber proposed buying four specially configured minicomputers for classroom instruction but chose not to proceed after hearing arguments that microcomputers were about to produce a cost revolution, which would soon make it practical to serve far more students.

With handheld computers widely available, fruits of the revolution have ripened, leaving some now saying Brookline public schools are lagging behind. As the subcommittee saw, costs for equipment are now far outweighed by costs for personnel. Municipal and school organizations supposedly share an information technology department, but the whole picture is more complex and far more costly.

Information technology department, p. IV-14
1 chief information officer
1 applications director
1 network manager
1 Web developer
1 GIS developer
1 systems analyst
2 network administrators
1 database administrator
1 help-desk technician
1 senior programmer
1 administrative assistant
—————————–
12 employees
$1.06 million in salaries

Schools information services, p. 113
1 application manager
2 application support specialists
1 data management director
1 desktop services manager
4 technicians
—————————–
8 employees
$0.62 million in salaries

Schools education technology, pp. 98-99
1 curriculum coordinator
10 educational technologists
1 secretary
—————————–
12 employees
$0.88 million in salaries

There are, in effect, three Brookline information technology departments: the one given that name and budgeted as a municipal department, plus two with different names funded as internal school agencies. Spread among them are a total of about 32 employees, $2.6 million in salaries and $0.5 million in direct benefits–estimated at the average Brookline spending for direct benefits, or about $15,900 per employee proposed for FY2016.

Brookline’s information technology currently has a structure heavy with administration, similar to trends in educational institutions. For a staff count of just over 30, there are ten titles of “officer,” “director,” “manager,” “administrator” and “coordinator”–a management ratio of about 3. Technology industries are far more efficient, with typical professional management ratios of 8 to 12. A well organized staff of that size would need about three instead of ten managers and would have fewer overlapping jobs.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 5, 2015


School Committee: budget bounties and woes, Brookline Beacon, March 13, 2015

Craig Bolon, Brookline’s workforce: signs of strain, Brookline Beacon, January 9, 2015

School Committee: Driscoll plans, policies, technology and testing, Brookline Beacon, May 27, 2014

FY2016 Superintendent’s budget message, Public Schools of Brookline, MA, March 12, 2015

FY2016 Program Budget (public schools), Town of Brookline, MA (39 MB)

FY2016 Program Budget (municipal agencies and departments), Town of Brookline, MA (16 MB)

Paul F. Campos, The real reason college tuition costs so much, New York Times, April 5, 2015

Board of Selectmen: personnel, policies and budget reviews

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, March 31, started at 6:10 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board reviewed personnel changes, policies and budgets proposed for the fiscal year starting in July.

Contracts, personnel and finances: Peter Rowe, the deputy school superintendent for administration and finance, who will retire at the end of June, asked the board to submit a “statement of interest” to the state School Building Authority for expansion of Brookline High School. Such a project could easily dwarf spending on Devotion School expansion and renovation, recently estimated at up to $120 million. Board member Ben Franco mentioned “trying to keep the price tag down.” Then the board approved the submission.

As requested by Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, the board approved a reallocation of sources for the $0.65 million in support it approved last November 25 for the Beals St. subsidized housing project being carried out in collaboration with Pine St. Inn of Boston. About $0.03 million more will be spent from federal Community Development funds and correspondingly less from local Housing Trust funds. Brookline has yet to publish on its Web site a comprehensive description and full cost analysis for this project.

Paul Ford, the fire chief, presented three candidates for promotions. Long-serving Deputy Chief Mark Jefferson recently retired. Kyle McEachern was promoted from captain to deputy chief. Stephen Nelson was promoted from temporary captain to captain. Michael Kelleher was promoted from temporary lieutenant to lieutenant.

Melissa Battite, the assistant recreation director, got approval to hire for business manager replacing Jesse Myott, who took a new job. The Recreation Department recently activated a partly dysfunctional Web site, pointed to by but not integrated with the municipal site, that is costing taxpayers extra money while making it difficult or impossible to find information about personnel and internal operations.

Interviews and policies: The board interviewed Kathleen Scanlon for Climate Action, Frank Caro for Cable TV and Jennifer Goldsmith for Commission on Women. Scott Englander, who co-chairs “Complete Streets” with board member Neil Wishinsky, presented a draft policy and work plan. So far, the documents are unavailable on the municipal Web site.

As applied to Brookline, the cute catchphrase “Complete Streets” looks to mean, essentially, streets with bicycle paths. Brookline currently has none. It has only painted pavement markings and a few signs. The town blew away its biggest opportunity to install some when spending millions of dollars to reconstruct Beacon St. several years ago. Boston recently promoted bicycle paths when proposing to reconstruct Commonwealth Ave. between the B.U. Bridge and Packard Corner. No price tags, sources of funds or schedules have yet been disclosed.

Licenses and permits: Taverna DeHaro, on Beacon St., and Washington St. Tavern got board approval for alternate managers of alcoholic beverage sales. As is now usual board procedure, neither sent a representative to the board meeting.

Budget reviews: The board reviewed budgets proposed by Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, for the Health Department, the new Diversity Department, Veterans’ Services and the Council on Aging. At the budget reviews so far, the board has been asking few questions about finances. The current Board of Selectmen has struck some as lacking interest in financial matters. Instead, community values and priorities have been emerging largely from the Advisory Committee.

Brookline Interactive continues to record meetings of the board on video, but the recordings may not appear on the Web until two or more weeks later. As of April 3, the most recent one available was from March 10. The Brookline channel, whose studios moved from privately owned space on Amory St. to the former Manual Training Building at the high school, now behaves as though it were an organ of the school dept. It currently features seven so-called “forums” with the superintendent that are more recent than the latest Board of Selectmen video.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 3, 2015


Scott Englander, Brookline Complete Streets Policy Development Overview, Complete Streets Study Committee, draft of March 23, 2015 Found as scans in a hidden file from the Board of Selectmen and converted to a text document.

Planning Board: review of Devotion School plans, Brookline Beacon, January 18, 2015

Housing Advisory Board: new assisted housing and expiring assistance programs, Brookline Beacon, November 9, 2014

Craig Bolon, Brookline bicycle crashes: patterns and factors, Brookline Beacon, August 16, 2014

Craig Bolon, Bicycle markings: unsuccessful in B.U. neighborhoods, Brookline Beacon, November 9, 2014

Advisory Committee: in a generous mood, Brookline Beacon, March 17, 2015

Town elections: contests town-wide and in precincts

At the 5 pm filing deadline on March 17 for Brookline’s 2015 town elections, scheduled for Tuesday, May 5, contests emerged for Board of Selectmen and for School Committee–as well as for town meeting seats in six precincts. Candidates have until April 2 to withdraw their names.

Board of Selectmen: Current members of the Board of Selectmen Ken Goldstein and Betsy DeWitt, whose terms are expiring, had announced they would not run for re-election and did not file nomination papers with the town clerk. Five new candidates filed: town meeting members Merelice of Precinct 6, Bernard Greene of Precinct 7, Nancy Heller of Precinct 8 and Pam Lodish of Precinct 14, and Larry Onie, a Marshall St. resident.

Mr. Greene, Ms. Heller and Ms. Lodish were members of the Advisory Committee until they decided to run for Board of Selectmen and resigned, following policies set by the current moderator, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, who is unopposed for re-election. Ms. Heller and Ms. Lodish are also former elected members of the School Committee. Mr. Onie was a member of the former Human Relations and Youth Resources Commission.

Other town-wide: Current member of the School Committee Abigail Schoenbaum Cox, whose term is expiring, did not file nomination papers with the town clerk. Elizabeth Jackson Stram, a Powell St. resident, and Sandra L. Stotsky, a Clark Rd. resident, filed for School Committee. Ms. Stotsky has been a member of the Democratic Town Committee.

Current School Committee members Pen-Hau Ben Chang and Barbara C. Scotto filed for re-election. Town Clerk Patrick J. Ward, Housing Authority board member Barbara B. Dugan, and Library Trustees Carol Axelrod, Vivien E. Goldman, Regina Healy and Carol Troyen Lohe are unopposed for re-election. Terms for Housing Authority are five years. Regular terms for other offices, not filling vacancies, are three years.

Town meeting members: There will be more candidates than available town meeting seats in Precincts 1, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 12. The other ten precincts have what political wags sometimes call “beauty contests,” with five candidates for five seats providing three-year terms. Candidates vie to see who can get the most votes. Owing to resignations, there are one-year terms up for election in Precincts 4, 14 and 15–with one candidate filing in Precincts 4 and 15. No one filed for a one-year seat in Precinct 14.

In Precinct 1, Peter J. Ames of Ivy St., an unsuccessful candidate in each town election from 2008 through 2014, is contesting with the five incumbent town meeting members: Cathleen C. Cavell, Elijah Ercolino, Neil R. Gordon, Carol B. Hillman and Sean M. Lynn-Jones. At Advisory Committee the evening of March 17, Mr. Lynn-Jones was elected chair. He replaces Harry K. Bohrs, from Precinct 3, who had recently resigned because of increased pressures of work at his law office.

In Precinct 4, incumbent Edith R. Brickman chose not to run, while new candidates Jeremy Michael Shaw of Washington St. and Sarah T. Boehs of Aspinwall Ave. filed. In Precinct 5, retiring member of the Board of Selectmen Betsy DeWitt is contesting with the five incumbent town meeting members: Robert S. Daves, Betsy Shure Gross, Phyllis R. O’Leary, William E. Reyelt and Claire B. Stampfer.

In Precinct 6, new candidate Daniel Saltzman of White Pl. is contesting with incumbents John Bassett, Christopher Dempsey, Virginia W. LaPlante, Ian Polumbaum and Robert I. Sperber. Dr. Sperber is a previous superintendent of Brookline public schools and founder of the Economic Development Advisory Board. This is a precinct noted for political activity and sometimes for sharp elbows.

In Precinct 7, incumbent Sloan K. Sable chose not to run, while new candidates Susan Granoff of Vernon St., Keith A Duclos of Vernon St., Crystal A. Johnson of Harvard Ave. and Stacey Zelbow Provost of Washburn Pl. filed. In Precinct 12, A. Joseph Ross of Washington St., a former town meeting member in another precinct, is contesting with the five incumbents: Lee Cooke-Childs, Chad S. Ellis, Amy Hummel, Mark J. Lowenstein and Judy Meyers.

A key element: One factor in the elections is likely to be candidates’ positions on May 5 ballot questions about a tax override and a debt exclusion, both intended mainly to benefit Brookline public schools. More than 80 percent of a $7.7 million permanent tax override is slated to be spent for schools. The proposed, temporary debt exclusion is to expand and renovate Devotion School, on Harvard St. near Coolidge Corner.

–Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015


Election information, Town Clerk of Brookline, MA, March, 2015

Precinct map, Information Technology Dept., Town of Brookline, MA, 2012

Board of Selectmen: $7.665 million tax override, Brookline Beacon, February 12, 2015

School Committee: budget bounties and woes

A regular meeting of the School Committee on Thursday, March 12, started at 6:00 pm, held in the fifth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The main event was the FY2016 budget proposal from William Lupini and Peter Rowe, the school superintendent and the deputy superintendent for administration, which had been delayed twice. Also on the original agenda for March 12, but postponed for a fourth time, was a review of school administration, coordinated by the Collins Center for Public Management, from the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

Others on hand from the School Department for the budget review were Jennifer Fischer-Mueller, the deputy superintendent for teaching, and Mary Ellen Dunn, the incoming deputy superintendent for administration after Mr. Rowe retires at the end of June. School Committee members Benjamin Chang, the chair of the finance subcommittee, and Michael Glover, newly elected last spring, missed the meeting. Jessica Wender-Shubow, president of the Brookline Educators Union, was there. The Advisory Committee blanked the meeting, instead scheduling three subcommittee hearings and a full Advisory review of the police budget. It could easily have scheduled those for the previous evening, when there were no meetings at Town Hall.

No member of the Board of Selectmen came, even though the board recently proposed a permanent, $7.665 million per year tax override, primarily to support the school budget. There were four members of the public, two of whom left midway through the budget presentations. One who stayed was Pamela Lodish, a former member of the School Committee and Advisory Committee who has taken out papers to run for a seat on the Board of Selectmen this spring, after announcing opposition to the tax override, along with a group of some well known residents.

Two budgets: The school budget for the fiscal year starting next July is complicated. As Dr. Lupini explained, it is really two budgets: one to be followed if voters pass the proposed override and the other to be followed if they do not. Under the no-override budget, Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, has proposed $0.68 million in municipal service cutbacks, allocating the money saved to help schools cope with increasing enrollment.

If the override passes, Dr. Lupini and Mr. Klecker have proposed to use only about $6.2 million of $7.7 million authorized during fiscal 2016, reducing the impact on taxes for that fiscal year. Dr. Lupini expressed concerns about state funding for education, saying Brookline now expects to lose about $0.25 million in support for full day kindergarten. He said Brookline stands at risk of higher increases in health-care costs than anticipated by current budget proposals.

Budget bounties, with a tax override: In recent years, Dr. Lupini claimed that although Public Schools of Brookline managed, for the most part, to hold back increases in class sizes during years of rising enrollment, it has not been able to maintain levels of support services. As summarized by Mr. Rowe, following is the added school spending proposed if Brookline voters pass the tax override:

• $1.11 million/year for more “interventional” coaching staff
• $0.79 million/year for additional salary increases
• $0.49 million/year for more nurses and counselors
• $0.40 million/year for more administrators
• $0.39 million/year for “technology” equipment and staff
• $0.31 million/year for more special education teachers
• $0.26 million/year for increased “contingency” funds
• $0.18 million/year for staff during Devotion construction
• $0.13 million/year for other items
$4.06 million/year total school spending added in FY2016

Of those amounts, only the $0.49 million for nurses and counselors was clearly associated with enrollment growth. That would add traditional school service staff Dr. Lupini says were needed but whom Public Schools of Brookline could not previously afford. The remainder of the added spending appears to create or substantially expand programs beyond traditional curriculum and beyond service levels currently offered.

Dr. Lupini argued, for example, that “interventional” coaching has been overstressed as a result of enrollment growth. At the Thursday meeting, Dr. Fisher-Mueller, the deputy superintendent for teaching, argued that the leveling off of test scores seen in recent years reflects shortfalls in school services. However, she did not provide data to substantiate the claim. It was also not clear whether spending more money to raise test scores would prove consistent with Brookline’s community values.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to investigate such claims with information readily available to the public. Unlike the municipal department budgets published on February 17 this year, Public Schools of Brookline has not published a timely and detailed annual financial plan describing a proposed budget, comparing it with past budgets and measuring spending amounts against documented performance factors and objectives.

Budget woes, without a tax override: If operating the schools without a tax override, even with the $0.682 million Mr. Kleckner proposes to contribute by cutting municipal services, Dr. Lupini will be faced with needs for cutbacks. As summarized by Mr. Rowe, following are the reductions in school spending he proposed if Brookline voters do not pass the tax override:

• $0.65 million/year saved with 10 fewer classroom teachers
• $0.31 million/year saved with no “gifted and talented” program
• $0.20 million/year saved by cutting other expenses
$1.16 million/year total school spending cuts in FY2016

Public Schools of Brookline now labels the “gifted and talented” program as “enrichment and challenge support.” It is part of the “interventional” coaching that Dr. Lupini would like to expand with a tax override. Dr. Lupini had previously said that expansions to the elementary school world languages program would have to be ended if there were no override this year, but on Thursday he did not propose to do that. However, he said it would probably happen the following year. Those were implemented after voters approved the previous tax override in 2008.

Sharp-eyed readers will surely notice that the sum of the extra spending proposed with an override and the cutbacks proposed without one, $4.06 plus $1.16 plus $0.68 million–or $5.9 million–is substantially less than the $6.2 million Dr. Lupini said would be used in FY2016 from a $7.7 million override. He did not explain the discrepancy.

Budget review: At first, School Committee members hesitated with questions. After the meeting, Mr. Rowe mentioned that they had received copies of the budget message by e-mail only that afternoon. Committee member Lisa Jackson wanted to know what would happen in the next two years without an override. Dr. Lupini said there were likely to be more cutbacks and larger class sizes.

Rather than questioning the substance of budget proposals, committee members seemed to be groping for ways to explain them. Committee member Rebecca Stone asked what a new “parent center” would do, if funded through the override. Dr. Lupini said that the main job was registering new students–done in past years at each of the schools. He said a centralized staff could provide a more “consistent message.”

With or without an override, Dr. Lupini proposed to spend $0.59 million more in the next fiscal year on elementary school teachers and support staff, to address rising enrollment, and to spend $0.50 million more on administration and support for Devotion School during construction, while students are divided among two or more sites. One might expect that any such extra spending for Devotion School would end when the new school opens, but Dr. Lupini did not say.

Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, March 13, 2015


William Lupini, Superintendent’s FY2016 budget message, Public Schools of Brookline, MA, March 12, 2015

Peter C. Rowe, FY2016 base budget, override vs. no override, Public Schools of Brookline, MA, March 12, 2015

Melvin Kleckner, Summary of Brookline FY2016 financial plan, Town of Brookline, MA, February 17, 2015

Financial Plan, FY2016, Town of Brookline, MA (15 MB)

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, financial plan, Brookline Beacon, February 21, 2015

Board of Selectmen: $7.665 million tax override, Brookline Beacon, February 12, 2015

School budget: cancel world languages, gifted & talented, Brookline Beacon, November 11, 2014

Hancock Village: development pressures

Chestnut Hill Realty, the owner and manager of Hancock Village in south Brookline and West Roxbury, has been pushing in recent years to build new, partly subsidized housing on currently unoccupied parts of the property that are located in Brookline–using powers under Chapter 40B of the General Laws to override Brookline zoning. It has not sought similar development on parts of the property in West Roxbury.

Since more than 10 percent of Boston’s housing units qualify as “affordable” under 40B standards, Chestnut Hill Realty cannot force a 40B development on West Roxbury. However, it would be less likely to want to, since the potential value of Brookline apartments is greater because of the draw of Brookline public schools. The company is also trying to raise the value of existing apartments with major renovations.

Potential evictions: From appearances, Chestnut Hill Realty might be trying to replace older residents at Hancock Village with younger ones. Several long-term residents have received lease-cancellation notices delivered by constables, and some are terrified of being evicted.

One of the notices from Chestnut Hill Realty said that “you occupy one of [the] original type apartments we will be renovating…this is to inform you that our office will not be renewing your lease at the end of the current term, and that it our intent to terminate your tenancy…you are required to vacate the apartment…on or before June 30….”

The company offered the tenants who stand at risk of being evicted “a $1000 relocation benefit” and “special rental pricing” if they “sign a new contract [by] April 30,” and it also offered them “special financial incentives…to move out earlier.”

Capturing value: The drift of Chestnut Hill Realty’s management is to capture value for the company from Brookline’s support of public schools. If the occupancy of the currently proposed 40B development were to mirror Brookline’s average, the development might add around 50 students in Brookline schools. However, Chestnut Hill Realty has been targeting rental marketing to foreigners with school-age children.

Neighborhood residents fear the 40B development might bring in 200 or more students. Because many of them might have little English proficiency, they could also be unusually costly to educate. During the Board of Appeals hearings over the proposed 40B development, Chestnut Hill Realty did back away from some components of its plans, including lofts in low-rise units, but the plans still include many apartments with 3 and 4 bedrooms.

Meeting responsibilities: A longstanding complaint from residents of south Brookline, echoed by members of the Board of Selectmen and other town boards, is that Chestnut Hill Realty has been trying to bypass responsibilities under an agreement between the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company and the Town of Brookline, shortly before the 1946 annual town meeting, which enacted zoning to allow Hancock Village.

The agreement was a critical element in persuading Brookline to change its zoning. If is reproduced in full in the 1946 town meeting records. John Hancock Co. agreed that any development would be “high-grade garden village type,” that no buildings would be over 2-1/2 stories, that the land area occupied by buildings would not be over 20 percent of the total and that no more than 25 percent of the housing units would be “horizontally divided.” The company agreed that those restrictions would become binding on “successors and assigns,” of which Chestnut Hill Realty and subsidiaries are the most recent.

With support from abutters and neighbors, in November, 2013, the Town of Brookline filed a lawsuit in Norfolk Superior Court, seeking a declaration that the Mass. Development Finance Agency had failed to follow state laws and regulations in certifying eligibility of the proposed development and also seeking a declaration that the restrictions of the 1946 agreement apply to the project.

Overcoming objections: The defendants in the 2013 superior court suit, Mass. Development and Residences of South Brookline, objected that Brookline had failed to exhaust administrative remedies before seeking judicial review and that the 1946 agreement was a “deed restriction,” expiring after 30 years under Chapter 183, Section 23, of the General Laws.

Judge Patrick F. Brady of Norfolk Superior Court dismissed the 2013 lawsuit on both grounds in September, 2014. Although he provided only a bare outline of reasons, he relied on an obsolete case, Marion v. Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency, in evaluating administrative remedies, and he did not appear to consider two recent cases in evaluating the 1946 contract: Killorin v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Andover and Samuelson v. Planning Board of Orleans. (All cases before the Massachusetts Court of Appeals)

In November, 2014, Brookline and the neighborhood parties filed in the Court of Appeals, seeking to reverse the dismissal on both its grounds. [case 2014-P-1817] The neighborhood participants include Judith Leichtner, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, who has appeared at many government meetings and volunteered as a contact.

The Town of Brookline and neighborhood participants argue that in 2008, after the Marion decision in 2007, the state changed its regulations for Chapter 40B developments, providing no administrative review after a project is found eligible. They also argue that the Killorin and Samuelson cases establish that restrictions resulting from zoning actions are not deed restrictions and do not expire under Chapter 183 in 30 years.

Going forward: Briefs from both sides have been filed for the Court of Appeals case, as of February 12, 2015, and the case looks ready for motions and arguments. However, as of February 21 it had not appeared on a docket. If the Court of Appeals reverses the dismissal of the original case, that case will be reactivated in Norfolk Superior Court for arguments on its merits.

Meanwhile, as expected for many weeks, the Brookline Zoning Board of Appeals has granted a comprehensive permit for the proposed Hancock Village Chapter 40B development, filed with the town clerk February 20. At its most recent meeting, the Board of Selectmen suggested that they may challenge that permit, saying they will be considering it at their meeting on Tuesday, February 24. An executive session has been proposed for 5:30 pm on the agenda, about “litigation.”

Given the high potential values and costs involved, it is possible that the case may wind through more stages of review in court, no matter what the next outcome. If the 1946 agreement remains effective, then its land coverage restrictions are likely to be of much interest. Current zoning, enacted in 1962, allows a maximum floor-area ratio of 0.50 in the Hancock Village M-0.5 apartment zone and 0.35 in the S-7 “greenbelt” area near Russett and Beverly Rds.

The 1946 agreement’s restrictions–written before Brookline’s zoning bylaw regulated by floor-area ratio–may be equivalent to a maximum floor-area ratio lower than current Brookline zoning for Hancock Village. However, there appears to be no recent, systematic analysis of as-built dimensions in the Brookline parts of Hancock Village and no systematic comparison with the 1946 restrictions.

A so-called “density analysis” sent to Jesse Geller of the Zoning Board of Appeals in October last year by Alison Steinfeld, the director of planning and community development, uses an antiquated measure, “dwelling units per acre,” that does not accurately reflect town or neighborhood impacts and does not correspond either with current Brookline zoning or with restrictions contained in the 1946 agreement.

In a presentation to the Board of Appeals made in January, 2014, the Hancock Village developer claimed, “The current Floor Area Ratio (FAR) is only 0.29.” [p. 20 of 76] That document did not describe the basis for its claim. If the 1946 agreement is upheld, then no more development might be possible in the Brookline parts of Hancock Village.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, February 22, 2015


Comprehensive permit for The Residences of South Brookline, LLC, on the site of Hancock Village, Zoning Board of Appeals, Town of Brookline, MA, February 20, 2015 (4 MB)

Town of Brookline and others v. Mass. Development Financing Agency and others, Massachusetts Court of Appeals case 2014-P-1817, filed November 14, 2014

Samuelson v. Planning Board of Orleans, Massachusetts Court of Appeals case 2013-P-1418, 86 Mass. App. Ct. 901, decided July 2, 2014

Killorin v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Andover, Massachusetts Court of Appeals case 2010-P-1655, 80 Mass. App. Ct. 655, decided May 5, 2011

Town of Marion v. Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency, Massachusetts Court of Appeals case 2005-P-1848, 68 Mass. App. Ct. 208, decided February 12, 2007

Hancock Village 1946 Agreement, Article 23, Annual Town Meeting, March 19, 1946, from Brookline, MA, 1946 Annual Town Report, pp. 32-34

Hancock Village 40B project eligibility application, PreserveBrookline and South Brookline Neighborhood Association, August 28, 2013

Alison C. Steinfeld to Jesse Geller, Density analysis, Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development, October 20, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals Presentation, The Residences of South Brookline, January 16, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B conditions, Brookline Beacon, January 6, 2015

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, parking and traffic, Brookline Beacon, November 25, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, getting to Yes, Brookline Beacon, November 4, 2014

Board of Selectmen: opposing Hancock Village 40B, defending METCO, Brookline Beacon, September 17, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: architecture for Hancock Village Chapter 40B, Brookline Beacon, September 9, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: Chapter 40B project at Hancock Village, Brookline Beacon, June 20, 2014

Setting the record straight: claims related to the development of Hancock Village, PreserveBrookline, undated

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, financial plan

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, February 17, started at 7:35 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The agenda focused on the town administrator’s financial plan for the fiscal year starting next July.

Hancock Village Chapter 40B project: In public comment, Judith Leichtner, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, questioned the board’s commitment to resisting a large, partly subsidized housing development proposed at Hancock Village in south Brookline by subsidiaries of Chestnut Hill Realty, the owner and manager.

It has been obvious for weeks that the Zoning Board of Appeals will the allow the development, with a decision expected to be recorded in days. “Will you be appealing this terrible ZBA decision?” asked Ms. Leichtner. “Will you be hiring outside counsel with experience litigating 40B? What action will you be pursuing to…protect historic property?”

Ken Goldstein, the board’s chair, said that the board “will be discussing [litigation] next week in executive session…we have time…we are aware of the deadline.” Left unsaid: for a Board of Selectmen to sue the Board of Appeals that it appointed would appear to put the community in conflict with itself–a house divided.

Contracts, personnel and finances: David Geanakakis, the chief procurement officer, received approval for a $0.38 million lease-purchase agreement with TD Bank. It will fund a set of DPW equipment anticipated in the current capital improvement plan. Stephen Cirillo, the finance director, got the board to certify expected operating life of at least 10 years for a new fire engine, a bonding issue.

Licenses and permits:Hui Di Chen of Melrose, formerly involved with Sakura restaurant in Winchester and the proposed new manager of Genki Ya restaurant at 398 Harvard St., spoke for applications to transfer licenses held by the current manager. Mr. Chen seemed unprepared for some of the board’s questions. He had not sought out training provided by the Police Department on managing alcoholic beverage sales under the Brookline regulations. The board opted to hold the applications and reconsider them at a later date. Board records contain several misspellings of names.

Haim Cohen of Brookline received a license for a restaurant he plans to open on the former site of Beauty Supply, at 326 Harvard St. To be called Pure Cold Press, it was described as a “juice and salad bar.” He has a major shortfall of parking under Brookline zoning and will also need approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Financial plan: Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, presented a financial plan for the fiscal year starting next July, assisted by Sean Cronin, the outgoing deputy town administrator, and by his replacement in the position, Melissa Goff. The main outlines do not include revenue from a tax override of $7.665 million per year that the board proposed on February 10. However, Mr. Kleckner’s plan shows how municipal agencies would use a share of those funds, if voters approve the override.

Without funds from the proposed override, Mr. Kleckner had to propose substantial cutbacks in the municipal programs and agencies. Rental assistance from the Council on Aging would suffer a 25 percent cut, as would part-time Library assistants. Vacant positions in the Police Department and Fire Department would go unfilled. Park ranger, gardener and laborer positions in Public Works would be eliminated, reducing services. Several older vehicles would not be replaced. The Health Department would lose its day-care center inspectors and trim its contribution to Brookline Mental Health by 25 percent.

If voters approve the proposed tax override next May, these cuts would be restored, costing an estimated $0.682 million per year from the proposed $7.665 million per year in override funding. Left unsaid: Public Schools of Brookline has a more difficult problem to solve. If voters reject the proposed override, there will be $6.983 million per year less in funding that could support school programs and departments.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, February 21, 2015


Brookline municipal agency and program reductions, FY2016, without tax override, February 17, 2015

Melvin Kleckner, Summary of Brookline FY2016 financial plan, Town of Brookline, MA, February 17, 2015

Financial Plan, FY2016, Town of Brookline, MA (15 MB)

Board of Selectmen: $7.665 million tax override, Brookline Beacon, February 12, 2015

Craig Bolon, Public schools: decoding a tax override, Brookline Beacon, January 7, 2015

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B conditions, Brookline Beacon, January 6, 2015

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, getting to Yes, Brookline Beacon, November 4, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: architecture for Hancock Village Chapter 40B, Brookline Beacon, September 9, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: Chapter 40B project at Hancock Village, Brookline Beacon, June 20, 2014

Judith Leichtner, Comments to Brookline Zoning Board of Appeals on proposed chapter 40B development at Hancock Village, September 8, 2014

Brock Parker, Developer gets green light to pursue a 40B project in Brookline, Boston Globe, October 24, 2013

Advisory subcommittee on capital: school-building projects

On Wednesday, January 14, the Advisory subcommittee on capital met in the third-floor conference room at Town Hall, starting at 11:00 am. Four of the five subcommittee members were there–all except Amy Hummel–along with Sean Cronin, the deputy town administrator. The meeting attracted another member of the Advisory Committee, three School Committee members, a Planning Board member, a Precinct 7 town meeting member and parents from the Baker and Driscoll School districts.

The unusually large turnout for an Advisory subcommittee meeting on a weekday morning suggested strong interest in plans for school expansion and renovation, heading the agenda. At the May 5 town election, the Board of Selectmen is now widely expected to propose a Proposition 2-1/2 debt exclusion for Devotion School expansion and renovation, as well as a Proposition 2-1/2 “operating” tax override, mainly for public schools.

Past projects: So far, Brookline has performed two school-building projects using Proposition 2-1/2 debt exclusions:

• New Lincoln School construction, December 1, 1990, by vote of 5,919 to 2,963
• High School renovation, December 12, 1995, by vote of 4,648 to 3,038

In different past elections, Brookline voters also approved two Proposition 2-1/2 “operating” tax overrides, partly to benefit public schools:

• $2.96 million per year, May 3, 1994, by vote of 5,958 to 5,072
• $6.20 million per year, May 6, 2008, by vote of 5,236 to 4,305

Future projects: Mr. Cronin told subcommittee members that a preliminary FY2016 capital improvements program he drafted for the Board of Selectmen already includes two additional school projects, beyond Devotion School, also likely to need Proposition 2-1/2 debt exclusions. A High School addition, slated for 2019, is currently estimated at $56 million.

A major project for elementary school expansion and renovations, slated for 2022 or later, is estimated at $48 million. The project description suggests a new, ninth elementary school as an alternative. In addition, the preliminary capital improvement program includes $2.3 million spread over five years for “classroom capacity.” Mr. Cronin cautioned that estimated costs are based on past projects, not on specific plans.

Subcommittee member Clifford Brown asked Mr. Cronin how Brookline voters would know how much of Brookline’s normal capital funding is being used for the Devotion project and how much is covered by debt exclusion. The answer surprised most of the subcommittee and the audience. Mr. Cronin said a debt exclusion ballot question only names a project and gives no financial information. Mark Gray, a Precinct 7 town meeting member, asked if a ballot question could specify only part of a project. Mr. Cronin said he did not think so. School Committee member Helen Charlupski remembered that the 1990s debt exclusion questions included amounts of funding.

It turns out that our Great and General Court changed the law about fifteen years ago. The ballot questions formerly specified amounts of money, but now they read like blank checks. It is up to the Board of Selectmen to tell voters what they mean to do. There are limits on funds, however. They are set by the state Department of Revenue, based on appropriations and bonding authorizations voted by town meetings.

Subcommittee members worried that Brookline was embarking on uneconomic spending. School Committee member David Pollak said that was not the case. Modular classrooms being planned for Baker School and rental space planned for Pierce, he said, were far less expensive than constructing new buildings. Subcommittee chair Carla Benka was concerned about overruns. Fred Levitan, a subcommittee member, recalled that the Town Hall and new Lincoln School projects had been completed on-time and on-budget.

Predicting capital improvements: Brookline’s capital improvement planning has not provided reliable predictions for most types of projects. A study published in 1979 by the Advisory Committee found almost no agreement between projects and predictions five years earlier. Recent years provide the following comparisons for major projects–$1 million and more–funded for the current year.

FY2015 major projects, funds in $millions

Project Predicted Predicted Predicted Actual
Description as of 2009 as of 2011 as of 2013 in FY2015
street rehabilitation $1.55 $1.55 $1.55 $1.55
landfill closure $4.60 $4.60 $4.60 $4.60
wastewater system none $3.00 none none
Village traffic system none none none $1.20
Reservoir Park $1.40 none none none
Baldwin School $1.78 none none none
Devotion School none $48.75 none none
Driscoll School* none none none $1.00
school classrooms none none none $1.75

            * A proposed Driscoll School project was rejected by the state and cancelled.

Source: Financial Plan documents, Town of Brookline, MA

Only routine Public Works projects were predicted reliably during this time period.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 16, 2015


Board of Selectmen: larger tax override, Brookline Beacon, January 14, 2014

Sean Cronin, Preliminary FY2016-FY2021 Capital Improvement Program, Town of Brookline, MA, January 13, 2015

Override Study Committee: $5 million tax override, plus Devotion School debt exclusion, Brookline Beacon, July 31, 2014

Financial Plan, FY2015 and previous years, Town of Brookline, MA

Public schools: decoding a tax override

Tuesday evening, January 6, leadership of Brookline public schools began to decode some mysteries of their tax override proposals–for those willing to stay through a 4-1/2-hour meeting of the Board of Selectmen to well past 10 pm. Elements of the newly decoded override can be found in a document on the municipal Web site.

Instead of “One-time funds,” “Catch-up,” “Enhancement” and “Info tech,” William Lupini, the superintendent, and Peter Rowe, the assistant superintendent for administration and finance, explained proposals mostly using typical school spending categories, helping to answer the question, “What does it buy?” Not surprisingly, Dr. Lupini and Mr. Rowe ask Brookline voters to fund more teachers, support staff and administrators.

Options: As in past reviews, they continue to advertise three override options, calling them “65 percent,” “90 percent” and “100 percent”–begging the obvious question, “Percent of what?” Here these are called A, B and C–in the same order. The following Budget Table shows school spending categories, current budgets and proposed budget additions for three override options, as organized by Dr. Lupini and Mr. Rowe. Amounts are in millions of dollars. Those called “current” are fiscal year 2015 budgets for the categories. Those called options A, B and C represent budget additions over three years following an override.

Budget Table

Category Current A B C
K8 classroom teachers $22.69 $1.32 $1.60 $1.60
HS classroom teachers $10.63 -$0.36 $0.78 $0.78
Student services $3.20 $0.94 $0.94 $0.94
Elementary world language (K6) $1.04 -$1.04 $0.21 $0.21
Central administration $2.27 $0.32 $0.32 $0.32
Vice principals $1.07 $0.11 $0.11 $0.11
HS administration $0.74 $0.11 $0.21 $0.21
Steps to success $0.30 $0.00 $0.15 $0.15
ECS $0.39 -$0.31 $0.25 $0.25
Literacy specialists $1.55 $0.51 $0.51 $0.51
Math specialists $1.03 $0.55 $0.55 $0.55
2nd-grade paraprofessionals $0.00 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
Professional learning/innovation $0.20 $0.12 $0.12 $0.12
Nurses $1.03 $0.15 $0.15 $0.15
ETF $1.08 $0.09 $0.09 $0.09
Social workers $0.38 $0.10 $0.10 $0.10
Custodial repair & maintenance $2.21 $0.17 $0.17 $0.17
Instructional materials & supplies $1.79 $0.22 $0.22 $0.22
Special education and ELL $8.74 $2.33 $2.33 $2.33
Educational technology $2.63 $1.54 $1.54 $1.54

Source: Public Schools of Brookline

Dr. Lupini and Mr. Rowe used abbreviations, perhaps known to school mavens:
K8    kindergarten through eighth grade
K6    kindergarten through sixth grade
HS    high school
ECS  enrichment and challenge support a/k/a gifted and talented program
ETF  educational team facilitator a/k/a special education supervisor
ELL  English language learners

Budget cuts: Although the Board of Selectmen previously asked Dr. Lupini for a budget to be used if there is no override, he did not provide one. However, option A–the smallest override–shows that budget cuts are likely if there is no override and tells what might be cut. It includes some budget cuts even when an override is passed.

In the table, amounts shown in bold are negative amounts–budget cuts–all in option A, the smallest override. That option would cancel the so-called “world language” program for elementary schools, which voters funded in the 2008 override, dismissing all 15 teachers. Option A would also dismiss all four teachers who staff the so-called “ECS” (gifted and talented) program and would dismiss four high school teachers.

In those proposed cuts, Dr. Lupini and Mr. Rowe appear to value “educational technology”–whatever that might mean–as more important than 23 teachers. They would cut about $1.7 million in teaching salaries and spend about $1.5 million of that on “educational technology.” Although three members of the School Committee were present at the January 6 review, none spoke up. It was not clear whether the School Committee agreed with those priorities.

Fuzzy numbers: The numbers in the Budget Table can’t be added to get meaningful totals. According to Mr. Rowe, they don’t all mean the same thing. Some, like the amount for “educational technology,” mean total spending over three years.

Others, like the amount for “2nd-grade paraprofessionals,” look to mean spending in each year after an override. Many, like the amount for “Special education and ELL,” mean spending in the third year after an override, with less spending during the first and second years. According to Dr. Lupini, typical proportions are 0.5 of an indicated amount the first year, 0.8 of the amount the second year and the full amount the third year.

As an example of turning fuzzy numbers into meaningful ones, the following Spending Table estimates three years of spending for option C, the largest override proposed. It is based on an attempt to designate amounts for the Budget Table categories as total amounts (T), as level yearly amounts (L) or as growing amounts (G). From those designations, increases in spending under an option C override are then calculated for each of three years following the override. The latter will all be millions of dollars per year, and they can be totalled and averaged.

Spending Table

Category Type Year 1 Year 2 Year 3
K8 classroom teachers G $0.80 $1.28 $1.60
HS classroom teachers G $0.39 $0.62 $0.78
Student services G $0.47 $0.76 $0.94
Elementary world language (K6) L $0.21 $0.21 $0.21
Central administration L $0.43 $0.43 $0.43
Vice principals L $0.32 $0.32 $0.32
HS administration L $0.43 $0.43 $0.43
Steps to success L $0.15 $0.15 $0.15
ECS G $0.13 $0.20 $0.25
Literacy specialists G $0.26 $0.41 $0.51
Math specialists G $0.28 $0.44 $0.55
2nd-grade paraprofessionals L $0.53 $0.53 $0.53
Professional learning/innovation T $0.09 $0.09 $0.09
Nurses L $0.24 $0.24 $0.24
ETF L $0.09 $0.09 $0.09
Social workers L $0.11 $0.11 $0.11
Custodial repair & maintenance T $0.06 $0.06 $0.06
Instructional materials & supplies T $0.12 $0.12 $0.12
Special education and ELL G $1.16 $1.86 $2.33
Educational technology T $0.59 $0.59 $0.59
Totals (by year) $6.83 $8.92 $10.31

Source: spreadsheet analysis

Getting to Yes: Through their Budget Table, Dr. Lupini and Mr. Rowe argued for an override of $12.6 million per year under option C, the largest proposed. Considerably less than that would actually be needed. Funding option C for three years takes an average of about $8.7 million per year, according to estimates in the Spending Table. If assumptions for that table needed changes, it would be an easy exercise to make them.

After such an override passed, there would be a revenue surplus the first year, a small deficit the second year and a larger deficit the third year. Public Schools of Brookline would need a stabilization fund, like the one municipal departments have long used, to match a flow of revenue with a different flow of spending. It becomes easier to persuade voters to support an override when the amount becomes smaller. Estimating spending year by year and using a stabilization fund provides a way to leverage programs from smaller overrides.

Of course, after an estimation period ends–three years in the example–then the revenue might not be enough to sustain programs, if the needs continue to increase. Brookline would have to review the situation again, but in the meantime the town would not be collecting more taxes than needed to provide services.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, January 7, 2015


William H. Lupini, Override budget scenarios, fiscal years 2016-2018, Public Schools of Brookline, January 6, 2015

Craig Bolon, School enrollment: no room in the inn, Brookline Beacon, December 26, 2014

Craig Bolon, Override schemes: lies, damned lies and budgets, Brookline Beacon, December 18, 2014

School enrollment: no room in the inn

This year’s 7,244 enrollment in Brookline public schools–kindergarten through high school–is the most ever, as reported to the state October 1. The previous peak of about 7,050 occurred in 1970. By the fall of 2010, enrollment growth was providing clear warnings that Brookline needed more school space.

BrooklineK8SchoolCensus1994to2015

Source: Massachusetts Department of Education

Those warnings were mostly ignored until 2013, when a committee formed by the Board of Selectmen produced a plan of sorts. Caught up in strong controversy after considering parks and playgrounds for school sites, that committee backed away, recommending an approach it called “expand in place”–meaning enlarging current schools. As some members knew, such an approach could prove extremely costly.

After falling gradually for over 15 years, Brookline’s student population had begun a steady rise in 2005. Between September, 2005, and September, 2014, the school census reported to the state for kindergarten through eighth grade rose from 3,896 to 5,353. The rate of increase for school years 2009 to 2011 was 3.8 percent per year. The rate declined to 2.7 percent per year for 2013 to 2015.

Growth might be slowing, but it will probably take at least two more years to know. For the past nine years, Brookline’s elementary-school population has been increasing by an average of about 160 students per year. At that rate, to maintain class sizes of no more than 25 students, the schools need about seven more classrooms each year. Once-surplus rooms and special-purpose rooms have been put in service as regular classrooms. Pre-kindergarten was moved to rented space, starting in 2012. There is almost nothing left.

Coping: At its meeting December 18, the School Committee heard from William Lupini, the school superintendent, about limits of using “expand in place.” A proposal for expanding Driscoll School had just been rejected by the state School Building Authority, leaving a small extension for Lawrence, now underway, and a major renovation for Devotion, recently endorsed by the state authority, as the works in progress.

The Devotion project has been described as adding about nine regular classrooms with about 30,000 square feet of new space. Much of the latter appears to be common and special-purpose space. The project cost is $110 to $120 million, as most recently estimated–in effect, about $13 million per new classroom. If Brookline were to add seven new classrooms a year in a similar fashion, through major renovations, it would be spending around $90 million a year on school construction–comparable to the budget for operating the public schools.

An “expand in place” approach, as implemented at Devotion, seems beyond what any community could afford. Dr. Lupini spoke about installing modular classrooms at Baker and about renting a commercial building to add space near Pierce. He said the Board of Selectmen had approved a consulting contract to search for privately owned land where another elementary school might be built (December 17, $60,825 with an outfit called Civic Moxie).

Perspective: Although School Committee members likely heard about these matters well before their December 18 meeting, they still looked a bit like starlings in a storm. Compared to some past committees, it is a fairly young and inexperienced one. Only Helen Charlupski has been involved with a major building project on a new school campus–the new Lincoln School on Kennard Rd., opened in 1994.

That type of experience is now rare. During the twentieth century, the only other such project was the Baker School on Beverly Rd., opened in 1939 and expanded in 1951 and 2000. Brookline had begun developing public schools in the 1840s, during the years of Horace Mann’s service. By the turn of the twentieth century, seven other large elementary school campuses and the current high school campus had already been built out.

A consultant’s review of Brookline schools from 1917 is revealing. It was performed by James H. Van Sickle, the superintendent of schools in Springfield, then well known as a former school superintendent in Denver and in Baltimore and as editor of Riverside Readers, distributed by Houghton-Mifflin. Mr. Van Sickle had consulted for Boston since 1901 and for Brookline since 1910; he also consulted for Bridgeport, CT.

At the time, Brookline taught nine grades of elementary school, starting at average age 5-1/2, four years of high school and voluntary half-day kindergartens. Students unable to pass a ninth-grade exit examination were turned over to the Manual Training School. Mr. Van Sickle documented class polarization in Brookline schools. He found strong student achievement at Driscoll, Runkle, Lawrence and Devotion Schools and weak achievement at Pierce, Lincoln and Heath.

Mr. Van Sickle found a cumulative dropout rate of 70 percent in 1916. starting in seventh grade. He correlated that with differential neglect of school buildings. The high school building, he warned, was also at high risk, because of a poorly protected heating plant. His key recommendation to reduce dropout, a junior high school, was never implemented. The former high school was largely destroyed in a 1936 fire.

Luxury schools: Brookline built the second Heath School and the second Devotion Primary School during the 1950s with fairly frugal plans. During the 1960s, under different administrations, the town began luxury spending. Misguided administrators seemed to think “open schooling” ideas then popular meant ways of designing classrooms, when they really meant ways of teaching students. Brookline’s tax rate rose as much as 20 percent a year during that era.

Adjusted for inflation, the third Pierce School–taking the site of the former Pierce Grammar School and two buildings on Harvard St.–cost more than twice as much per square foot as any previous Brookline elementary school. For that high price, Brookline bought misery. The leaky, noisy, uncomfortable building worked more like a factory than a school. Faulty construction led to years of repairs and lawsuits. Design errors led to years of changes, correcting some of the problems.

Brookline is once again spending heavily on a luxury school project–this time for Devotion School. The south wing is only about 60 years old, and the north wing is only about 40 years old. Nevertheless, the current plans are to demolish and replace both, although the north wing could be extended and both wings renovated for far less money. The center building will be retained and upgraded, even though it is about 100 years old. Spending for this project will likely crimp and cheapen Brookline’s other schools.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, December 26, 2014


Brookline school census reports for fiscal years 1994 through 2015, Massachusetts Department of Education, 2014

Craig Bolon, Devotion School: Option 0, a plan for a community, Brookline Beacon, September 14, 2014

Devotion School Building Committee: designs and controversies, Brookline Beacon, September 11, 2014

School Committee: Driscoll plans, policies, technology and testing, Brookline Beacon, May 27, 2014

Final report, School Population and Capacity Expansion Committee, Town of Brookline, MA, 2013

Roland S. Barth, Open Education and the American School, Agathon Press, 1972

James H. Van Sickle, Educational Survey of the Public Schools of Brookline, Massachusetts, Brookline School Committee, 1917

Override schemes: lies, damned lies and budgets

Without some change in direction, Brookline’s tax override for 2015 looks to have set course for a donnybrook. The community endured a long committee review, lasting from the middle of last year to the middle of this one. For every mystery that the recent override committee managed to unravel, it seemed to weave a new one.

Playing games: To most of the public, budget reviews are likely to look and sound like playing games. The 800-pound gorilla in the room this year has been the one-sided approach: big new tax revenue for school programs–combined with cutbacks, more fees or both for everything else. The gorilla is so huge it can’t really be hidden. At Board of Selectmen, two weeks ago, member Nancy Daly started to worry, asking Andrew Pappastergion, the public works director, “What can we offer people who don’t have kids in the schools?”

Mr. Pappastergion, rarely at a loss for ways to spend more money, ventured, “Snow fighting…sidewalk plows…commercial areas.” He has been with Brookline long enough to remember, during the 1970s and before, when the town plowed most sidewalks every snowstorm. Sidewalk snowplowing suffered one of many sharp cutbacks in the early 1980s–after Proposition 2-1/2 trimmed town spending–along with about 20 out of 25 curriculum coordinators for Public Schools of Brookline.

Those are useful examples of both short-term and long-term budget games. Over three decades, only a little sidewalk snowplowing has been restored–mostly around schools. However, curriculum jobs are back. This time around, most are not bundled into a core staff–a ready and proven target–but instead are labeled and paid as supervisors, salted through the school budget. School administrators turned out to be more skilled at budget games than some of their municipal counterparts.

Mr. Pappastergion’s sally for snow plowing did not go far. At Board of Selectmen, talk soon verged into raising money: bigger fines, of course, for homeowners who neglect to shovel sidewalks, but also higher rates at parking meters and collections for this year’s fashion model of public works, trash metering.

Talking in code: A key part of playing budget games has become talking in code: saying something sounding harmless while meaning something else. The Override Study Committee of 2013 became mavens of the art. Toward the end of their season, many people could not have understood much more from one of their meetings than from the calls of seagulls at a beach.

A striking example of talking in code came from Sean Cronin, the deputy town administrator, describing budget plans at Board of Selectmen this week on Wednesday, December 17–along with computer slides. The subtitle of his document, “What we’ve learned,” recalled the pro-forma apologies from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission after each disaster. “Lessons learned” is how they term it–a code-word meaning “how we messed up again.”

CroninPlan20141217b

Source: Town of Brookline, MA

Structural deficit: Maybe we can forget the “options,” the “scenarios,” the “plans” and the “groups” from the endless reviews. Mr. Cronin gave us straight poop–if we could decipher all the code-words scattered on every line. “They say the best things in life are free. You can give them to the bird and the bee. I want money.”

Now, what would make a deficit “structural”–not a mere shortfall? It sounds like another code-word, maybe meaning: “more money next year and more money a year later and then more money the year after that too.” If we were willing to part with the money, what would it buy? Mr. Cronin never said. Suppose a shlemiel comes along: “I’ve got a ‘structural deficit,’ Marty. Can you help me out a little?”

What does it buy? A question for almost every line: what does it buy? “One-Time Funds.” “Catch-Up.” “Enhancement.” “Info Tech.” What does it buy? At Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, December 9, William Lupini, the school superintendent, did make it clear that “Enrollment” (upper case) does not mean “enrollment” (lower case). Instead, he said, it means “a teacher in a classroom.”

Dr. Lupini complained that when “the town gives the schools credit” for Enrollment (upper case), it counts only “a teacher in a classroom.” Public Schools of Brookline, he complained, has to provide guidance counselors, math specialists, reading specialists, special education, psychologists, teaching aides, nurses and–of course–administrators. All neglected in Enrollment (upper case). Such tsouris.

Mr. Cronin advised, in a footnote, that Enrollment (upper case) also included “$680K for OLS.” It sounded likely that “OLS” meant “old Lincoln School” and that “$680K” meant $680,000 each and every year–not just one time. It was not even slightly clear what $680,000 would actually buy. Again, suppose that shlemiel comes along: “I’ve got OLS, Marty. Can you help me out a little?”

The numbers: Maybe it’s all in the numbers. What do the numbers mean? They look to be mixing continuing costs, including “Structural Deficit,” with expenses that happen once, purchases including “Info Tech.” On December 9, Dr. Lupini described the latter as buying “plumbing.” Maybe even he doesn’t change out the kitchen sink every year.

In Mr. Cronin’s plan, the numbers at the bottom seem to add–more or less. Sharp-eyed folk will have noticed that $6.21 plus $3.51 plus $2.60 equals $12.32, not $12.33 (probably meaning millions of dollars). Well–what’s ten thousand more dollars among friends? As long as taxpayers are footing the bill, of course!

Weirdness with numbers continues in strange arithmetic: adding “One-Time Funds” and single-year purchases for “Info Tech” to “Structural Deficit” and the other items that appear to continue year after year. They aren’t compatible, and they won’t add in any simple way. After the December 17 meeting, one of the board members was unable to explain parts of the arithmetic too.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, December 18, 2014


Sean Cronin, Expenditure plan as of 12/9/14, Town of Brookline, MA, December 17, 2014

Board of Selectmen: taxes and budgets for “insiders,” Brookline Beacon, December 3, 2014

Board of Selectmen: appointments, warrant articles, school spending, Brookline Beacon, October 8, 2014

Override Study Committee: $5 million tax override, plus Devotion School debt exclusion, Brookline Beacon, July 31, 2014

Craig Bolon, Recycling makes more progress without trash metering, Brookline Beacon, April 11, 2014

Berry Gordy, Janie Bradford and Barrett Strong, Money, Tamia (later Motown), 1959, as noted in New York Times, September 1, 2013

Medical marijuana in Brookline: will there be a site?

Article 12 at the November town meeting sought to exclude more Brookline territory from becoming sites for medical marijuana dispensaries, but the town meeting rejected all motions under that article. Zoning continues unchanged from a plan voted in November, 2013, and no new studies were authorized. As required under state laws, Brookline has left a few areas of the town outside its exclusion zones, providing potentially eligible sites under local laws.

BrooklineExclusionZones

Source: Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development

On the map, Brookline’s eligible areas in general business zones are colored black. There is also an industrial zone, shown as hatched, near the waste transfer station off Newton St. The map prepared by the planning staff marks excluded areas, within 500 feet of both public and private schools. They are colored gray.

Since Brookline has met its obligations through zoning, state regulations do not apply. However, the federal government, acting through district attorneys, may step in. In some of the later discussions over Article 12, proponents claimed the federal government would impose 1,000-foot exclusion zones around parks, playgrounds and public housing sites. The map shows a circle as an example, with a radius equivalent to 1,000 feet.

The only mention of those arguments in town meeting documents was a brief statement from the Advisory Committee in the final warrant report. [Article 12, supplement 1, pp. 5-6] It drew no conclusions and cited no documentation, describing federal regulations as a business risk for dispensary operators.

New exclusion zones: If the federal government were to act as the Article 12 proponents appear to hope it will, 1,000-foot exclusion zones might block all eligible sites under current Brookline zoning:

1. The zone along Commonwealth Ave. near St. Paul St. might be blocked from Knyvet Square, the Egmont St. veterans housing and Trustman Apartments.

2. The Coolidge Corner zone along Beacon and Harvard Sts. might be blocked from the Devotion School and its playgrounds, the Beth Zion Hebrew school, Griggs Park and St. Mark’s Park.

3. The Brookline Village zone along Washington and Boylston Sts. might be blocked from the old Lincoln School, Lynch Recreation Center, Emerson Park, Boylston St. Playground, Juniper St. Playground and Walnut St. Apartments.

4. The zone along Boylston and Hammond Sts. might be blocked from the Soule Recreation Center, Brimmer and May School, Beaver Country Day School and Pine Manor College.

5. The industrial zone near the waste transfer station might be blocked from Skyline Park and the Lost Pond Reservation.

Federal exclusions: As noted in a recent Boston Globe article, federal powers in these matters are exercised by the U.S. Department of Justice, acting through district attorneys. On August 29, 2013, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole issued a “guidance” memorandum to U.S. attorneys.

When there is a “tightly regulated market in which revenues are tracked,” wrote Mr. Cole, “state and local law enforcement and regulatory bodies” should govern. Where state laws authorized medical marijuana, “it was likely not an efficient use of federal resources to focus enforcement efforts on seriously ill individuals or on their individual caregivers.”

“The primary question in all cases,” Mr. Cole stated, is to evaluate federal “enforcement priorities.” They aim at preventing:
• distribution of marijuana to minors
• revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises….
• diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal…to other states
• state-authorized…activity from being used [to] cover…illegal activity
• violence and the use of firearms….
• drugged driving and…other adverse public health consequences….
• growing of marijuana on public lands….
• marijuana possession or use on federal property.

Contrary to impressions left by Article 12 proponents, the 2013 “guidance” memorandum does not cite or refer to a so-called “schoolyard statute” or any other specific federal law, and it does not recommend any type of exclusion zone. Instead, it says jurisdictions with “strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems” may “affirmatively address…priorities.”

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, December 7, 2014


Shelley Murphy, Kay Lazar and Andrew Ba Tran, U.S. asked to block cannabis clinics near Massachusetts schools, Boston Globe, November 21, 2014

Fall town meeting: bylaw changes, no new limits on marijuana dispensaries, Brookline Beacon, November 18, 2014

Warrant report, November 18, 2014, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

James M. Cole, Memorandum for all United States attorneys, U.S. Department of Justice, August 29, 2013

Public schools: for sale by owners

All except four of the U.S. states and the major districts (District of Columbia, Bureau of Indian Affairs and Puerto Rico) have waivers from federal education standards or are under review (Wyoming, Iowa and Bureau of Indian Affairs). The exceptions are Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and Vermont. Vermont’s waiver expired July 1 this year, North Dakota’s in 2012. Montana and Nebraska never applied. As with much federal information, the Education Department’s summary page is wrong about California: its waiver was granted this year.

Heavy weapons: Federal intrusion into education systems run by state and local jurisdictions has generated more friction during Obama years than before. However, current law–now called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act–dates from endorsements made by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, during the first year of the Walker Bush administration.

Former Sen. Kennedy made himself a champion of heavy weapons used against public schools. There are three main elements to the federal command and control regimes that Sen. Kennedy endorsed:
• Regimented curriculum
• Regimented teaching
• Regimented testing

Legalized graft: Artfully hidden within a maze of controversy is a longstanding network of legalized graft: companies that publish “educational” materials, effectively taking control of U.S. education and extracting tributes from it for using products that were often developed at taxpayer expense. So far, the Obama administration has ladled over $360 million into its pet project, so-called “common core.”

The “common core” effort is only the latest of many marketing campaigns to promote private interests feeding on taxpayer money. Sponsors of previous campaigns often hid behind prestige colleges and universities. Publishers involved with this one–notably Pearson, McGraw Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt–found it convenient to hide behind supposedly nonprofit foundations and political figures, including state governors and Pres. Obama.

This year Pearson, with headquarters in London, won a big stake in the game as sole bidder on a potential $200 million a year for tests from PARCC–the Mercedes of common-core testing, based in Washington, DC. Plain-Jane competitor SBAC–the other name-brand test in the common-core arena, based in Olympia, WA–placed its bet for test development with CTB/McGraw Hill of Monterey, CA, at a first-year price of only about $19 million.

Regimented schools: Regimented testing is the main lever manipulating regimented curriculum and regimented teaching. At risk of exposure to low scores, jurisdictions buy into curriculum that matches the tests. At risk of cutting their pay or losing their jobs, teachers train students to perform on the tests. The federal law has been on life-support since 2007, when it expired under a “sunset” clause. The waiver system was the Obama administration’s latest gesture toward keeping it alive through regulations, starting in 2010. The waivers legitimize basing teacher pay and retention on regimented test scores.

The dirty secret of regimented testing has actually been known for decades: high incomes–high test scores, low incomes–low test scores. Starting in the 1940s, the College Board documented an extremely close relation with family incomes for its SAT scores. More recent work has shown that high-income communities are also closely associated with high scores on regimented state tests.

Hereditary advantage, passed along: Like Pres. Obama and the publisher of the Boston Globe, the promoters of regimented testing are usually high-income people–trying, in effect, to reserve rewards for their families and their friends by forcing regimented schools on everyone else. High on the income scale–like Pres. Obama, former Sens. Kennedy and Kerry, Gov. Deval Patrick and Gov.-elect Charlie Baker–the elite can afford private schools, exempt from the regimentation of public schools.

Children from elite families can get access to literature, languages, history, science, math and arts without the pressures of regimented testing and without the tedium of a regimented curriculum. Computers are at their sides, not in cubbies. Children from elite families routinely outperform those from lower-income families on college-entrance exams, helping an elite family pass along its advantage to another generation.

Signs of revolt: One might think, somewhere along the way, people would wake up and smell the coffee–realizing they’re being had. That is starting. A sign that it may be the real thing is watching much more tumult occur in poorer and generally conservative–even reactionary–states: Arizona, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Florida, where teachers are sometimes required to have an Associate’s degree.

Richer and usually more liberal states–New York, California and Massachusetts–are germinating seeds of protest, but they do not lead this movement. In the vanguard states, the Obama administration’s key effort to increase educational achievement is being called “Race to the Slop.” Folks who do not have children in public schools are looking over the materials, and many do not approve.

One irate commenter from a poor state writes, “I taught math and computer science at university level for several years. What I have seen in common-core math is not going to prepare children for college. If anything, these children will be in non-credit math courses when they enter the college.”

Another writes, “Common core is the takeover by the federal government of our entire education system–just like Obamacare was with health care. It doesn’t work. It is corrupt and dysfunctional. I don’t have kids in school, and my grandkids go to private school. Every state needs to get rid of every aspect of it. I’m so thankful to see parents protesting this takeover.”

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, November 14, 2014


Adam Armstrong, ed., No Country Left Behind (NCLB) and The Race to the Slop, The Daily Censored (Sonoma, CA), June 10, 2014

ESEA flexibility: education waiver status by states, U.S. Department of Education, November, 2014

Michele McNeil, California wins NCLB testing waiver, Education Week, March 7, 2014

Catherine Rampell, SAT scores and family income, New York Times, August 27, 2009

Craig Bolon, Significance of test-based ratings for metropolitan Boston schools, Education Policy Analysis Archives 9(42), 2001

Valerie Strauss, Pearson, of course, wins huge common-core testing contract, Washington Post, May 5, 2014

Sean Cavanagh, American Institutes for Research fights Pearson common-core testing award, Education Week, May 6, 2014

Sean Cavanagh, Amplify Insight wins contract from SBAC for common-core testing, Education Week, March 14, 2013

Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium selects CTB/McGraw-Hill to develop next-generation of assessments to help schools meet new common-core state standards, McGraw-Hill, April 16, 2012

Who is behind common core?, Arizonans against Common Core, 2013

Valerie Strauss, Two more states pull out of common core, Washington Post, June 5, 2014

School budget: candor needed in difficult times

William Lupini, Brookline’s school superintendent, is a gifted orator, an advocate for the disadvantaged and a vigorous administrator–clearly committed to providing the best services he can arrange for all the students in the public schools. It must have come at considerable pain for him to propose cancelling two popular programs in the elementary schools: so-called “world languages,” which Dr. Lupini enlarged, and “gifted & talented,” which Dr. Robert I. Sperber, a predecessor and current town meeting member, began in the 1970s.

Dr. Lupini seems nowhere near as skilled at budget presentations as at other aspects of school administration. His budget presentations have sometimes been seen as “evasive.” They are almost always phrased as increments from some uncertain starting points, not as real amounts. Brookline’s taxpayers have to send in real dollars to pay for real amounts, and they expect to find out what they are paying for.

Seeking to justify a tax override, Dr. Lupini’s most recent presentation for the Board of Selectmen Monday, November 10, took a few steps in the right direction by measuring most budget increments as people, not as abstractions: 18 elementary teachers to be hired, 5 high-school teachers to be fired. However, few members of the public are likely to know how many elementary and high-school teachers there are or how to find out.

Squirreled away on the Web site for Public Schools of Brookline, a “preliminary budget” document finally showed up earlier in the year, after the town meeting when a budget was voted. No final operating budget has appeared. The first 27 pages of the “preliminary budget” are mostly rhetoric. To some, it might be inspiring, but it does not tell how much is to be spent on what–as a real budget has to do.

About the closest one can get to budget truth is in so-called “program” listings. They do not provide any job descriptions and do not show numbers of staff at each elementary school. One finds the following teaching staff sizes and costs for Brookline’s academic programs (all numbers rounded, amounts in $millions):

Page Program Teachers Salaries
174 Kindergarten 30 $2.2
178 Elementary 164 $12.5
132 English language 31 $2.5
136 Mathematics 30 $2.4
162 Science 30 $2.4
166 Social studies 29 $2.4
120 World language 46 $3.5
128 Visual arts 15 $1.2
140 Performing arts 23 $1.7
—– Total academic K-12 398 $30.8

Brookline actually spends around $90 million a year and hires around 1,100 people to operate public schools. Only a little more than a third of the spending and staff provide the academic programs. Some of the spending, of course, provides supervision, supplies, and building and food services. Relatively small amounts go for substitute teachers and teaching aides.

The majorities of school spending and staff are found in heavy administrative overhead and in a large variety of special services. That is clearly the tail wagging the dog. Candor is needed in difficult times.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, November 12, 2014


School budget: cancel world languages, gifted & talented, Brookline Beacon, November 11, 2014

Advisory Committee: $87 million for Brookline schools, Brookline Beacon, April 18, 2014

Superintendent’s FY2015 Preliminary Budget, Town of Brookline, MA, undated (3 MB)

School budget: cancel world languages, gifted & talented

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, October 28, started at 6:00 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The highlight of the meeting was another school-budget discussion. Attendance was very light, mostly School Committee members and town staff. There is apparently no community organization now actively backing or opposing a tax override. Other business at the meeting will be reported separately.

School budget options: William Lupini, the school superintendent, presented his priorities for using school budget funds–sorted into options for a property tax override that the Board of Selectmen is considering for next spring. In previous reports, these school-budget options have been called:

Maximum override $8.8 million per year
High override $7.9 million per year
Low override $5.0 million per year
No override current school budget

Dr. Lupini favors “maximum override”–which he called “long-term budget.” He did not provide a dollar amount but called “high override” a “90 percent” approach. That would apparently make “maximum override” about $8.8 million. Dr. Lupini’s presentation ignored an obvious option: “no override.” He looked unprepared for a situation in which the Board of Selectmen or Brookline voters reject tax overrides. Both Dr. Lupini and members of the board seemed to assume any budget would increase 2.5 percent per year, as currently allowed under state law.

Background: At a previous school-budget review on October 7, board member Nancy Daly had asked for a budget projection. Susan Ditkoff, chair of the School Committee, described a process extending into next spring. Board members said it had to be much faster and said the budget must tell what an override buys. At this review, Dr. Lupini began to provide some answers. According to Barbara Scotto, vice chair of the School Committee, Dr. Lupini’s priorities had been described to the School Committee but not yet approved by them.

The Override Study Committee of 2013, which filed a final report August 14 of this year, recommends the “low override” of an additional $5 million per year in property taxes, mainly if not entirely for the school budget, plus a debt service exclusion for $23 million to renovate and enlarge Devotion School.

Tax increases: The study committee’s recommended operating-cost override would increase taxes about 2.7 percent. The recommended debt exclusion would add about 0.9 percent more in taxes for an estimated 25 years. When added to a usual 2.5 percent increase, allowed under state law, Brookline taxes would increase about 5 percent next year–but about 6 percent when debt service payments for the Devotion School project develop.

Based on amounts developed by the Override Study Committee, not including new funding for school buildings, beginning in July, 2015, Brookline property taxes would increase by approximately these percentages for the four operating-cost override options:

Maximum override 7.3 percent
High override 6.8 percent
Low override 5.2 percent
No override 2.5 percent

School programs: Dr. Lupini’s priorities for the school budget are in the following table. Amounts are rounded, Those shown as “$” are millions of dollars. Those shown as “xxx” were omitted from Dr. Lupini’s tables or were ambiguously stated.

Added / Override option None Low High Maximum
central administration xxx 3 3 4
high school admin. xxx 1 2 4
vice principals xxx 1 1 3
high school teachers xxx -5 11 16
elementary teachers xxx 18 22 xxx
world language xxx -15 3 3
gifted and talented xxx -4 4 xxx
second-grade assistants xxx 0 0 14
elementary guidance xxx 8 8 10
elementary nurses xxx 2 2 3
“steps to success” xxx 0 2 2
technology xxx $1.5 $1.5 $1.8
instructional supplies xxx $0.2 $0.2 $0.3
training programs xxx $0.1 $0.1 $0.3
—————— —– —– —– —–
literacy specialists xxx 8 8 8
math specialists xxx 8 8 8
disability therapists xxx 14 14 14

Priorities: With any override at all, Dr. Lupini plans to hire 5 to 11 new administrators. With “low override” or presumably “no override,” Dr. Lupini plans to cancel the world language program for sixth, seventh and eighth grades and cancel the gifted and talented program, currently called “enrichment and challenge support.”

With “low override” or presumably “no override,” at least 24 teachers and staff will be fired. In their places, if he can, Dr. Lupini plans to hire up to 40 nurses, guidance counselors and specialists in math, literacy and disabilities. However, it is not clear whether any would be hired with “no override.” Once the parents and the School Committee understand these changes, objections seem foreseeable.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, November 11, 2014


Board of Selectmen: hearings on tax overrides, Brookline Beacon, October 21, 2014

Board of Selectmen: appointments, warrant articles, school spending, Brookline Beacon, October 8, 2014

Override Study Committee of 2013, Final Report, Town of Brookline, MA, August 14, 2014

Override Study Committee: $5 million tax override, plus Devotion School debt exclusion, Brookline Beacon, July 31, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, getting to Yes

Members of the Board of Selectmen attending a hearing on a proposed Hancock Village 40B housing development seemed subject to “buyers remorse.” Was it a bright idea to put the Zoning Board of Appeals in the hands of real-estate lawyers, as they did? Their board has strongly opposed the 40B proposal.

An Appeals meeting Monday, November 3, starting at 7:00 pm in the sixth floor meeting room at Town Hall, seemed to be a watershed for the proposal. It looks likely to go forward with Appeals consent, and it looks unlikely to get much smaller than now proposed.

Of the five Appeals members hearing the case, chair Jesse Geller and alternate Avi Liss appeared to favor the project. Regular Jonathan Book and alternate Mark Zuroff questioned but did not oppose it. All are lawyers who work, in part, with real estate. Regular member Christopher Hussey, an architect, had sharp questions at the previous session on Wednesday, October 29.

At the November 3 session, developer Chestnut Hill Realty was represented by Marc Levin and by Steven Schwartz of Goulston & Storrs. Present to assist Appeals were Edith Netter of Waltham, Samuel Nagler of Krokidas & Bluestein and Maria Morelli, a Planning Department consultant. An audience of around 40 included several town staff and elected officials.

Mr. Levin of Chestnut Hill Realty proposed removing the fifth floor once shown for the large building on the site and six apartments on the fourth floor of that building but adding four apartments to a smaller building near Beverly Rd. He said the changes would make the project 166 apartments with 346 bedrooms, no lofts and 333 parking spaces, as compared with 192 apartments with 402 bedrooms and 22 lofts as proposed last spring.

A perspective rendering of the large building that Mr. Levin showed, as seen from the property line across Asheville Rd. at Russett Rd., had articulated sections with four different colors and textures–dominated by red brick at mid-height. While showing a few views around the front of the building, toward the east, Mr. Levin described the other textures as gray stucco on the first floor and some bays and as asphalt shingles on the fourth floor, stepped back from Asheville Rd. on the north side. The large building’s footprint remained the same.

In a meandering discussion about appearance and density, Mr. Hussey and Mr. Zuroff said they favored cutting back the large building to three floors of apartments and one floor of parking. That would reduce the overall height by about 20 feet and the number of apartments by another 23. At that juncture, Appeals began to sound like local boys up against city slickers. Ms. Netter said to the board, “You’re asking about economics.”

Mr. Schwartz of Goulston & Storrs finally said, “It’s not feasible…the density is extremely important to us.” Mr. Levin agreed to “look at” removing two more apartments on the fourth floor of the large building and four proposed for the smaller building near Beverly Rd. After that, Mr. Hussey and Mr. Book backed away from more drastic changes. With changes outlined by Mr. Levin and Mr. Schwartz, the project would apparently become 160 apartments with about 334 bedrooms, no lofts and about 320 parking spaces.

If the occupancy were to mirror Brookline’s average, the development would add around 50 students in Brookline schools. Because Chestnut Hill Realty has been targeting its rental marketing to foreigners with school-age children, neighborhood residents fear it will bring in 200 or more students. So far there has been no Appeals board discussion of conditions on marketing the units.

The Appeals board took no public comment but said it would do so at a continued hearing Wednesday, November 12, when it will also hear from a blasting consultant and from Brookline’s fire chief. That session looks likely to see Chestnut Hill Realty’s best and final version of the proposal, starting at 7:00 pm in the same location.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, November 4, 2014


Zoning Board of Appeals: Chapter 40B project at Hancock Village, Brookline Beacon, June 20, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: architecture for Hancock Village Chapter 40B, Brookline Beacon, September 9, 2014

Board of Selectmen: Muddy River project, school construction and warrant articles

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, October 28, started at 6:25 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. In an earlier session, closed to the public, the board had agreed on a contract with the Teamsters local representing the police and fire dispatchers. There were two major reports about ongoing issues. There were public comments, reviews and recommendations for ten of the 20 articles coming before the town meeting that starts November 18. An ambitious agenda produced a session lasting nearly until midnight.

Announcements, contracts and interviews: The Health Department provides flu clinics this season on October 29, November 9 and December 4 at Baker and Devotion schools and at the Health Center. The first day for a winter farmers market in the Arcade Building at 318 Harvard St. is Sunday, November 2, starting at 2 pm.

On Wednesday, November 12, the Brookline Neighborhood Association and League of Women Voters host a forum for the November 18 town meeting. It begins at 7 pm in community television studios on the third floor at 46 Tappan St., the Unified Arts Building of Brookline High School. Topics are for Articles 8, 12, 13, 15 and 16: revising the disorderly conduct bylaw, restricting locations for medical marijuana dispensaries, sending zoning appeals notices to town meeting members and managing taxi medallions (that is, permanent licenses).

Joe Viola, the assistant director for community planning, got approval to extend the duration of a contract with Vanasse Hangen Brustlin of Watertown for design of a road improvement project for lower Washington St. Planning began about nine years ago as part of a so-called “Gateway East” effort. Erin Gallentine, director of parks and open space, got approval to add $0.015 million to a masonry repair project at the Old Burying Ground on Walnut St., using funds already appropriated.

The board interviewed candidates for appointments: one for Tree Planting, one for Economic Development and one for Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations–created at this year’s annual town meeting to replace the former Human Relations/Youth Resources Commission. Twelve commissioners are authorized but none appointed yet, with some positions still awaiting applicants according to board member Nancy Daly. The board also decided to appoint a Noise Control Bylaw Committee, to be charged with proposing revisions to related town laws.

Projects, licenses and permits At the request of Ms. Gallentine and the Dukakis Recognition Committee, established in 2011 through a town meeting resolution, the board approved a plaque dedicating the Riverway Park to Brookline residents Michael and Kitty Dukakis, the former 3-term governor and his wife. It will be stationed near the Longwood stop on the D branch of the Green Line, where Mr. Dukakis often boards.

Hsiu-Lan Chang, who operates Fast Frame on Beacon St. in Washington Square, asked for permission to install a plaque on the Washington Sq. clock–a donation to the town about 20 years ago from Washington Sq. merchants–in honor of William T. Bonomi, a key supporter of efforts to install and maintain the clock. The board approved. A major maintenance effort is expected before year’s end by Electric Time of Medford, funded by area merchants.

The board reviewed and approved alternate managers for alcoholic beverage sales at two locations, temporary licenses for two events and a 10 am Sunday starting hour for alcoholic beverage sales at six locations. The last, according to board member Betsy DeWitt, is an obligation under a recent state law when a license-holder requests it.

Chen-Hui Chi of Chelmsford appeared to apply for a food vendor (take-out) license to continue operations for Hong Kong Cafe at 1391 Beacon St., which currently has a different owner. He was represented by a bilingual lawyer who translated the board’s questions to Chinese. The board wanted to make sure the applicant understood that the license did not authorize table service. Board members were satisfied and approved.

Managers of Herb Chambers appeared for continued review of an inflammables permit for the Audi dealership at 308 Boylston St. A review on August 29 had left several matters to be settled. As before, the organization was represented by Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a Brookline-based lawyer, Precinct 16 town meeting member and former chair of the Board of Selectmen.

Mr. Allen told the board that the waste oil storage tank had been moved to a different location and would no longer be serviced via East Milton Rd., a previous source of neighborhood opposition. He said former underground tanks have been removed. KPA Environmental and Safety of Colorado is now overseeing environmental compliance. Mark Jefferson, deputy chief of the Fire Department, confirmed the progress but said the new tank installation was not finished. This time, despite some neighborhood objections, the board was satisfied that Herb Chambers was on track for a safe workplace and granted an annually renewed permit.

Representatives of the VFW and American Legion post on Washington St. appeared again, seeking a club license for alcoholic beverages. They were represented by Roger Lipson, a Brookline-based lawyer and Precinct 14 town meeting member. The post held such a license from 1977 through 2010 but let it lapse by mistake, when a manager became ill. About two years ago, Elmon Hendrickson, a Brookline resident, took over as post manager.

Mr. Hendrickson has been successful in building a clientele who use the post for events, including weddings and other celebrations, but this has caused friction with neighbors–evident at a previous hearing October 2 on the license application. This time, both Mr. Hendrickson and the board were more prepared. The board wanted some firm conditions on the license, to which Mr. Hendrickson agreed.

There will be police details for events with over 50 participants, and there will be four post members on hand for events: two for service and two for security. The club will not operate past 11 pm. Video cameras and sound meters have been installed and will be monitored during events. Doors near abutters will be used during events only for emergencies. The parking lot will be used only by caterers. With these and other conditions, the board approved a new club license for the post, to be reviewed annually.

Muddy River project: The board heard a report on the Muddy River Restoration Project from Thomas Brady, the conservation director, and Andrew Pappastergion, the public works director. The project began after a major storm in October, 1996, flooded the Kenmore Sq. transit station and many houses and buildings in Brookline and Boston. A disastrous 1958 decision by the Hynes administration in Boston to divert the river into relatively small culverts is now being reversed by excavation and by construction of large channels under Park Drive and Brookline Avenue crossings, near the former Sears now called Landmark Center.

As Mr. Brady and Mr. Pappastergion explained, the current effort will correct only one blockage to river flow, although it is probably the worst one. A century-long buildup of silt and invasive plants obstructs many other parts of the riverway, from Ward’s Pond through the Fenway area. They said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, manager of the current project, is now willing to extend the project–provided it receives a Presidential order and Congressional funding.

Board member Ben Franco said the Muddy River project was what got him involved in town government. Betsy Shure Gross, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, urged pressure on Congress for funding. “If we don’t maintain this river,” she said, “it will continue to be a significant threat.” The board agreed to participate in a campaign of letters from Boston, Brookline and several organizations. They will send a letter to the President.

School construction: The board entertained a long report from Planning Board member Sergio Modigliani on the need for school construction. Mr. Modigliani felt that the needs were overstated, and he brought along a spreadsheet report trying to show why. According to his report, for kindergarten through eighth grade, the Brookline schools have, by different criteria, between about 600 and 850 unfilled seats. Class sizes this year range from 17 to 26 (Baker seventh grade).

As has become well known, while school enrollments rose over the past several years, so did class sizes. William Lupini, the school superintendent, made similar points in a presentation to the board on October 7. However, Dr. Lupini’s view appears to be that maintaining high-quality schools is going to take more space, perhaps another elementary school plus some kind of high-school expansion.

Mr. Modigliani, an architect, sought to discourage the board from supporting that approach, claiming that the unfilled seats in elementary schools will make more space unnecessary for at least several more years. However, he could not explain how to make use of the capacity, which is scattered through all eight schools and across all nine elementary grades, except by ordering students to transfer abruptly from one school to another.

Board members seemed skeptical. Betsy DeWitt pointed out that several current classrooms have been squeezed into small spaces, labeled “suboptimal.” Mr. Modigliani agreed that was possible but said he had not been able to inspect any of them. Kenneth Goldstein, the board’s chair, challenged Mr. Modigliani’s approach, saying it would force schools to split siblings between schools.

Board member Nancy Daly recalled events of years ago, saying, “My son was in a first grade of 27 kids. He didn’t learn how to read. That’s what catapulted me into town politics.” Mr. Modigliani seemed to focus on counting noses. The value of a seat in a classroom, he claimed, was about $100,000, but it turned out that he meant only costs of construction. He did not seem to have given much attention to the effects of increasing class sizes on the quality of teaching and learning.

Warrant articles: The board voted to recommend no action on Article 1, unpaid bills, since there are none. For Article 2, collective bargaining, the board voted to recommend approval of the collective bargaining agreements reached with police officers earlier and with dispatchers the same evening. For Article 3, budget amendments, the board voted to recommend the Advisory Committee’s plan to use about 60 percent of an additional $0.04 million in state aid for the new diversity department, as proposed by Advisory member Stanley Spiegel and agreed to by the School Committee.

The board voted to recommend approval of Article 7, bylaw amendments prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity or gender expression in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, lending and public education. The board had worked through these topics last August 29 with the participation of citizen petitioners for the article.

As negotiated with the petitioner for Article 9, noise control bylaw amendments, the board voted to recommend referral to the Noise Control Bylaw Committee it will be appointing. For Article 10, commercial recycling, the board expressed support. However, board member Nancy Daly observed, “The business community is pretty unaware of this.” She asked petitioner Alan Christ, a Precinct 4 town meeting member, “Have you reached out to them?” Apparently unsatisfied with the answers, the board decided to wait for an analysis by the town administrator, Mel Kleckner, and did not vote a recommendation.

The board gave the petitioners for Article 12, restrictions on locating marijuana dispensaries, another big bite of the apple, after spending almost two hours on the topic at a previous meeting. Not much was new. The issues had been hashed over the previous evening, at a meeting of the Zoning Bylaw Committee. Once again, George Vien of Davis Ave. tried to scare board members with vague threats of federal prosecution.

Mr. Goldstein wasn’t buying any of that, saying, “I don’t think the federal government is going to hold the Board of Selectmen liable for voting no-action on a warrant article.” He then moved to recommend no action on Article 12. Board member Neil Wishinsky agreed, saying, “We can handle the concerns that people have through the licensing and appeals process.” The board voted unanimously to oppose Article 12.

For Article 13, zoning appeals notices to town meeting members, the board also voted to recommend no action, after the Planning Department instituted changes that satisfied the petitioners. For resolution articles 18 and 19, support for domestic workers and opposition to a gas pipeline, the board voted to recommend approval, with amendments proposed by the Advisory Committee.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 29, 2014


Jana Kasperkevic, Medical marijuana in New York: barriers high for small businesses, Manchester Guardian (UK), October 29, 2014

Conservation Commission: will Muddy River flooding be controlled?, Brookline Beacon, July 16, 2014

Warrant for Special Town Meeting, November 18, 2014, Town of Brookline, MA

Warrant explanations, November 18, 2014, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Zoning Bylaw Committee: no new restrictions on marijuana dispensaries

The Zoning Bylaw Committee met to review proposed new restrictions on marijuana dispensaries Monday, October 27, starting at 7:30 pm in the first floor south meeting room at Town Hall. Article 12 for the November 18 town meeting proposes to exclude these facilities within five hundred feet of day-care centers and places where “children commonly congregate.” The committee had held a public hearing on the article September 22.

Proponents: In November of last year, after voter approval the previous year of a state law to allow marijuana distribution for medical use, Brookline adopted zoning amendments to allow state-regulated dispensaries in general business, office and industrial zones. The use requires a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals, the property boundary must be at least 500 feet from the boundary of any school property and the building may not contain a day-care center. Section 4.12 of Brookline’s zoning bylaw contains several other general restrictions and some procedural requirements.

Gordon Bennett of Davis Ave. and the other petitioners for Article 12 argue that those restrictions are not enough. They claim a basis for the specifics of their proposal in a regulation of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, presumably meaning 105 CMR 725, titled “Implementation of an Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana.”

At the committee’s hearing and at several other recent meetings, Mr. Bennett claimed Brookline should have followed regulations from the state’s public health department–adding exclusion zones around day-care centers and places where “children commonly congregate.” However, the petitioners for Article 12 quote selectively from state regulations.

Crumbling claims: The state regulation at issue, 105 CMR 725.110(A)(14), can be found in a section titled “Security Requirements.” It provides (in full):

“An RMD [registered marijuana dispensary] shall comply with all local requirements regarding siting, provided however that if no local requirements exist, an RMD shall not be sited within a radius of 50 feet [sic] of a school, daycare center or any facility in which children commonly congregate. The 500 foot distance [sic] under this section is measured in a straight line from the nearest point of the facility in question to the nearest point of the proposed RMD.”

The regulation is only a default. It applies “if no local requirements exist.” Last year, Brookline enacted its own local requirements in Section 4.12 of its zoning bylaw. The regulation does not apply to Brookline. Since it was the keystone of Mr. Bennett’s claims, they appear to crumble. He and the other petitioners for Article 12 are left with general arguments about “protecting children” but not with the hard-edged specifics such as a “radius of 50 feet” or a “500 foot distance.”

Opponents: The petitioners for Article 12 claimed that in Colorado half the prescriptions for medical marijuana had been written by a dozen physicians. One of the petitioners, Elizabeth Childs of Walnut St., showed how that might happen. Ironically, the statement from Dr. Childs, a physician, became an argument in opposition.

Dr. Childs said she, along with other physicians belonging to the practice groups of the major Boston medical centers, would refuse to prescribe marijuana. That is likely to leave a small number of independent physicians as sole resources for patients interested in treatment. As in Colorado, a small number of physicians is then likely to write a large fraction of prescriptions, because of rigid attitudes adopted by other physicians.

Eddie Benjamin of Brookline objected that petitioners for Article 12 wanted to ban marijuana dispensaries by leaving no place for one to locate. Maps prepared by the Planning Department confirmed that locations of parks, playgrounds and child-care facilities in Brookline were so numerous and widely dispersed that no part of a general business, office or industrial zone would remain as an eligible site.

New England Treatment Access (NETA), now headed by Arnon Vered of Swampscott, proposes to use the former Brookline Bank building at the intersection of Boylston and Washington Sts. Mr. Vered argued that it is one of the few suitable sites in Brookline: an isolated, single-use building in a general business zone, on a state highway with on-site parking, close to a transit stop on Station St.

According to Polly Selkoe, the assistant director of regulatory planning, the Brookline Bank location is an eligible site under current zoning, and NETA has filed a plot plan that freezes the zoning for its site. Under those conditions, even if town meeting were to pass Article 12 as submitted, NETA would be able to use the site as long as it began operations within three years from filing the plot plan.

Review: Committee members found claims advanced for Article 12 unconvincing. Linda Hamlin, who chairs the Planning Board, said there was “no evidence day cares are put in jeopardy.” Kenneth Goldstein, who chairs the committee and the Board of Selectmen, said, “Voters in Brookline have spoken clearly…The bank is about as good a location as we could find in this town.” The committee voted unanimously to oppose Article 12.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 28, 2014


Marijuana dispensary zoning, currently allowed, Town of Brookline, October, 2014

Marijuana dispensary zoning, proposed Article 12, Town of Brookline, October, 2014

An Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana, St. 2012 C. 369, Massachusetts General Court, November, 2012 (enacted by voters through a ballot initiative)

Implementation of an Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana, 105 CMR 725, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, May 24, 2013

Zoning bylaw, Town of Brookline, MA, June 2, 2014

Warrant for Special Town Meeting, November 18, 2014, Town of Brookline, MA

Warrant explanations, November 18, 2014, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Forum: regimented testing in Brookline public schools

On Saturday, October 25, the Brookline Educators Union (BEU) and Citizens for Public Schools (CPS) of Boston jointly sponsored a forum on regimented school testing, starting at 10 am in the Unified Arts Building at Brookline High. The forum featured live experiences with some of the PARCC tests proposed for use in Brookline schools. Participants included Brookline students, parents and teachers and Boston teachers. For this school year, after reviews and public comment, the Brookline School Committee decided against PARCC tests.

Resistance movements: Citizens for Public Schools, founded in 1982, is participating in some resistance movements against charter schools and regimented testing in public schools. Board member Alain Jehlen represented CPS at the Brookline forum. Earlier in the year, he helped organize a forum on charter schools at Madison Park High School in Boston and a forum on high-stakes testing in Northampton.

This year has been a watershed for resistance to regimented testing in public schools. A national movement has been organized by United Opt Out of Miami, FL, and it is starting to have effects. Over half the students recently refused testing at several schools in cities of New York, which has switched to PARCC tests.

Last year Minnesota repealed its testing program for high-school graduation. According to the FairTest organization in Cambridge, this year Alaska and South Carolina repealed their programs and awarded diplomas to students who would have graduated in previous years except for test scores. Indiana, South Carolina and Oklahoma repealed federally promoted Common Core standards and related testing. Rhode Island enacted a 3-year moratorium on test scores as a graduation requirement. CPS is calling for a similar moratorium in Massachusetts.

PARCC tests: At the recent Brookline forum, most participants investigated PARCC tests using computers in one of the teaching centers, led by Jessica Wender-Shubow, president of the Brookline Educators Union. They can also be investigated with practice tests on the Web.

Dr. Jehlen described regimented tests as a source of revenue for test publishers and equipment makers. PARCC is fundamentally computer-based. Many schools, he said, will “buy machines that will fit the test,” whether or not they are otherwise useful. However, he went on, “there’s been so much push-back that Massachusetts may stay with MCAS,” as Brookline chose to do this year.

Reactions: After the session with PARCC tests, Jennifer Rose-Wood, a BEU board member, led a discussion. According to several participants, the PARCC user interface was awkward for experienced users of both Windows and Macintosh computers. It does not follow familiar patterns of either operating system.

A Devotion parent who introduced herself as Hillary said the third-grade language test was “really hard.” She criticized an “infantile story” shown as a basis for questions and said if PARCC tests are used in Brookline schools, she wants to opt out.

A Brookline High student who introduced herself as Camille said she is currently taking calculus and tried the PARCC test for third-grade math. “It was hard,” she said. “The computations are adding and subtracting, but the way you have to get to it is not easy.”

Will, who teaches geometry at Brookline High, said the PARCC geometry test involved “chained problems, much harder than the SAT,” and the “level of language was pretty sophisticated.” Despite a background as a former textbook editor at Houghton-Mifflin, he found could not disentangle problems without using graph paper.

Eric, who teaches English at Brookline High, had similar reactions to the PARCC ninth-grade language test. The SAT questions, he said, “are of much higher quality.” He was “concerned with the resources being spent on these tests” and said, “We need fewer of them.”

The chair of the English department at Brookline High described the PARCC tenth-grade English test as “very difficult in terms of language…difficult to keep focus.” Her biggest concern, she said, was “asking students to write an essay about [language] style…To graduate high school you need to be able to describe style?”

A Brookline High senior who introduced himself as Khaled had tried the PARCC eleventh-grade English test and said he “failed miserably…The questions were just too close–compare and contrast two very similar themes.” By comparison, he said, “MCAS answers were very concise; PARCC answers were misleading.”

Fallout: Ms. Rose-Wood said that state testing was driving Brookline toward “test-centered education…training people to work in call centers.” More colleges are not requiring test scores, she said. “They’re realizing that high scores don’t mean the best students.”

Barbara Scotto, a School Committee member who formerly taught fifth and sixth grade at Driscoll, described how she had been confused by the PARCC user interface. “My goal is to get testing that is fair for the students, that doesn’t take up huge portions of time,” she said. “It concerns me that a state official is on the board of PARCC…that is hugely concerning.” She was obviously referring to Mitchell Chester, the commissioner of education, who chairs the PARCC board–an apparent conflict of responsibility.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 27, 2014


Colleen Quinn, Education official says schools too focused on test preparation, Boston Globe, September 23, 2014

Lisa Guisbond, Testing reform victories, the first wave, National Center for Fair and Open Testing, 2014

Joe Nathan, Different standards may have increased Minnesota’s high school graduation rate, Morrison County (MN) Record, February 27, 2014

Caitlin Emma, Mary Fallin signs bill repealing the Common Core in Oklahoma, Politico, June 5, 2014

School Committee: celebrations, programs, policies and test scores, Brookline Beacon, May 12, 2014

School Committee: Driscoll plans, policies, technology and testing, Brookline Beacon, May 27, 2014

Craig Bolon, Dr. Lupini moves to Brookline, Brookline Beacon, June 21, 2014

Board of Selectmen: hearings on tax overrides

The Board of Selectmen held two October hearings on potential tax overrides for next year, both in the sixth floor meeting room at Town Hall. The first was Thursday evening, October 9, starting at 7:30 pm, and the second was Monday morning, October 20, starting at 9:00 am. Each hearing drew about 80 participants and listeners. Perhaps the board expected differences between morning and evening, but views expressed proved similar.

Public schools: The key problem is costs of Brookline public schools. That is driven mostly by enrollment, which has increased for at least six years. On August 13, 2013, the board appointed an override study committee to review the issues and make recommendations. The committee divided into 9 subgroups, holding 174 officially posted meetings over almost a year. It voted recommendations last July 30.

At the final meeting, committee member Sergio Modigliani moved to recommend $5.0 million per year in additional property taxes to support town operations and a one-time exclusion from the tax limit for $23.0 million in debt to renovate and expand Devotion School. Committee member Kevin Lang moved to amend: $7.9 million additional per year for operations and a $58.8 million debt exclusion for school construction.

The committee decided to vote the matters separately. Prof. Lang’s amendments failed, 7 to 8. Mr. Modigliani’s motions passed, 9 to 6. They became the committee’s recommendations to the Board of Selectmen. The Brookline TAB did not send a reporter to that meeting and failed to describe committee actions as they happened, saying instead there was “no consensus.” Indeed there was no consensus, but there were votes.

Factions: Recently, some members of the Board of Selectmen have begun mentioning “group 1″ proposals–meaning the committee’s recommendations from June 30–and “group 2″ proposals–meaning ones for higher amounts that the committee rejected. Of the nine committee members in the majority, five spoke at the hearings: Clifford Brown, Chad Ellis, Janet Gelbart, Carol Levin and Lee Selwyn, supported by co-chair Richard Benka. Of the six members in the minority, only Beth Stram spoke.

At risk of adding fuel to a fire, William Lupini, the school superintendent, spoke at an October 7 meeting of the Board of Selectmen, seeking more money than “group 2″ proposals. If the Board of Selectmen proposes a tax override, Brookline voters will decide. Current plans would place a question on the town election ballot next spring. Views expressed at the two hearings clustered around five override options and five other concerns:

• Maximum override, as sought by Dr. Lupini
• High override, the “group 2″ proposals
• Low override, the “group 1″ proposals
• Some override, amounts and purposes unstated
• No override for any purpose
• Support for METCO and employee programs
• Opposition to METCO and employee programs
• Devotion School expansion and renovation plans
• A new, ninth elementary school
• High school expansion

Many speakers described affiliations, including Brookline High School (BHS), an elementary school–Baker, Devotion, Driscoll, Heath, Lawrence, Lincoln, Pierce or Runkle–service as town meeting members (TMM) or on the override study committee (OSC), and the Brookline Educators Union (BEU).

Maximum override: Dr. Lupini has outlined a spending plan he says would require an additional $12.29 million in tax revenue for fiscal years 2016, 2017 and 2018 combined. He did not make clear his base of comparison, but apparently he is somehow calling for more than $15.38 million in added revenue that the override study committee recommends for those years, including 2.5 percent increases for 2017 and 2018.

At the hearings, Dr. Lupini’s plan was generally supported by Jessica Wender-Shubow, BEU president and a BHS teacher, by Dominique Aumiller, BEU vice president, a BHS teacher and a Devotion parent, by Emily England, a Baker parent, by Keira Flynn-Carson, a BHS teacher, and by Mike Toeffel, a Devotion parent.

Ms. Wender-Shubow said that under current management, “60 to 90 students can be in a room with a single educator.” Ms. Flynn-Carson maintained that “essential intangibles [were] neglected by committee.” Ms. Aumiller described the difference between “intense discussions with 15 students” and, last year, a class of 28 students, saying, “Half…never talked.”

High override: Last June 30, a minority of the override committee proposed higher amounts than those the override study committee recommends: $7.9 million per year for school operations, plus debt exclusion of $58.8 million for school building projects. Some members of the Board of Selectmen have been referring to those as “group 2″ proposals although they were rejected. They have no status as recommendations.

At the hearings, the high override was generally supported by Lauren Bernard of John St., a Devotion parent and Precinct 8 TMM, by Sarah Boehs of Aspinwall Ave., a Lawrence parent, by Jack Hall of Washington St., a Driscoll parent, by Brian Hochleutner of Elm St., a Pierce parent and Precinct 6 TMM, by Hai-ying Peng of Bradford Terrace, a Devotion parent, by Pamela Roberts, a Devotion parent, by David Root of Longwood Ave., a Lawrence parent, by Andrew Shalit of Griggs Terrace, a Pierce parent, by Beth Stram, a BHS parent and an OSC member, by Jillian Webster of Naples Rd., a Devotion parent, and by Charla Whitlay, a Devotion parent.

Ms. Bernard said, “Past experiences at Devotion were more enriching…Adequate staffing is the issue.” The school has lost most of its former special-purpose rooms and is now subdivided into warrens of small rooms and cubicles. However, Ms. Stram said, “Devotion cannot be the only solution.” She was supported by several others concerned about school-space needs. Mr. Hochleutner maintained, “The OSC assumptions were wrong…We need a buffer, a safety zone.”

Low override: A compromise approach is the lower override that was recommended by the committee on June 30: $5 million per year for school operations plus debt exclusion of $23 million for expansion and renovation of Devotion School. The committee acknowledges, if enrollment continues to increase, that more funding may be needed in future years.

At the hearings, the low override was generally supported by Richard Benka of Circuit Rd., co-chair of OSC, by Clifford Brown of Hyslop Rd, a Precinct 13 TMM and an OSC member, by Chad Ellis of Chesham Rd., a Runkle parent, a Precinct 12 TMM and an OSC member, by Janet Gelbart of St. Paul St., an OSC member, by Carol Levin, a Runkle parent and an OSC member, by Linda Olsen Pehlke of Browne St, a Precinct 2 TMM, by Dr. Nadhave Prakash of Bradford Terrace, by Lee Selwyn of Reservoir Rd., an OSC member, by Dr. Stanley Spiegel of Stetson St., a Precinct 2 TMM, by Dr. Sundar Srinivasan of Salisbury Rd., a Driscoll parent, and by Megan Zorn, a Driscoll parent.

Mr. Benka asserted that “schools want substantial additional programs…We have to avoid overstatement.” Mr. Ellis quoted Susan Ditkoff, School Committee chair and co-chair of OSC, as stating that if the low override were adopted, the school “enrichment and challenge support program would be dropped.” Ms. Zorn claimed that “fear-mongering [is being] used to quell dissent.” In a more practical tone, Ms. Gelbart said the Board of Selectmen should “pass what is needed at a level the town can afford.” Dr. Spiegel advised caution, saying, “There’s opposition gearing up for this override…The number zero will be on the ballot as well.”

Some override: Some speakers at the hearings voiced support for an override without saying which option or what amounts they favored. They included Cina Doctoroff of Williston Rd., a Runkle parent, Craig Hagen of Colbourne Crescent, a Runkle parent, Pamela Katz of Columbia St., a Devotion parent and Precinct 9 TMM, Ellen Messing of Kilsyth Rd., a Driscoll parent, and Carrie Staff of Stedman St., a Devotion parent.

Ms. Katz claimed there was “not a single [Devotion] classroom that has not had some kind of compromise.” Ms. Staff said, “Devotion cannot be the only solution.” Ms. Messing asserted, “OSC significantly overstates the costs of METCO.”

No override: Although a distinct minority, some at the hearings questioned the need for an override. Perhaps most vehement was Saralynn Allaire of Bellingham Rd., a Precinct 16 TMM. She seemed not to favor Dr. Lupini, the school superintendent, saying, “He of course does not pay taxes here and presumably does not care about the town overall.” She proposed a solution to more students from Hancock Village, if a Chapter 40B housing project goes through: “Bus them up to the Heath School.”

Regina Frawley of Russett Rd., a Precinct 16 TMM, acknowledged Brookline was a “liberal” town, saying, “You can’t name a social program we’re not supporting.” She urged the Board of Selectmen to have concern for people “in single-family houses, on fixed incomes…We’re looking at pushing seniors out.” Pamela Lodish of Fisher Ave., a Precinct 14 TMM, questioned continuation of METCO and school employee programs, saying, “We don’t have the space.” She is “not in favor of a huge tax increase when these points are not being addressed.”

Support for METCO and employee programs: Starting in December of last year, Mr. Selwyn and Mr. Benka of the override study committee began singling out METCO and the student program for town employees as villains of school spending. Mr. Selwyn introduced the issues at a meeting attended by Jessica Wender-Shubow, a native of Brookline who now heads the Brookline Educators Union. Word quickly got around that Brookline had a committee with members hostile to two of the community’s longstanding social programs.

METCO was organized in 1965. An initial effort was led by Prof. Leon Trilling of M.I.T., then chairman of the Brookline School Committee. Key participants included Dr. Robert Sperber, then Brookline superintendent of schools, and the superintendents in Newton and Lexington. When METCO started sending students to seven founding communities in 1966, the program was described as filling “available seats” in classrooms.

In the 1970s, a similar approach was taken to a student program for town employees, who have been allowed to enroll their children in Brookline schools, paying a so-called “materials fee” to compensate for direct costs. Students in these programs do not get their choices of school. Instead, they are assigned where space is most available. Because of the approach, school administrators have always maintained that the main costs are not financial but social, increasing some class sizes.

At the hearings, Brookline’s longstanding social programs in the schools were generally supported by Joanna Baker of Beacon St., a Precinct 13 TMM, by Suzanne Farman of Centre St., a Devotion parent, by Eana Meng, a BHS student and founder of Brookline Friends of METCO, by Ellen Messing of Kilsyth Rd., a Driscoll parent, by Danielle Rabbina, a BHS teacher, by Joseph Segel of Beacon St, by Dr. Min Song of Bradford Terrace, a Devotion parent, by Suzanna Stern, a Runkle parent, by Henry Varon, a BHS student, by Ms. Wender-Shubow and by Catherine Wolf, a BHS teacher.

Ms. Baker suggested that some in Brookline “may have forgotten the value METCO brings to the Boston area, [addressing] unequal access to education.” Mr. Varon said, “METCO offers the most diversity of any program in the schools.” According to Ms. Meng, “Race becomes something we appreciate rather than something that separates us.” Ms. Messing called METCO “an amazing and inspiring experience for my kids.” Mr. Segel emphasized the value of METCO in helping Brookline students learn how to interact well with people from different backgrounds. In the work world, he said, “a diverse work force is one of the most valuable assets a company has.”

Speaking about the employee student or so-called “materials fee” program, Ms. Miller said it “encourages and retains high-quality teachers.” Ms. Rabbina, a 14-year veteran in Brookline schools, said that if the program were compromised, she “would look elsewhere.” According to Ms. Wender-Shubow, “teachers are demoralized” from the committee’s attack against the employee program. “You are talking about sustaining middle-class families,” she said.

Opposition to METCO and employee programs: Richard Benka of Circuit Rd., co-chair of OSC, kept up attacks on the METCO program, claiming it represents “a 6-1/2 million dollar annual subsidy to Boston. Lee Selwyn of Reservoir Rd., an OSC member, asserted that “these programs are not free.” If they were to be ended, he claimed, school “expansion would not be required…An override could be avoided.”

Linda Olsen Pehlke of Browne St., a Precinct 2 TMM, did not seem to have read much about the 1960s in Boston. She asked, “What were the conditions when [METCO] was established?” Chad Ellis of Chesham Rd., a Runkle parent, Precinct 12 TMM and OSC member, asked, “Is that the best way that we could support diversity?” Dr. Stanley Spiegel of Stetson St., a Precinct 2 TMM, asked, “Why should we have to pay more taxes to educate non-resident students, whose own families pay their taxes elsewhere?” Pamela Lodish of Fisher Ave., a Precinct 14 TMM, said, “We don’t have the space.”

Devotion School plans: The current plan for Devotion School made three residents of Bradford Terrace unhappy. That is an apartment building on Babcock St. without the side and rear setbacks now required by zoning. Maya French complained that the Devotion School Building Committee chose “the most expensive plan for Devotion.” However, the committee obtained two sets of cost estimates. While the option they chose was the most expensive of three according to one estimate, it was the middle of three according to the other estimate.

Since no one but residents of Bradford Terrace was complaining about Devotion School plans, the real issue looked to be something else. An initial plan for a proposed new south wing is closer to Babcock St. than the current building. From Table 5.01 of the zoning bylaw, the minimum setback appears to be around 50 ft–about the current amount. The initial plan showed a new south building set back about half as much. Under a special permit, which might be needed, the Zoning Board of Appeals can modify setback requirements.

Manny Howard of Bradford Terrace complained that the proposed building “will prevent the warmth of the sun from reaching our property.” However, sunlight comes mainly from the south, while the new building is mainly to the north of Bradford Terrace. Dr. Min Song of Bradford Terrace wanted to scrap the existing school and build an entirely new one, calling the current plan “a suburban school in an urban lot.” Jillian Webster of Naples Rd., a Devotion parent, contended that the other options considered by the Devotion School Building Committee, but rejected, “won’t provide the quality of experiences parents expect from their schools.”

New, ninth elementary school: Some parents had concerns about plans for school expansion, to accommodate increasing enrollment. A few years ago, Brookline engaged in a tedious examination of the issue, resulting in an “expand-in-place” strategy for which the current Lawrence School project and the planned Devotion School project are the first outcomes. These fail to meet even current needs for elementary schools, accommodating at most a few hundred more students, and they do nothing for the high school.

Contending that “expand-in-place” was a failure were Sarah Kitterman of Kenwood St., a Devotion parent, Dr. Min Song of Bradford Terrace, a Devotion parent, Dr. Sundar Srinivasan of Salisbury Rd., a Driscoll parent, and Pelly Stoll of Evans Rd., a Driscoll parent. Dr. Srinivasan asserted, “We do not have sufficient backup plans.” He cited a project in Newton expected to add “24 new classrooms for $40 million,” including land. Mr. Stoll said Brookline’s current efforts amount to “a shrug of a plan.”

High school expansion: Lack of plans to address overcrowding at the high school, expected as the current, large elementary classes move up, concerned several parents. They included Emily England, a Baker parent, Robert Liao, a Heath parent, Dr. Min Song, a Devotion parent, Beth Stram, a BHS parent and an OSC member, and Megan Zorn, a Driscoll parent.

Ms. England said it was “shameful not to look at solutions for the high school now.” Ms. Zorn recalled that Dr. Luipini had said that “the high school might run 5 am to 7 pm…This suggestion is outrageous.” Mr. Liao claimed, “Six years is enough to plan for the high school…[Planning] should start now.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 21, 2014


School Committee: budget crisis evaporates for this year, Brookline Beacon, April 11, 2014

Annual town meeting: budgets and a larger Driscoll school, Brookline Beacon, May 29, 2014

Override Study Committee: $5 million tax override, plus Devotion School debt exclusion, Brookline Beacon, July 31, 2014

Board of Selectmen: appointments, warrant articles, school spending, Brookline Beacon, October 8, 2014

Board of Selectmen: appointments, warrant articles, school spending

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, October 7, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations. There were reviews and hearings for two of the 20 articles coming before the town meeting that starts November 18.

Announcements: The Health Department provides flu clinics this season on October 28 and 29, November 9 and December 4 at the Senior Center, Baker and Devotion schools, and the Health Center. The planned Olea Cafe at 195 Washington St., which was allowed permits on August 12, will not be opening. The Coolidge House assisted care facility at 30 Webster St. is closing. Genesis Health Care, of Kennett Square, PA, operates other facilities in Medford and Chelsea. Hunneman Hall at the main library is hosting a commemorative, Remembering the Tam, this Thursday, October 9, at 7 pm. The Tam O’Shanter pub and music hall operated at 1648 Beacon St. between about 1972 and 1995.

Contracts and appointments: Peter Ditto, the engineering director, got approval for a $0.17 million contract with Susi of Dorchester for street repair on Englewood Ave and at two intersections. The work had been planned for later but was moved ahead because of deteriorating conditions. Greer Hardwicke of the Preservation Commission got approval for a $0.02 million state-funded contract with Wendy Frontiero of Beverly for historical surveys in northern parts of Brookline.

The board voted appointments to the Council on Aging: Peter Ames, Doris Toby Axelrod, Phyllis Bram, Jean Doherty, Harry Johnson, Barbara Kean, Celia Lascarides, Helen Lew, Claire Lurie, Yolanda Rodriguez, Evelyn Roll, Vera Shama, William Wong and Jackie Wright. The board interviewed two candidates for appointments: one for Conservation and one for Tree Planting.

Diversity director: Lloyd Gellineau was appointed Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Human Relations under a bylaw voted at this year’s annual town meeting. That bylaw replaced the former Human Relations/Youth Resources Commission with a new Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission. Dr. Gellineau is the first African-American in many years to become a Brookline department head. He is also to be Brookline’s chief diversity officer.

The new commission has yet to be appointed, and so far no candidates have been interviewed. The Board of Selectmen had waited for approval of town meeting actions by the state attorney general. It was received on September 23–two days before a 90-day deadline. Several people came to speak in support of Dr. Gellineau. He has worked in Brookline’s Department of Health and Human Services for eight years.

Supporters included Michael Sandman, an Advisory Committee member, Rita McNally, a Precinct 2 town meeting member, Betsy Shure Gross, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, Martin Rosenthal, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, and Cheryl Snyder, a constable. Others contended Brookline should set up a screening committee and conduct a broad-based search for a director. They included Patricia Connors, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, Joanna Baker, a Precinct 13 town meeting member and Dr. Alex Coleman of Tappan St.

Board member Nancy Daly spoke in favor of Dr. Gellineau, saying, “We have someone who’s highly qualified.” She had chaired a committee appointed by the board to review Brookline’s efforts toward diversity. It turned out to be a complicated effort, taking more than a year. Since the commission has to be consulted about a director, Ms. Daly proposed Dr. Gellineau’s appointment as a provisional director. The board agreed in a unanimous vote.

Warrant articles: Claire Stampfer, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, and Heather Hamilton, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, spoke to the board about Article 17 at the November town meeting. It proposes a resolution asking the town to select health-conscious LED lamps for its lighting programs. The lamps differ mainly in brightness and in color temperature, a measure of how much they tend toward red or blue light.

Incandescent and “warm white” fluorescent lamps have color temperatures rated around 2,700 K, “cool white” fluorescent lamps are around 4,200 K and “daylight” halide lamps are around 5,500 K. LED lamps can be made over a wide range; those for street lighting commonly come with 4,000 K or 5,700 K ratings. After an initial review of options, Dr. Stampfer said Public Works chose a 4,000 K rating for its current street-lighting program. She and Ms. Hamilton said color temperature has health effects. Used at night, higher numbered ratings can cause sleep disturbances.

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Energy, lower numbers for LED-lamp color temperature are associated with lower efficiency, usually measured in lumens per watt. At a 3,000 K color temperature, as compared to 6,000 K, it typically found 20 percent lower efficiency. For the same amount of lighting, the cost of electricity would increase about 25 percent–nearly cancelling the electrical-efficiency benefits of LED lamps as replacements for fluorescent and high-pressure sodium vapor.

School spending: An audience of more than 30 gathered as William Lupini, the school superintendent, reviewed school spending, in the light of a potential tax override to support operations. Dr. Lupini distinguished priorities for schools, which he called “core values” and “beliefs,” as compared with priorities from the recent Override Study Committee, whose report referred to “levers.” Much of that committee’s long sessions were conducted in code, nearly opaque to ordinary Brookline residents. Some of that code, like “levers,” factored in Dr. Lupini’s presentation, too.

Dr. Lupini’s presentation was detailed in a 58-page document titled Preliminary Look at Budget Implications. Although not found that evening via a “Packet” link for October 7, 2014, at Meeting Central on the municipal Web site, two days later a link appeared on the Override Central page. The core of Dr. Lupini’s financial presentation was an estimate of operating cost growth to maintain services.

Key elements of school priorities, as described by Dr. Lupini, are neighborhood schools, small classes and commitments to diversity–all involving significant costs. He emphasized that school spending per student, when adjusted for inflation, has been held level over the past five years. The override study report agreed. Most new financial needs come from trying to maintain services during increasing enrollment.

Over the past ten years, Dr. Lupini showed, class sizes have grown. For the 2005 school year, they ranged from 14 to 25 students, with 19 the most common. For the 2015 school year, they are 15 to 26 students, with 22 the most common. The number of K-8 students increased 41 percent, the number of K-8 home rooms increased 29 percent and the average home-room student count increased from 19.3 to 21.2. Although not shown as part of the presentation except for school nurses, numbers of students per support staff member have also been growing, along with numbers of students per teaching staff member.

BrooklineClassSizes2005and2015

Source: Public Schools of Brookline, October, 2014

In code words, on page 13 of his presentation, Dr. Lupini estimated that school operations need a total of $12.29 million in additional revenue for the 2016, 2017 and 2018 fiscal years combined. It was not clear how much allowance had been made for salary increases and other sources of budget inflation. It was also not clear how much of that amount was to maintain services and how much was for new services. There was no explanation of what so-called “catch up,” “enhancement” and “structural deficit” actually meant.

Members of the board seemed to take Dr. Lupini’s word on school priorities, but they had concerns about timing and transparency. Board member Nancy Daly asked for a budget projection. Susan Ditkoff, chair of the School Committee, described a process extending into next spring. Board members said it had to be much faster and said the budget must tell what an override buys. As board member Neil Wishinsky put it, “We have to give the voters a reason to pay more money.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 8, 2014


Dr. William Lupini, Superintendent of Schools, Brookline, MA, Preliminary Look at Budget Implications, October 7, 2014

Energy efficiency of LEDs, U.S. Department of Energy, March, 2013

School Committee: no PARCC testing this year

A regular semimonthly meeting of the School Committee on Thursday, September 4, started at 6:00 pm, held in the fifth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Topics included the state’s PARCC testing program and considerations for a general tax override, expected to be proposed early next year mainly to support public schools.

Superintendent of Schools William Lupini and the School Committee welcomed several new hires and promotions for leadership positions, They include new vice principals Jennifer Buller at Devotion, Brian DiNitzo at Lincoln and Dann Rudd at Baker. New administrators include Gabe McCormick for professional development, Michelle Adams for school affairs and Brian Poon as associate dean of students at the High School.

Many of their friends and family were there. At least two of the new hires and promotions are African-American. Public Schools of Brookline looks to be leading the town in diversity of senior staff recruitment–an example most municipal departments have yet to appreciate.

Testing plans: Superintendent Lupini described his opposition to introducing a new commercial testing regime in Brookline this school year, called “Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers” (PARCC). These tests are being produced and sold by the Pearson company of London, with major offices in Boston and six other U.S. cities.

Dr. Lupini said the state group organizing PARCC had agreed to “extend by 50 percent” the testing times, only to reverse course under alleged federal pressure. They are “now considering eliminating the extra time,” he said. Communities that previously agreed to adopt PARCC will find “conditions have changed…will likely be upset.” He contended the situation left special-needs students at severe disadvantage. Bottom line: “PARCC didn’t provide an environment that’s in the best interest of our students.”

School Committee members appeared to expect Dr. Lupini’s change of heart and offered some considered reactions. Committee chair Susan Ditkoff sounded the most skeptical. She does “not agree on the question of timed tests” but nevertheless “supports the approach” Dr. Lupini proposed. The “equity issue is front and center,” she said, “especially special needs” students, although “Common Core standards ask for higher levels of thinking.”

Vice chair Barbara Scotto, previously a teacher in Brookline elementary schools for many years, said she “supports the decision,” although “it concerns me that the timing issue is so prominent” at state and federal levels. She explained that Brookline’s experience with untimed tests taught helpful lessons. When scheduled times were up, she said, “possibly a third…had finished, the rest of the students were taking their time,” and “the kids who rushed through often did not get the best scores.”

Dr. Lupini, who currently heads the state’s association of school superintendents, said that organization “will be bringing up the issue when we meet” later this month. As of now, he said, “59 percent of districts opted for PARCC…50 percent of students will go with PARCC.” He seemed to expect some districts may reconsider, now that it is clear accommodations for special-needs students are being constricted.

Background: At a School Committee meeting this May, Dr. Lupini had announced plans to implement PARCC testing in Brookline schools during the 2014-2015 school year. As the only exception, he proposed Brookline High School would stay with MCAS for grade 10–that is, English and math tests required for graduation. A public hearing about the issues was set for June 5, to be followed by a School Committee review and vote later in June.

In a move that might have surprised some, on June 19 Dr. Lupini pushed out to September the review and vote about PARCC testing. He had become concerned, he said, about “the untimed nature of MCAS versus the timed nature of PARCC.” While that might have been a departure for Dr. Lupini, it was a familiar issue for people acquainted with decades of testing controversies, including several members of the School Committee.

PARCC has become the military arm of Common Core State Standards, the latest effort to regiment U.S. elementary and secondary schools. Supposedly state-coordinated but in fact federally promoted, it looks like an emerging cash cow for the publishing company formerly known as Pearson Education, recently rebranded as just “Pearson.” As compared with other regimented tests, it puts efficiency and not students first. It is both administered and scored by computers, even in so-called “essay” segments.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, September 5, 2014


Valerie Strauss, Teacher says, No longer can I throw my students to the ‘testing wolves,’ Washington Post, September 5, 2014

Louise Law and John Stifler, Look between the lines on education ‘reform,’ Daily Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, MA), May 21, 2014

Les Perelman, Flunk the robo-graders, Boston Globe, April 30, 2014

Scott O’Connell, Rough start for PARCC, Metrowest Daily News (Framingham, MA), March 30, 2014

Override Study Committee: warping the facts

Brookline’s Override Study Committee appointed in 2013 did themselves no favors with a report filed Thursday, August 14, in the dog-days of summer, when no one might be watching. Their report comes across as wordy, warped and awkward–read in tandem with the much more straightforward report from the Override Study Committee of 2007.

Fuzzy logic: A fuzzy argument from the 2013 committee held that Brookline taxes are unusually heavy. [p. 115] That fiction was concocted by combining medians for incomes with averages for taxes. People who work with statistical data would know such an approach is not valid. Actually, community data as taken from the committee report show the opposite: that is, when compared to community incomes, Brookline taxes are unusually light.

Property tax versus Income, selected Massachusetts cities and towns
Source of data: Brookline Override Study Committee, Final report, August, 2014, pp. 114, 115

Fair comparison: In the chart, a magenta line reflects average taxes per resident, as a percentage of average incomes per resident, for the 19 communities that the Override Study Committee of 2013 cited as a basis of comparison. Communities above the line have relatively high taxes, considering their incomes; those below the line have relatively low taxes.

As compared to community incomes, Brookline’s taxes are well below average. In fact, Brookline is the stingiest–or, if you will, the thriftiest–of all. By percentages instead of amounts, Medford–second from the left–is slightly more thrifty than Brookline. Part of the reason families have been moving to Brookline, other than the reputation of its schools, could be that its taxes have become a fairly good bargain.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 24, 2014


Note: No one, at least any time recently, has tried to relate circumstances in Brookline to those throughout Massachusetts. The recent study committee did not do so. Their so-called “peer” communities were mostly very well-heeled places–not chosen to represent the state.

The town’s history runs to such an approach. As recently as the 1880s, Brookline’s gentry advertised the community–without a trace of modesty–as “the richest town in America.” Who might then have guessed, 130 years later, that Brookline would have a substantial and growing poverty rate?

The following chart presents the same type of picture as the earlier one, but it includes nearly all the 351 Massachusetts cities and towns. Data came from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Massachusetts Department of Revenue for 2011–the latest income data that can be readily extracted from census machinery, with only residential property taxes.

Property tax versus Income, Massachusetts cities and towns

Excluded from this chart were 21 vacation destinations–mostly Cape Cod and the Islands–totaling less than two percent of the population. Property tax versus income comparisons there are badly distorted by absentee owners of luxury houses. Their property taxes are tabulated with those communities, while most of the luxury-owner incomes are not.

This chart shows a concentration of communities near the state’s average income per resident of around $35,000. Of the state’s many moderate-income communities, only Framingham and Medford somehow landed on the committee “peer” list and thus on the earlier chart, while this chart shows nearly all those communities.

The magenta line on the statewide chart is the statistical trend from an unconstrained, unweighted linear regression. The slope is about 0.058 and the source intercept about $9,400. On average, this means that the state’s communities, aside from vacation spots, were collecting in residential property taxes about 6 percent of resident incomes over about $9,000 per person.

As also found in the chart with only so-called “peer” communities, Brookline sat on the low-tax fringe in the statewide comparison. Its residential property taxes were substantially less than typical for the town’s income levels. Cambridge, with its portfolio of high-tech industries, achieved much lower residential property taxes for its income levels. Among the communities with middle and upper average incomes, statewide, Brookline had the second lowest residential tax burdens relative to incomes.

Brookline Planning Board: pavilion for Parsons Field

A weekly meeting of the Planning Board on Thursday, July 24, started at 7:30 pm in the northern first-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Reviews of four property improvement applications were scheduled. A proposed change to Parsons Field–as it has been called since 1969–proved controversial and took most of the meeting. It was where legendary Kent St. resident George Herman “Babe” Ruth, Jr., sometimes practiced in the early twentieth century.

Parsons Field: Northeastern University has owned Parsons Field since 1930 and uses it as a sports stadium. The largest use, for the former Huskies football team, ended when Northeastern disbanded the team early in 2010. The major university uses now are baseball and soccer. Brookline High School has used the field in many prior years, though not recently, for home football games.

The 5-1/2 acre field extends between Kent and Harrison Sts. and takes up much of the block from Aspinwall Ave. to Kent Sq. Houses along Aspinwall Ave. and Kent Sq. abut the field, as do one each on Kent St. and on Harrison St. Other dwellings are directly across Kent and Harrison Sts. The field and most of the houses are in a T-5 two-family zone. Dwellings east of Kent St. are in an M-1.0 low-rise apartment zone. In some places, one finds “7 acres” quoted for the field size, but that seems to include parts of abutting land.

Plans for a pavilion: Last winter, Northeastern began plans to build a pavilion for its baseball diamond, with home plate near the southeast corner of the field, toward Kent St. and Aspinwall Ave. Current specifications show 409 seats, about 100 more than provided now in metal bleachers.

There are also nearly 1,800 seats in metal bleachers along the northern edge of the field, toward Kent Sq. Those are to remain for use during soccer games. A field house bordering Kent St., used for both baseball and soccer, will also remain. Parsons is a fairly compact field for baseball. Fly balls and foul balls sometimes reach neighboring houses, and outfielders risk colliding with soccer bleachers.

The field once had about 7,000 seats in open stands. Over the past 50 years, there have been four prior renovations. In a somewhat controversial renovation of 1972, Northeastern installed artificial turf, moved the baseball home plate from the northeast to the southeast corner and reduced seating. The field house was renovated in 1992. The most recent renovation replaced older artificial turf with FieldTurf.

Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a Brookline-based lawyer, Precinct 16 town meeting member and former chair of the Board of Selectmen, represented Northeastern–which also sent two administrators and two representatives from its architect. Mr. Allen said Northeastern would welcome Brookline High School’s football team again. He said there would be extended netting to catch more stray baseballs and claimed the pavilion would “improve the streetscape along Kent St.”

Board member Steven Heikin later took exception, saying the “back side [of the pavilion] is pretty industrial.” Mark Zarrillo, the board’s chair, asked about lighting. A Northeastern representative said field lighting had been replaced this year. All except two fixtures operated in common, and those two would stay on about 30 minutes after the others went off. Mr. Zarrillo questioned whether that provided adequate security.

Polly Selkoe, assistant director for regulatory planning at the Planning Department, said that the planning review had been triggered by expansion of seating area. As a nonprofit educational institution, Northeastern has a right to use the field for educational purposes, but Brookline has rights related to dimensions of structures, public safety and nuisance control.

Concerns and objections: Many residents attended the Planning Board meeting to express concerns. The most frequent were about traffic and parking during events. Nancy Daly, a member of the Board of Selectmen, said, “Traffic and parking are serious concerns…streets are narrow…buses obstruct traffic.” She was “glad to hear Brookline’s team can play there again.”

Capt. Michael Gropman, who heads the Brookline Police traffic division, said he had many concerns and complained that he and Transportation Director Todd Kirrane “found out about this only six days ago.” The Northeastern management held a well advertised meeting for neighborhood residents in mid-spring, but there had apparently been no similar effort to contact Brookline departments.

Marla Engle, a Harrison St. resident, said that parking has been inadequate for events, that use means both frequency and intensity, and that the overall impact is increasing. Another Harrison St. resident complained about noise. Some of the worst, he said, is extremely loud music during practice sessions.

Responding to questions from board members Robert Cook and Steven Heikin, Northeastern representatives said that use for soccer was stable but use for baseball was increasing. They made vague statements about noise. Mr. Cook asked, “In terms of good neighbor relations, can it be confined?” There was no clear answer.

The board found too many unresolved issues to reach a decision and will reconsider the case at a meeting scheduled for August 14. Northeastern representatives said they will work with Capt. Gropman and Mr. Kirrane on traffic plans.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 25, 2014


Parsons Field to debut new surface this weekend, Northeastern University, August 18, 2010, with some recent history of the field

School Committee: planning for a general tax override

A special meeting of the School Committee on Tuesday, July 8, started at 4:00 pm, held in the fifth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Special guests were Town Administrator Mel Kleckner and Town Counsel Joslin Murphy. All committee members except chair Susan Ditkoff attended, with Barbara Scotto chairing the meeting.

The School Committee has begun preparations to support a general tax override, also called an “operating” tax override. On May 6, 2008, Brookline voters approved a general override of 4-1/2 percent–added to an increase of 2-1/2 percent allowed without voter approval, for a total tax increase of 7 percent. Voters also approved a general override in 1994. General overrides become permanent elements of a community’s taxes. Regardless of initial purposes, later a community can use added revenues for other purposes.

According to committee member Rebecca Stone, a report from the selectmen’s Override Study Committee is being assembled by a subcommittee of five, whom she did not name. That committee scheduled meetings for the next two evenings, although it later cancelled the second one. According to Ms. Stone, there proved to be “no appetite” for dropping or reducing the METCO program. She did not mention the program for students from families of town employees living elsewhere, who pay so-called “materials fees.”

Private speculation about potential tax increases had ranged as high as 14 percent. Ms. Stone hazarded a guess that the Override Study Committee might recommend a general override of around 5 percent–for a total 7-1/2 percent tax increase. However, depending on decisions about a school-building program, voters could also be presented with a debt override proposal.

A debt override allows debt-service spending above the normal limits for a specific project and a term of years. That could pay for school renovations and expansions. There were previous debt overrides to renovate Brookline High School and to build the new Lincoln School. In his budget message of February, 2014, Mr. Kleckner included $110 million for Devotion School, $51 million for the High School, $28 million for Driscoll School and $2 million for other school buildings.

In its 2014 budget report, the Advisory Committee stated that it anticipated a debt override to provide about $77 million toward Devotion School renovation and expansion. The town’s FY2015 financial plan projects debt service charges for the project rising to about $5.6 million per year over about 25 years. According to that plan, debt exclusion for Devotion School would add about 3 percent to current taxes, but the largest part of the added taxes would not be levied until July of 2018.

Mr. Kleckner reviewed the override process and the potential schedule. Regardless of its purpose, he said, an override has to be proposed by the Board of Selectmen. Questions can be put to voters at regular or special elections. In past years, Brookline has preferred the annual elections for town offices in the spring. Mr. Kleckner said he will propose that the Board of Selectmen vote January 13 of next year on ballot questions for an election to be held May 5.

Mr. Kleckner’s schedule would allow 16 weeks for what he called a “private campaign.” Mr. Kleckner, who started his work for the town in September, 2010, would not be familiar with any of the previous Brookline overrides. However, he seemed aware that members of the School Committee and Board of Selectmen would likely campaign for an override–as they did during the previous efforts.

Ms. Murphy, the town counsel, emphasized that elected officials must rely on private funding and privately organized efforts when campaigning for an override. About the only government element allowed in such a campaign would be statements of positions and answers to questions on the town’s Web sites. Using private resources, she said, elected officials are free to organize, advocate, raise funds, hold meetings, distribute information, appear on broadcast media, identify themselves and behave as they might in any other political campaign. Municipal employees, she said, are more restricted. Generally they have to be evenhanded.

William Lupini, the school superintendent, said opposition could be expected, recalling what he called “fact police” at forums organized during the 2008 override efforts. Dr. Lupini mentioned that work is underway on a revised Web site for Public Schools of Brookline, expected next September. Compared with the recently revised municipal Web site, the school Web site lacks critical information. For example, it provides no access to detailed financial plans for either the current fiscal year or any prior years.

Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 12, 2014

Dr. Lupini moves to Brookline

In a sketch bound to remind someone older than–well, maybe around 90–of Frank Capra’s classic film feature with Jimmy Stewart, William Lupini, the superintendent of schools, moved his mental apparatus to Brookline this week, to the obvious surprise of and some consternation from his School Committee. The occasion was to have been a committee vote June 19 on adopting the new PARCC testing regime, replacing MCAS.

Instead, in a scene worthy of the late 1930s “screwball comedies,” Dr. Lupini transmogrified into “the instructor,” teaching “the class” a lesson on social justice. “I have pushed,” said Dr. Lupini, “on the untimed nature of MCAS versus the timed nature of PARCC…I’ve been promised a set of accommodations I haven’t seen yet.” After proposing just two weeks earlier to replace MCAS with PARCC except for tenth-grade testing, Dr. Lupini began singing “Let’s Put the Whole Thing Off.”

Now, it’s so well known that standard testing regimes disadvantage slow readers, since those regimes appeared in the 1920s, that the facts must have wormed their ways into the hearts of even the most wooden of School Committee members. They can’t possibly be a surprise, yet the acting skills on display June 19 might have convinced almost anyone who didn’t know better.

Committee chair Susan Wolf Ditkoff launched yet another “wordburst” like the one that underwhelmed town meeting this year. The change, she said, “does not reflect on my part an opposition to PARCC…PARCC was designed by governors…there were experts involved.”

As she often does, vice chair Barbara Scotto, a veteran of about 30 years teaching in Brookline schools, took a measured approach. “I am not basically opposed to testing,” she said. “I am against increasing the time that we spend on testing.”

Dr. Lupini and the School Committee are to revisit the issues in September. While they won’t have changed, public opinions may have. Referring to a recent decision in Medford to pass on PARCC for the coming year, Dr. Lupini noted, “Once you opted in, you were locked in.”

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 21, 2014


Frank Capra, producer and director, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, with James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains and Edward Arnold, Columbia, 1939

Ira Gershwin, lyrics, and George Gershwin, score, Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off, in Shall We Dance, with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, RKO Radio, 1937

Board of Selectmen: school programs, electronic voting and permits

A weekly meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, June 17, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Board member Neil Wishinsky did not attend. There were no reports from departments or organizations.

Announcements: The Brookline Farmers Market opens for the season on June 19. Hours are Thursday from 1:30 to 8:00 pm at the municipal parking lot on the west side of Centre St. just north of Beacon St. This year Carr’s Ciderhouse of Hadley, MA, has a permit to sell hard ciders in addition to cider vinegars and cider syrups. The Olmsted House, a historical site at 99 Warren St. operated by the National Park Service, opens for summer visitors June 25. Hours are Wednesday through Sunday from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm.

Planning school programs: Helen Charlupski, a School Committee member, and Peter Rowe, the deputy superintendent of schools, sought approval of a $100,000 contract with Symmes Miana & McKee of Cambridge for planning services at Brookline High School. As Mr. Rowe explained it, this is not for architectural planning but instead for planning school programs. The Building Commission is listed as the agency in charge of the contract, as would normally occur for architecture or construction, but no member of the Building Commission addressed this topic.

Funding may be from item 59 under Article 8 as approved at the 2014 annual town meeting, but there was no description of the source of funds. Members of the board approved the $100,000 contract in a unanimous vote, without asking questions about contents of the project or qualifications of the contractor. Little engagement with the substance of some topics produced such a speedy meeting that the board paused twice, for a total of about 30 minutes, because it ran far faster than scheduled.

Electronic voting records: Town Administrator Mel Kleckner was granted a request to transfer $3,000 from an insurance account to the account for town meeting expenses, to pay overtime so employees of the Information Technology Office can attend town meetings. They will assist with the recent electronic voting system that has produced records inconsistent with votes as called by Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, the moderator. None of the other officials usually responsible for town meeting appeared: the moderator, the town clerk or the chair of the Advisory Committee.

Appointments: In contrast with its speedy approval of $100,000 for the purposes of Public Schools of Brookline, the board took a relaxed pace interviewing applicants for committees and commissions: two for Martin Luther King, one for Park and Recreation, one for Building and one for Information Technology. Dan Lyons, applying for a fourth term of three years on Park and Recreation, engaged in conversations with Kenneth Goldstein, chair of the board, over plans for the municipal golf course. Mr. Lyons said he favors building a driving range using part of the first fairway, reducing it from par-5 to par-4.

Permits: The board speedily approved several permit items: three events at Larz Anderson, a name change for a restaurant at 1009 Beacon St., a change in company officers for Trader Joe’s in Coolidge Corner and one hour earlier opening on Sundays for Sunset Cantina at 916 Commonwealth Ave. Mark Berkowitz was the applicant for extended hours; he appeared on friendly terms with some members of the board.

Annual review of open-air parking lots hit a snag. Board members Betsy DeWitt and Nancy Daly spoke of several complaints about operation of a lot near the intersection of Washington St. with Bartlett Crescent, northwest of Washington Square and just before Corey Rd. The lot appears operated in conjunction with U.S. Petroleum, at the corner of Corey Rd. on Boston land. Since it took over the location a little over 20 years ago, the gas station has been regarded by its Brookline neighbors as an eyesore and sometimes a nuisance. The board held that permit for investigation and approved the others.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, June 18, 2014

2014 annual town meeting recap: fine points

Town meetings seem to behave, in part, like musical theatre. If you can’t carry a tune, you probably won’t carry an argument. Alas, some of today’s would-be performers come across–politically speaking–as tone deaf. However, there still remain quite a few sparks of life.

May 27: Tommy Vitolo of Precinct 6 flagged conditions the Advisory Committee had tried to attach to special appropriations item 41 under Article 8: $50,000 to study Beacon Street traffic signals, aiding MBTA Green Line trains. Dr. Vitolo said the proposed conditions amounted to an invalid attempt to bind actions of a future town meeting and moved to delete them. No Advisory Committee member stood up to respond. Town meeting members agreed by a show of hands, with only two people counted as opposed.

Joyce Jozwicki of Precinct 9 sounded more than a little cross about special appropriations item 40 in Article 8: $30,000 for “bicycle access improvement.” She contended it “should be preceded by enforcement of the rules for bicyclists.” Over the fan noise, no response could be heard from the Bicycle Advisory Committee.

Driscoll School: In the debate over a Driscoll School feasibility study, School Committee chair Susan Wolf Ditkoff admitted what had long been clear to close observers: despite nearly religious objections, the School Department has already increased class sizes, “on average 1-1/2 students per class,” she said.

That almost cancels Brookline costs to support METCO and “materials fees” students. If standards for class size rise from about 25 to about 27 students, then the current students from outside Brookline will all have been absorbed by the current staff within the current buildings–responding to historic promises that those students occupy “available seats.”

Concerning special appropriations item 51 under Article 8, George White of Precinct 9 asked: Where’s the plan for light-emitting-diode (LED) street lights? For once the moderator, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, sounded flustered, saying that should be in the warrant report. It is not. He brushed off Mr. White, telling him to go ask the Department of Public Works–whose commissioner was standing on town-meeting floor, looking ready to answer the question. After all, LED street lights are Mr. Pappastergion’s signature project of the year.

School funding: In the debate over school funding, Jonathan Davis of Precinct 10 asked about costs of “carts” for computers: “Is that much money really needed?” He never got a clear answer. School superintendent William Lupini launched his “so” “right” dialect–a local curiosity at School Committee meetings–as in, “So…they’re for the computers we’re purchasing…Right?” Yes, indeed. “Exactly what it says on the tin.”

More items from Ms. Ditkoff of the School Committee: “The cost per student has been absolutely flat for the last five years…We’ve added more than 50 classrooms out of our current spaces.” Without explanation, the latter sounded like “space magic.” Apparently a School Committee insider violated current town-meeting protocol–a Gadsby invention–distributing rogue handouts on town-meeting floor. It caught Mr. Gadsby’s attention and drew a reproach, but then he relented, saying it “has my retroactive approval.” Humph! Issues of free speech went unmentioned–even with Martin “Marty” Rosenthal, Karen Wenc and Harry Friedman on hand.

Somebody might have asked but didn’t: since Public Schools of Brookline already spends around $17,000 per year per student, if computers are so important and the ones PSB prefers cost only $330 each, why not get a computer for every student and forego the fancy carts and projectors PSB wouldn’t need?

Police Department topics: Harry Friedman of Precinct 12 objected to investigating criminal backgrounds of construction workers, during debate about the police budget. Joslin Murphy, recently appointed as town counsel, said Massachusetts law now requires checking national Criminal Offender Record Information if workers have unsupervised contact with school children. That might be an issue, for example, in the upcoming Lawrence School project. Mr. Friedman was dissatisfied, saying, “People in these jobs often have criminal records” but need employment to regain a place in society. He called the practice “heartless and vindictive.” However, workers on town jobs are usually going to be union members–unlikely to get those particular jobs fresh out of prison.

Mr. Friedman also objected to police seeking out a “Groton man”–apparently not a graduate of Groton School–who answered a fake “personal” ad Brookline police placed online. Outside a putative “hands off” stance, Moderator Gadsby asked Daniel O’Leary, the chief of police, about the “purpose of entrapment policies.” Not satisfied at Mr. O’Leary’s responses, Mr. Friedman said, “From a moral or ethical point of view [the incident] really…crosses over the line…. If the Brookline police want to be the protectors of eastern Massachusetts…they can go into Boston and patrol the streets there.”

Advisory chair Harry Bohrs confirmed the once touted Galaxy WiFi services are dead and gone, although many antennas still hang from street-light brackets. He said Brookline is equipping some employees with wireless Internet, to the tune of $50 per device per month.

May 29, human relations: Article 10 proposed to replace the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, dating from 1970, with a new Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission. It also designates a new “chief diversity officer” reporting to Town Administrator Mel Klecker and reduces the new commission’s duties and powers, compared with the 1970 commission. Nancy Daly led the effort to write Article 10 and spoke for the Board of Selectmen. She said it would “not give the [new] commission the quasi-judicial authority to hear and act on…complaints.”

Precinct 15 town meeting member Mariela Ames, chair of the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, spoke for the current commission and against Article 10. She said it “will take away any direct role or oversight on complaints brought to the [chief diversity officer] by employees…[and] take away the commission’s authority for developing…equal opportunity and affirmative action. It will give the commission about eighteen tasks…but appropriates no money for them.”

Speaking about a chief diversity officer, Ms. Ames said, “What good does that do if we’re going to ask this person to do precisely what was wrong by his predecessor? Only this time, we put it in writing: that is, handle complaints privately, have sole discretion whether to share information with the commission, have no oversight and no accountability…in essence, get paid hundreds of thousands to do…what exactly? Keep the lid on?”

Stature as a department head: It must have been a troubling moment for Ms. Daly and other members of the “diversity committee.” However, one of them, Martin “Marty” Rosenthal of Precinct 9, had joined with Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2 in proposing an amendment to this year’s Article 10: designating a new chief diversity officer as a “senior administrator/department head”–the same language used in Brookline bylaws for the head of the Human Resources office, which was created by town meeting in 2000.

A motion to close debate after nearly an hour proved premature; it failed to get a two-thirds vote. Arguments continued. While Mr. Rosenthal and Dr. Spiegel had offered spirited sallies for their amendment, it was likely Joanna Baker of Precinct 13 who sailed it over the net.

Ms. Baker recounted experiences as a recruiter, helping to employ and advance people of color. “People hate change,” she said. “Change makes people uncomfortable.” According to Ms. Baker, the stature of being a department head will matter. In order to be effective, she said, a chief diversity officer will have to be “shrewd, discerning, sophisticated, gutsy.” In a recorded vote, town meeting adopted the Rosenthal-Spiegel amendment by a margin of 107 to 95. The main motion also got a recorded vote: approved 185 to 16.

Noise control: In Article 12, changes to Brookline’s noise-control bylaw were proposed by Fred Lebow, an acoustic engineer and a former Precinct 1 town meeting member–to provide what he claimed would be better standards for regulating noise. He proposed a new standard for estimating background noise at night: make measurements during the day and subtract 10 decibels. That’s not helpful if your neighborhood tends to be fairly noisy by day but quiet at night. Selectmen missed the problem, but they managed to flag a provision to regulate some of the leafblowers while exempting others–large ones mounted on wheeled carts.

Tommy Vitolo of Precinct 6–a recent B.U. Systems Engineering grad and transplant from Precinct 1–challenged the proposed standard for night-time noise at town meeting. Dr. Vitolo carved away pseudoscience from the proposal, saying, “This warrant article is bad news. The most sensible way to measure ambient noise at night is to measure ambient noise at night…Legislating night-time ambient noise is a bit like legislating that the earth is flat.”

For the supporters of the article, including a majority on the Board of Selectmen and a unanimous Advisory Committee, there was no recovery. In a show of hands, Moderator Gadsby found zero raised in support and declared unanimous rejection of the article–an extremely rare event. He asked officials gathered at tables just past the auditorium’s stage, “Have we no courage in the front of town meeting?”

Mavens of precinct politics–towns don’t have wards–may recall that Mr. Lebow was among a wave of Precinct 1 conservatives who infiltrated, years ago, a moderate delegation. Dr. Vitolo was involved with a second, progressive wave, who eclipsed the first wave a few years later. The waves more often involve galleries of mostly incumbents, promoting themselves as friendly “neighbors.” Controversies at the time roiled over whether or not to support renovation of the Carlton St. footbridge. Was that really a convenience to the neighborhoods, or would it instead become a crossway for criminals, slinking in from Boston? We shall see.

Down-zoning: Two quietly successful articles carried on a trend: adapting Brookline’s land use regulations to neighborhoods. It had taken root at a heated, 4-night town meeting held in December, 1973. Like that previous effort, both recent ones were organized by neighborhood residents. Unlike that previous effort, both got help and support from town boards and agencies, and both aroused little controversy.

Article 11 proposed a neighborhood conservation district for Toxteth St. between Aspinwall Ave. and Francis St., plus adjacent parts of Perry St., Harrison Ave., Aspinwall Ave and Francis St. It was built out starting in the late nineteenth century–before Brookline adopted zoning–on a more spacious scale than the current T-5 two-family zoning requires. Ann Turner of Precinct 3 said the recent effort was prompted by an obnoxious project built to the maximum under zoning limits and requiring no special town review.

Article 21 proposed a new S-4 type of single-family zone for parts of Buttonwood, near Meadowbrook Rd., also currently zoned T-5 two-family. Neighborhood resident Diane Gold told town meeting she and her neighbors were motivated by a developer who took advantage of current zoning to replace one modest, single-family house with a pair of “huge, 4-story, 2-family luxury condos…Green space was paved over to create ten parking spaces.” She recalled, “We were told they can do this by right…If you don’t like it, change the zoning.” With help from Polly Selkoe of the Planning Department and with town meeting’s approval, that is what residents did.

Zoning changes rejected: The Planning Board, Board of Selectmen and Advisory Committee all took it on the chin with two other zoning changes proposed by the Planning Board. Article 22 revived the long-running disputes over self-service gasoline stations–proposing to allow them in business districts when combined with so-called “convenience stores.” As proposed, those stores could be up to 3,000 square feet–far larger than many current retail stores.

Judith Vanderkay of Precinct 9 recalled, “Twenty years ago…my neighborhood rallied to prevent a giant, highway rest-stop-type gas station.” She said Article 22 looked “like something from ALEC being proposed in the guise of an innocuous regulation”–referring to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a far-right group that has been promoting pro-business, anti-labor laws, mostly in state legislatures. The proposal failed on a recorded vote of 109 to 62, below the two-thirds margin required for a zoning change.

In S-40 single-family districts–Brookline’s lowest zoning density–Article 23 proposed to disallow new, detached accessory dwellings to be occupied by employees or their family members. Last November, town meeting disallowed them in single-family districts with smaller lot sizes. Steve Heikin spoke for the Planning Board, saying that accessory dwellings are a “loophole” allowing permanent construction for a temporary use.

Town meeting members Anita Johnson of Precinct 8, Rebecca Mautner of Precinct 11 and Jane Gilman of Precinct 3 denounced the Planning Board proposal–partly as an attack on “affordable housing.” Ms. Johnson cited an approach used by Portland, OR. “They put a size limit on accessory units…825 square feet.” She said Portland’s regulation “has been totally successful, and everyone agrees with it.” Article 23 failed on a recorded vote of 106 to 56, again below the two-thirds margin required for a zoning change.

Renovation of the Carlton St. footbridge, strongly controversial a decade ago, returned to town meeting in Article 24. The now-dilapidated bridge was built in the 1890s to serve a whistle-stop on the former Boston and Albany commuter rail service between Needham and Boston. It has been closed since fall, 1975. Article 24 proposed accepting a grant in easement from MBTA to accommodate wheelchair ramps. Speaking for the Board of Selectmen, Betsy DeWitt said Brookline would “apply for a state [Transportation Improvement Program] grant, up to 90 percent” of funds already set aside. In a quiet surprise, town meeting voted unanimous approval.

Retirement Board pay: Stipends for Retirement Board members–a perennial–returned to town meeting in Article 25. As on previous occasions, board member James C. “Chet” Riley asked for town meeting’s support. “We have the ability right now to invest your $245 million,” he said. “We are the deciding body.” According to Mr. Riley, the board’s work has become “a lot more daunting, a lot more challenging.” That did not sway Advisory. Committee member Karen Wenc of Precinct 11 said, “The substance of this article [came] before town meeting in the May, 2012, session–with no demonstration that the Retirement Board’s efforts are [now] measurably greater” than they were then. “There is no compelling reason for change.”

The Board of Selectmen reversed former opposition–by a margin of 3 to 2. Speaking as one of the three in favor, Nancy Daly said the “vast majority [of neighboring communities] do provide a stipend…Boston, Newton, Cambridge….” Town meeting members would likely notice that the few communities Ms. Daly named–unlike Brookline–are all cities. In a personal appeal, Martin “Marty” Rosenthal of Precinct 9 stated, “Nobody’s done more for the town of Brookline than Chet Riley.” Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2 took a financial approach, saying, “This is one of the few boards that actually has the final say over large quantities of money. They’re volunteers, but they deserve the sort of minimal compensation that this article proposes.” Article 25 proposed a stipend of $3,000 per year for each of the five board members.

Regina Frawley of Precinct 16 did not agree. “[This is] at least the fourth time in fourteen years” with the proposal, she said. “They’ve been waiting for the right town meeting, the right Board of Selectmen…It’s a town. This is a volunteer [effort], and if they don’t want to do it they shouldn’t volunteer.” Precinct 6 town meeting member Merelice said, “I’ve been in the financial services industry,” and asked, “Do [board members] get the advice and counsel of licensed [financial] planners?” Mr. Riley of the Retirement Board responded, saying, “We hire and fire consultants and money managers.” What may have sounded like posturing did not sit well with town meeting members, who rejected Article 25 in a recorded vote, 47 to 100.

June 2, Brookline Place: The final session of the 2014 annual town meeting began with the postponed Articles 15 through 19, concerning proposed redevelopment for Brookline Place. Moderator Gadsby’s stagework in positioning those articles to begin a session provided a showplace for Children’s Hospital–the landowner and developer–and for the town officials, boards and committees who became sponsors and supporters of the project. The block bounded by Washington St., Brookline Ave. and Pearl St. is part of the former Marsh Project–involved in redevelopment efforts for nearly 50 years.

Town meeting members who declared partial opposition had proposed alternative zoning in Article 16. As compared with Article 15, the official zoning proposal, Article 16 would have restricted new on-site parking for over 180,000 square feet of added office space. Supporters of Article 16 claimed that the adjacent MBTA Green Line trolley stop and the nearby bus stops for MBTA routes 60, 65 and 66, traveling via Route 9, should make any added parking unnecessary. Management of Children’s Hospital have contended that more parking is needed for financially viable development and that costs of removing contaminated soil would make it too expensive to place that parking underground, as normally required by Brookline’s zoning.

In an apparent response, the Planning Board and their Brookline Place Advisory Committee proposed to reduce added parking from about 465 to about 325 spaces–negotiated with the management of Children’s Hospital. The change apparently undercut support for Article 16. Submitters of that article opted not to offer a motion for it. Town meeting passed over the article without a vote. Fifty years ago and earlier, weak opposition would have been squelched: maybe allowed a speaker and then switched off. Brookline’s traditions have changed. The debate over the Brookline Place articles included many speakers and took about an hour and twenty minutes.

Precinct 6 town meeting member Merelice spoke forthrightly. “Let’s start with admitting the reality that Children’s Hospital has us over a barrel,” she said. Children’s had acquired 6-story offices the former Harvard Community Health Plan built on the eastern part of the Brookline Place block during the 1990s. More recently, Children’s bought the western part of the block, occupied by two low-rise buildings dating from early twentieth century. The literal “Brookline Place” is a narrow, little used way running north from Washington St. between the larger low-rise building and the 6-story offices.

Referring to a former attempt at redeveloping Brookline Place, Merelice commented, “Town meeting members ten years ago lost sight of the fact that they were voting for zoning.” The controversial project–never carried out–anticipated biotechnology laboratories. A key problem with the site has been soil that is badly contaminated from nearly a century of use by a former gas works. Merelice continued, “When Children’s bought, they knew full well the soil was contaminated. Nevertheless, they proceeded to buy up all the adjacent parcels. Now they’re asking the town to feel sorry for them, because it would be ‘too expensive’ to remove the soil. Their answer is a huge garage with no underground parking.”

Treating Article 16 as though it posed a real threat to the Brookline Place project, Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2 recalled, “Fifty years ago…[with the] Chestnut Hill shopping center, [which] straddles the line between Brookline and Newton, Brookline did not want any retail development because of concerns about congestion and traffic…All the retail establishments were built on the Newton side of the line; Brookline got the parking lot. Newton got the abundance of taxes; Brookline lost millions in tax revenue.”

Dr. Spiegel described an unsuccessful attempt in the early 1980s to build a hotel replacing the former Boston Cadillac, located opposite the B.U. Bridge. Brookline Place, he said, offers the town “$2 million in taxes…[That] means more classroom teachers…support for METCO…[and] the Coolidge Corner Library…With all the good that it has, will it be built?”

Moderator Gadsby held a recorded vote on Article 15 for zoning changes. Town meeting approved 170 to 9, he announced, with 20 abstaining. Mr. Gadsby then passed over Article 16 without a vote. Articles 17 and 18 were approved by voice votes. Article 19 was approved by a show of hands, declared unanimous.

Taxi medallions: Town meeting member John Harris of Precinct 8 filed Article 26, proposing that Brookline ask the General Court to repeal laws it had passed, at town meeting’s request, authorizing Brookline to sell taxi medallions. The Transportation Board and Board of Selectmen, both committed to the medallions since they were proposed in 2007, proved much exercised over the attack from Mr. Harris. Robert Volk of Precinct 4 proposed referring Article 26 to a special committee to be appointed by Moderator Gadsby.

Mr. Harris said his “intention [was] to begin the debate…the town should have had in 2008.” He asserted that “medallions establish an artificial quota on the number of taxis allowed to operate,” leading to evil consequences. Jonathan Karon of Precinct 12 agreed, describing his experience representing a person who had been injured during an incident involving a taxi in Boston, which uses medallions. If you are injured in such a way, Mr. Karon said, you will find the “medallion is mortgaged…insurance [is] at the legal minimum…[and the] medallion owner will disclaim responsibility,” saying the taxi driver is an “independent contractor.”

Advisory Committee member Michael Sandman, a former Transportation Board chair, responded for the committee, saying “nearly every premise that Mr. Harris spoke of is wrong.” He showed three pages of items. About a claim that “medallions establish an artificial quota,” Mr. Sandman said Brookline has actually “had a closed system for decades, with a fixed number of licenses.” Joshua Safer of Precinct 16, the current Transportation Board chair, agreed. He said, “The current system is a closed system…There is scarcity by design…We have no logical way to bring newcomers into the industry.”

Charles “Chuck” Swartz of Precinct 9 asked, “How would a Brookline [medallion] system be different from Boston? He got a fairly opaque answer from Richard La Capra, who has been employed by the Transportation Department as a consultant on taxi regulation since 2010. Mr. La Capra stated that a “Brookline [taxi medallion] system will be different [from Boston]…because it is handled at the regulatory level in a…different fashion.”

Chad Ellis of Precinct 12 said he had prepared a financial model, checked out with Mr. La Capra, finding that a 10 percent fall in taxi fare revenues would produce at least a 50 percent contraction in medallion values. He supported the article filed by Mr. Harris.

Moderator Gadsby called for a vote on Mr. Volk’s motion to refer the article rather than approve or reject it. Unable to decide from a show of hands, Mr. Gadsby held an electronic vote. Town meeting approved referral, he announced, 96 to 91. Mr. Gadsby asked for volunteers to serve on a moderator’s committee and said he plans to appoint a committee within three weeks.

Resolutions: Article 27 was filed by Neil Gordon of Precinct 1, who described himself at town meeting as a veteran of the Vietnam War. It asked for a “modest but meaningful memorial to Brookline’s veterans,” flying flags in their honor. Town meeting approved in a unanimous voice vote.

Article 28, filed by Frank Caro of Precinct 10, did not get such a swift hearing. It proposed a resolution saying that Brookline should “proactively deploy enforcement officers on foot in business districts beginning in the fourth daylight hour after snowfalls,” to enforce Brookline’s snow clearance bylaw. The Board of Selectmen, supported by the Advisory Committee, proposed referring Article 28 to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner–to address it using a “task force.”

However, the same problem had been taken to at least three previous town meetings. Each referred an article to a moderator’s committee, yet the problem remained unsolved. Dennis Doughty of Precinct 3 presented some graphics showing snow-removal complaints logged since December, 2011, by the Brookonline Web page. They indicated several chronic problem spots, targets of repeated complaints.

Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., of Precinct 16, a lawyer with quite a few local business clients, had already voiced a related argument, saying there were a few chronic problems but that nevertheless “the goal should not be to fine and to warn” business owners. Lea Cohen, an Advisory Committee member at large, spoke as the outgoing chair of the Brookline Chamber of Commerce. She objected that “the existing bylaw has some very tight time-frames.” She asked town meeting not to “make another gesture that singles out our merchants with uneven enforcement policies.”

Joshua Safer, of Precinct 16, disagreed with trying a “partnership” tactic again. He noted that “the last moderator’s committee on sidewalk snow removal suggested exactly [what Article 28 proposed], across the entire town.” Mr. Safer stated, “The police force seems comfortable that they would have the resources to undertake this particular effort.” Saralynn Allaire of Precinct 16, a member of the Commission for the Disabled, turned adamant, “It’s time,” Dr. Allaire said, “to take serious action on this problem, instead of just kicking it down the road yet again.” By a show of hands, a large majority of town meeting rejected referral of Article 28 to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner. Nearly all approved the resolution.

Local First: Article 29, a resolution urging support for local business, was submitted on behalf of an organization called Brookline Local First. Issues developed at town meeting and in several earlier reviews over what “local” might mean in that context. The Board of Selectmen proposed that town meeting refer the article to the Economic Development Advisory Board, which they appoint, rather than accept or reject it.

Abram “Abe” Faber, co-owner with his wife Christina “Christy” Timon of Clear Flour Bread on Thorndike St., made the arguments for Article 29. The two have run Clear Flour since 1982, live in Brookline and brought up a family here, he said. “Vibrancy of Brookline’s economy,” Mr. Faber stated, “stems from its independent businesses.” Comparing them with what he called “formula businesses”–franchises and chain stores–he said, “Independent businesses hire a greater proportion of local employees [and] pay them higher wages…Cities and towns benefit most…from…independent…rather than formula businesses.”

The arguments rang false to Hsiu-Lan Chang, also a Brookline resident. She introduced herself to town meeting as owner of Fast Frame, a franchise located on Beacon St. in Washington Square. She described her background as a trustee of the Brookline Community Foundation, a founder of the Washington Square Association and a supporter of several local civic and charitable groups. Her sons David and Leo, she said, are graduates of Brookline public schools. “Article 29,” she stated, “left…[an] impression that I’m not a part of this community.” She urged town meeting to reject the article, saying, “The imposition of an arbitrary definition on the word ‘local’…is exclusionary, divisive and simply wrong.”

Speaking for the Board of Selectmen, Betsy DeWitt suggested proponents of the article might be seeking more than the town could do. She mentioned requirements of “state procurement law to solicit broadly, without discrimination among suppliers in purchasing practices.” Ms. DeWitt stated, “While well intentioned, this resolution is flawed. We must have a fair, broad and inclusive definition of local business.”

Speaking for the Economic Development Advisory Board, Clifford Brown of Precinct 14 said EDAB would give the article careful consideration if it were referred to them but cautioned, “Brookline businesses should focus outward and on expanding the local economy.” A show of hands on the motion to refer proved too close to call for Moderator Gadsby. He conducted an electronic count. Town meeting approved referral 99 to 76, he announced, with 3 abstentions.

Article 31 proposed a resolution affirming “support for the prohibition of discrimination or harassment on the basis of gender identity and expression in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, lending and public education.” Alex Coleman, a clinical psychologist and a member of the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, submitted the article and made the main arguments for it. He said he had lived in Brookline more than 30 years, bringing up a son who is a Brookline High graduate, and described his recollections of making public a trans-sexual identity, over 20 years ago, as being a “horrific experience.”

Dr. Coleman said that attitudes have begun to change: “There are now students in the Brookline schools who identify as being gender-nonconforming,…[However], people…[with] a different gender identity…or expression…don’t have the same protections as everybody else.” Frequent problems he noted are “harassment in places of public accommodation…[and being] denied equal treatment by a government agency or official.”

Leonard “Len” Weiss spoke for the Advisory Committee, supported by the Board of Selectmen. The committee proposed an amendment asking Brookline’s legal staff to review Brookline’s bylaws and propose changes at next fall’s town meeting to make them “consistent with [the] purpose” of Article 31. Town meeting approved the resolution as amended.

Article 32, submitted by Frank Farlow of Precinct 4, proposed a resolution urging the General Court to enact S. 1225 of the current session, An Act Relative to Public Investment in Fossil Fuels. That calls for state pension funds to divest from “fossil fuel companies” but does not specify what the term means. Speaking for the Advisory Committee, Harry Bohrs, the chairman, cited that issue, claiming the “bill does not support its own goals in a meaningfully effective way.” Karen Wenc of Precinct 11, an Advisory member, said as an energy consumer she “would feel hypocritical and insincere in voting for this resolution.”

Arguing in favor of the resolution, Edward “Ed” Loechler of Precinct 8 acknowledged, “When you hear the word ‘divestment’ you think, ‘well, we’ll lose too much money’.” Dr. Loechler said, “Profits are not the same as returns on investment.” It is the latter, he contended, that matters for pension-fund portfolios. He cited an independent review of returns on investment for around 3,000 U.S. public stocks over many years, claiming that the difference between performance with and without including about 200 “fossil fuel companies” proved “statistically insignificant.” However, Dr. Loechler argued, even if that were not so, “It’s time to stop talking about climate change and start doing something about it…Making money from the destruction of the planet is wrong…as wrong as making money from slavery was in the 1850s.”

For the Board of Selectmen, Nancy Daly spoke of a “very tangible financial hazard to not addressing climate change.” Town meeting members asked for a recorded vote on the article. They approved the resolution 126 to 20, with 7 abstaining–the last action during a long and complicated town meeting.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, June 7, 2014


Correction, June 8, 2014. In the discussion of Article 23, the phrase “family members or employees” was corrected to read “employees or their family members.” Thanks to Stanley Spiegel for spotting the mistake.


John Hilliard, Brookline taxi consultant contract signed, Brookline TAB, December 3, 2010

City of Boston, Taxi Consultant Report, Nelson Nygaard, October, 2013

School Committee: Driscoll plans, policies, technology and testing

A regular semimonthly meeting of the School Committee on Thursday, May 22, started at 6:00 pm, held in the fifth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Topics included Driscoll School plans, policy changes, “technology” plans and the state’s PARCC testing.

School expansion plans: Noticeable discord has grown over plans to expand Driscoll School. Some parents are opposed, others skeptical. A Web site appeared to circulate information. The Advisory Committee has reversed its earlier support for a feasibility study, recently recommending that funding for a study be deferred to a fall town meeting.

Perry Stoll, a Driscoll parent, was recently quoted in the Boston Globe, saying, “The permanence of a thousand-plus-person school just pulls at my heart; I can’t stand it…As you keep increasing the size of our schools, you pull apart the connection of its community.”

Committee chair Susan Wolf Ditkoff said a delay in funding a feasibility study for Driscoll would be likely to have a “domino effect,” interfering with “long, multi-year projects. ” Superintendent Lupini appeared troubled, saying “We don’t have a Plan B.” Committee member Rebecca Stone said she hoped the town “still has a long-term plan in place,” speaking of solidarity with the Board of Selectmen.

To an untutored ear, the reactions might sound a little strong–for a proposal currently said to seek six more classrooms at Driscoll. However, as with many past school projects, what could possibly be a straightforward, frugal expansion of school space can–and maybe it already has–become enmeshed in more complex and costly goals.

The discord has an echo from 1973, during previous planning to renovate Devotion School–with quite a twist. The School Department then called for shrinking school capacity–from about 850 to 650 students. History that was recent at the time had seen Devotion with as many as 950 students. The Sperber administration stood by a consultant study that said falling birthrates and smaller family sizes would reduce demand.

The 1970s Devotion project replaced the northwest wing and renovated the entire center section for around $5 million–or about $30 million today, adjusted for inflation. The community might question why another renovation now would need to cost about three times as much, in real dollars.

Policies for community uses and residency: Committee member Abby Cox announced that discussion and voting on proposed changes to “community use” policy would be delayed, “for more community review.” The proposal has already drawn criticism from organizers of after-school programs. It risks looking hostile toward local organizations that sometimes use school rooms for community meetings, as they learn more about it.

One obvious change is a sentence that now says Public Schools of Brookline will make facilities available to the community “at as low a cost as possible.” As proposed, that would instead read “at reasonable cost.” The current policy took form in the early 1970s, as the Sperber administration was pursuing renovations to Pierce, Devotion, Lawrence, Lincoln and Driscoll Schools.

At the time, Brookline was growing around 20 new neighborhood associations and several advocacy groups. The policy probably helped solidify community support for school renovations–strongly controversial at the time. A 1973 referendum brought against the Devotion appropriation failed to reverse it by a margin of only about 200 votes. It took three tries to overcome opposition to building a new Lincoln School on Kennard Rd., which finally opened in 1994.

Discussion of policy on “instruction” veered into of how parents establish residency, proposed to be required at the start of each school year. Committee member Helen Charlupski, who has served since 1992, recalled that parents formerly “signed a card and sent it in…What now?” Superintendent Lupini said parents must now submit “some form of proof.” He named alternatives, all requiring originals of paper documents. Committee vice chair Barbara Scotto asked, “What will happen to the documents?” The question went unanswered.

Controversy over growth: During “public comment,” Sanford Ostroy, a League of Women Voters board member, urged the committee to examine recent assertions from the Override Study. He cited claims that “minority populations” are the source of student population growth over the past 20 years and that METCO students are “the most expensive to educate.” He questioned both accuracy and pertinence.

In his finance report, Peter Rowe, the deputy superintendent, had some answers for Dr. Ostroy. It has been a surge of growth in student populations during about the past seven years, not in previous years, that generated pressure for more space and staff. Mr. Rowe presented a table comparing students in each elementary school at the start of school years in 2004 and 2013.

For years 2004 to 2013: Baker 629 to 754, Devotion 701 to 840, Driscoll 366 to 551, Heath 378 to 518, Lawrence 440 to 658, Lincoln 398 to 565, Pierce 548 to 782, Runkle 426 to 560. Total students grew from 3,886 to 5,228–a difference of 1,324 students or 35 percent. Of those, Mr. Rowe said, no added students came from METCO, and about 40 added students came from town employees through the “materials fee” program.

Plans for “technology”: Dr. Lupini presented his plans for more “technology,” focusing on elementary schools in fiscal 2015–startinng in July–through fiscal 2019. He frankly called it “plumbing,” not “transformational technology.” It is hardware-heavy: more classroom computers, more network support, more digital projectors. Next year has an added $30 thousand for “professional development.”

Goals of the effort, as presented, were all stated in general and vague terms. There were no specifics about what the hardware would used to do, and there were few real-life examples. Although Dr. Lupini expressed concern that current resources are not available outside classrooms, the only concrete proposal that could be found to address that limitation was to put some computers in school libraries.

Testing regimes: Superintendent Lupini announced plans to switch to the state’s new PARCC series of tests in the next school year for most grades. However, he would stay with MCAS for grade 10–that is, English and math tests required for graduation. That would put 9th grade science tests, which have proven the most difficult for Brookline students, into the PARCC camp.

Dr. Lupini said the PARCC regime will allow extra time for special education students and students with limited English proficiency. However, apparently it will otherwise remain strictly timed. That is likely to affect minority students in Brookline, because they probably will not qualify for “accommodations.”

Decades of experience show that strictly timed tests put students from foreign-language and low-income backgrounds at severe disadvantages. With strictly timed tests, those students are placed at well known risks of lower scores. School Committee members sounded distant about risks for Latino and African-American students to perform poorly. However, Dr. Lupini clearly sees his proposal could become a “hot potato.” He intends a public hearing on it June 5–time and place to be announced–followed by another School Committee review June 22.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 27, 2014


Jaclyn Reiss, Full plate at Brookline Town Meeting: development, Driscoll School work, Boston Globe, May 25, 2014


METCO communities, spring 2014
Source: Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, for fiscal 2014

METCO now has 37 participating communities, organized into 37 partly overlapping school districts. Among the districts, Brookline has the second largest number of students. However, when districts are considered according to METCO students per thousand residents, Brookline is only slightly above average–with 5 METCO students per thousand residents compared to an average of 4. Relative to population, Weston, Lincoln and Wayland make far stronger commitments to METCO than Brookline.

District Students Grant Per student Pop., 2010 Student/1000
Arlington 72 $382,028 $5,306 42,844 1.7
Bedford 97 $556,137 $5,733 13,320 7.3
Belmont 120 $542,300 $4,519 24,729 4.9
Braintree 31 $221,152 $7,134 35,744 0.9
Brookline 296 $1,336,196 $4,514 58,732 5.0
Cohasset 45 $255,195 $5,671 7,542 6.0
Concord 101 $486,746 $4,819 17,668 5.7
Dover 9 $31,023 $3,447 5,589 1.6
East Longmeadow 52 $260,586 $5,011 15,720 3.3
Foxborough 45 $239,690 $5,326 16,865 2.7
Hingham 32 $191,027 $5,970 22,157 1.4
Lexington 237 $1,342,033 $5,663 31,394 7.5
Lincoln 91 $474,791 $5,217 6,362 14.3
Longmeadow 38 $203,886 $5,365 15,784 2.4
Lynnfield 41 $213,673 $5,212 11,596 3.5
Marblehead 78 $427,516 $5,481 19,808 3.9
Melrose 125 $628,863 $5,031 26,983 4.6
Natick 54 $313,496 $5,805 33,006 1.6
Needham 155 $840,442 $5,422 28,886 5.4
Newton 404 $2,154,051 $5,332 85,146 4.7
Reading 71 $362,137 $5,101 24,747 2.9
Scituate 57 $370,016 $6,492 18,133 3.1
Sharon 70 $406,676 $5,810 17,612 4.0
Sherborn 11 $37,917 $3,447 4,119 2.7
Sudbury 70 $411,849 $5,884 17,659 4.0
Swampscott 70 $386,093 $5,516 13,787 5.1
Wakefield 50 $252,759 $5,055 24,932 2.0
Walpole 49 $277,496 $5,663 24,070 2.0
Wayland 137 $658,361 $4,806 12,994 10.5
Wellesley 157 $815,042 $5,191 27,982 5.6
Weston 181 $891,661 $4,926 11,261 16.1
Westwood 43 $221,859 $5,160 14,618 2.9
Concord Carlisle 64 $369,509 $5,774 22,520 2.8
Dover Sherborn 20 $127,418 $6,371 9,708 2.1
Hampden Wilbraham 27 $140,845 $5,216 19,358 1.4
Lincoln Sudbury 91 $455,410 $5,005 24,021 3.8
Southwick Tolland 20 $127,909 $6,395 9,987 2.0
Totals 3,311 $17,413,788 $5,259 817,383 4.1

Board of Selectmen: awards, block grants and human relations

A weekly meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, May 13, started at around 7:15 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations. However, the meeting attracted many people who came for the annual awards to police officers and several people interested in a proposal to replace the human relations commission.

Leadership: In a brief, afternoon open session before vanishing into a two-hour executive session, the board elected Kenneth Goldstein as chair for the coming year. Mr. Goldstein is a former, long time member of the Planning Board. Newly elected member Benjamin Franco, a former Advisory Committee member, joined the board–replacing Richard Benka, who did not run for another term.

Awards: Chief of Police Daniel O’Leary presented awards to three police officers for distinguished service: a commendation to Noah Brothers, a public service award to John Bradley and an award for police officer of the year to Douglas Dunwoody. Officer Dunwoody was noted for service in several difficult incidents, including one last year near the intersection of Lee St. with Route 9, when the driver of a car transporting illegal drugs was disarmed of a pistol.

Announcements: The Department of Public Works is holding a public meeting to answer questions about its services Wednesday, May 14, starting at 7:00 pm in the first floor south meeting room at Town Hall, 333 Washington St. The department also offers an “open house” Tuesday, May 20, from noon to 6 pm, demonstrating its services and equipment at the Public Works Center, 870 Hammond St. The department provides services for parks, roads, sanitation, water and engineering. The Bicycle Advisory Committee will hold an annual bicycle parade Sunday, May 18, starting at noon from Amory Park, near the corner of Amory and Freeman Streets.

The Brookline Neighborhood Alliance will hold a forum on town meeting issues Wednesday, May 21, starting at 7:00 pm in the sixth floor meeting room at Town Hall. The Driscoll School Council will host a discussion on proposals to renovate the school Friday, May 16, starting at 8:15 am in the school auditorium. The Council on Aging and other organizations host a discussion on “elder care”–home-based services and residential options for older people–Thursday, May 15, starting at 5:30 pm at the Brookline Senior Center, 93 Winchester St.

Block grants: Joe Viola, assistant director for community planning, presented the fiscal 2015 community development block grant program. It will bring in over $1 million in federal funds to serve disadvantaged people and neighborhoods. Brookline’s eligibility stems from the former Redevelopment Authority, which carried out two major projects from the early 1960s through the mid-1980s. In the early 1970s, the Nixon administration convinced Congress to replace redevelopment project funding with block grants.

This year’s program has four large elements at around a quarter million dollars each: assisting acquisition of houses on Beals St. for homeless people, a contribution to the town’s housing trust fund used to subsidize housing for low-income and moderate-income residents, demolition of the pedestrian overpass near the corner of Route 9 and Washington St., and grant administration. Several smaller projects fund security systems in public housing, youth employment and training, and other social services. Total funding is $1.334 million.

The pedestrian overpass was built in the early 1970s by the former Redevelopment Authority, connecting its Marsh Project and Farm Project sites, on the north and south sides of Route 9. Poor visibility of pedestrians from below led to assaults and vandalism, and the overpass was blocked off in the late 1970s. In the early 1980s town meeting authorized demolition, but until now that has never been carried out for lack of funds. A development project at Brookline Place is expected to reimburse the cost of demolition, restoring block grant funds for use in other programs. The Board of Selectmen voted unanimous approval of this year’s program.

Construction noise: Representatives for Claremont Companies of Bridgewater, MA, presented a request for a waiver of noise control to demolish the former Red Cab garage at 111 Boylston St., where Claremont plans to build a 130-room hotel. The building abuts tracks of the Riverside branch of the MBTA Green Line. Demolition can only be performed during very late night and very early morning hours, when trolleys are not running. Claremont estimates 40 nights of work spread over two months. They will be operating excavators, front-end loaders, a crane and a Brokk demolition robot but will not operate manual jackhammers or transport debris or heavy equipment at night.

Neighbor Mike Bukhin of 46 White Place described experiences with a recent, much smaller project, restoring a dilapidated exterior wall. After getting a waiver, he tried notifying nearby residents by e-mail, with mixed results. He said erratic MBTA scheduling made the work take far longer than anticipated and predicted similar problems for Claremont. The Board of Selectmen approved a waiver for Claremont for 60 days, Sunday through Thursday nights between 1:15 and 4:45 am, starting in June or July, provided Claremont notifies the town at least ten days before starting and maintains an e-mail list to notify neighbors, day by day.

Human relations: Yet another long discussion ensued over replacement of the current Human Relations Youth Resources Commission by a proposed Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission. Among those present were Harry Bohrs and Michael Sandman, chair and subcommittee chair of the Advisory Committee, Mariela Ames, chair of the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, Barbara Scotto, vice chair of the School Committee and Jean Berg, chair of the Committee on Town Organization and Structure. There were several other members of boards that have become involved in the issue.

The change is being proposed by a selectmen-appointed “diversity committee.” In the fall of 2012, the human relations commission disclosed that the 26 departments reporting to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner and the Board of Selectmen lacked even one minority person as a department head and had not had one for over 40 years. The Board of Selectmen reacted by appointing the “diversity committee.” However, rather than investigate hirings and promotions, that committee proposed to abolish the human relations commission. They want to set up a new community relations commission, but it would be unable to investigate complaints involving Brookline personnel.

Nancy Daly, a member of the Board of Selectmen who chairs the “diversity committee,” described its latest revisions, developed after reviews by the other boards. The situation has become an unusually tangled set of disagreements that could lead to six or more competing proposals set before town meeting. The Board of Selectmen was not able to reach consensus and will reconsider the matter next week.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 14, 2014

School Committee: celebrations, programs, policies and test scores

A regular semimonthly meeting of the School Committee on Thursday, May 8, started at 6:30 pm, mostly held in the fifth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Topics included committee leadership, new school programs, policy reviews and scores on state tests at Brookline High.

Celebrations: Welcoming celebrations for newly elected committee members and farewells for departing ones were not on the agenda but took about the first 45 minutes. Previous committee chair Alan Morse did not run for re-election, and new leadership was expected this year. To compensate for time spent on celebrations, the committee deferred review of the school technology program to its next meeting. At least 50 members of the public were present during the celebrations, but only four stayed for the rest of the meeting.

Leadership: Following current tradition, the previous vice chair, Susan Wolf Ditkoff, was elected committee chair for a year and can serve for a year beyond that. She is a partner at the investment firm Bain & Co. and has been a committee member since 2008. Barbara Scotto was elected vice chair. She was employed for 25 years as an elementary school teacher in Brookline, joining the committee in 2009 after she retired, and has been a Brookline town meeting member for more than 40 years. Committee votes for the new leaders were unanimous.

For many years, the School Committee has organized standing subcommittees that review ongoing issues. Those now include capital improvements, curriculum, finance, government relations, negotiations and policy. Ms. Ditkoff announced three changes. David Pollak replaces Helen Charlupski chairing capital improvements. Helen Charlupski replaces Barbara Scotto chairing curriculum. Benjamin Chang replaces outgoing committee member Amy Kershaw chairing finance. Rebecca Stone continues chairing government relations and negotiations. Abby Cox continues chairing policy.

Programs and policies: For capital improvements, Helen Charlupski said a proposal to renovate Devotion School has been sent to the Massachusetts School Building Authority, with an initial response expected by mid-May. She recounted that the capital subcommittee of the Advisory Committee, chaired by Carla Benka, had recommended against funding a feasibility study for Driscoll School. Actually, subcommittee members were unable to achieve a majority on any approach to the issue, a rare event.

However, the full Advisory Committee voted to recommend $1 million to town meeting, under Article 8, Section 25. Ms. Stone asked about the expected number of added classrooms. Dr. William Lupini, the superintendent, said four more classrooms are now expected in a new addition, plus two more classrooms from rearrangements inside current buildings. There is a separate project for Lawrence School pending under Article 7, which has also proved controversial. $1.5 million recommended for Lawrence by the Advisory Committee and Board of Selectmen supplements $2.5 million previously appropriated. The project builds an addition with four more standard-size classrooms. For details, see the warrant report for the 2014 annual town meeting.

For curriculum, Barbara Scotto described a pilot math program at Devotion School managed by the principal, Jennifer Flewelling, using four iPad computers per classroom. She also described new first-grade reading instruction that uses computers, managed by Jillian Starr at Devotion. Currently, she said, not enough computers are available, even for small groups. She described a “child study model” begun at Baker School, using “instructional intervention” in trying to avoid assigning students “who aren’t being successful in the classroom” to special education. The Web site for Public Schools of Brookline currently has nothing about the first two programs and mentions the third only in a 2012 improvement plan for Heath School, under the heading “educational equity.”

For government relations, Rebecca Stone characterized an Advisory Committee approach to a proposed new community relations commission, replacing the current human relations commission, as being “neutral on schools.” Reviews of Article 10 for the May town meeting, proposing the new commission, have turned complex and heated. The Advisory Committee’s approach does expect that the new commission would review hirings and promotions at all Brookline agencies, including schools, but it advocates cooperation rather than legal requirements to provide information to the commission.

For policy, Abby Cox reported on “community use of school buildings.” Those uses extend from child care and supplemental education to occasional meetings of organizations. Changes are being proposed, she said, in a “policy manual” regulating scheduling, fees, liability, safety, accessibility, special events and large gatherings. However, she did not describe any changes, and no such proposals could be found on the Web site for Public Schools of Brookline. Ann Turner of Toxteth St., representing Brookline’s extended day programs, spoke up during “public comment,” saying, “Waiting lists are getting longer.” She urged the committee to “work together to build trust, and make space available to after-school programs.”

Continuing policy reviews with larger issues of how schools educate students, Dr. Jennifer Fischer-Mueller, the deputy superintendent for teaching and learning, described a proposed new “strategic plan” for the school department. The current version was adopted by the committee in 2009. Only an “executive summary” of the 2009 plan could be found on the Web site for Public Schools of Brookline. The proposed new version changes the plan’s “vision,” “mission,” “core values” and “goals.” The proposals were flashed on a projector screen during the meeting, but they could not be found on the Web site for Public Schools of Brookline.

Dr. Fischer-Mueller invited members of the School Committee to recite statements from the proposed new plan aloud. Although committee members went along, that extended ritual would surely have looked odd to veterans of School Committee meetings over the past several decades. Nothing similar comes to mind. The statements sounded ambitious and idealistic yet somewhat vague. Proposed titles of “core values” remain the same as in 2009, while some of the revised “goals” seemed less specific. Discussion followed over how performance could be measured against goals. New committee chair Susan Wolf Ditkoff said, “The system is not captive to MCAS scores.” New vice chair Barbara Scotto went farther, saying, “I’m not sure I want to live in a society where everything is measured.”

Test scores: With Deborah Holman, the Brookline High School headmaster, and Harold “Hal” Mason, the assistant headmaster, presenting, the committee reviewed a “competency determination report” for the High School. Ms. Holman came to Brookline High from Newton North two years ago, replacing Dr. Robert “Bob” Weintraub, who left to become a professor of practice at Teacher’s College, Columbia University. Mr. Mason, an English teacher, came to Brookline High from the New York City High School of Art and Design five years ago.

Ms. Ditkoff’s outlook notwithstanding, the “competency determination report” appeared entirely based on the state’s standardized tests. They have functioned in graduation requirements since 2001. No other “competency” was mentioned in the report–notably none involving practical and prized skills such as organizing, selling, inventing, managing, debating, report writing, estimating, translating, complex problem solving, community awareness, music, art and mechanical design. School Committee members had copies of the report at the meeting, but no such reports for any year could be found on the Web site for Public Schools of Brookline.

“Competency determination” is required for public school students by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education under state regulations inspired by the Education Reform Act of 1993. The format of the report being reviewed by the committee is unique to Brookline schools and was developed during the Lupini administration. Copies of the recent document were made available to reporters. It can be obtained on request to Beth McDonald, Administration and Finance administrative assistant, at the school department offices in Town Hall, 617-730-2425.

Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests produce “scaled scores” ranging from 200 to 280 and rankings named “advanced,” “proficient,” “needs improvement” and “warning/failure.” Students scoring in one of the upper three ranks on English language, math and at least one of the four science tests meet the state’s graduation requirements. The Brookline “competency determination report” focused on students scoring in the top two ranks. Those students need not be evaluated individually by Public Schools of Brookline, to prepare “educational proficiency plans” in the subjects of tests at issue.

The latest “competency determination report” compares groups of Brookline High School students identified as “white”, “Hispanic” “Asian,” “African-American” and “multirace.” In past years, High School administrators maintained internal reports also comparing METCO students and students living in Brookline public housing. The latter groups were not mentioned in the latest report, which surveys the most recent four years. The report did not compare Brookline High with any other high school in the state or compare MCAS with any other tests–such as the National Assessment of Education Progress, whose 12th-grade results for last year were recently announced.

Overall, MCAS test rankings for Brookline High School students have been strong and rising. For English language, 89 percent of those tested were in the top two ranks in 2010, rising to 98 percent in 2013. For math, results increased from 91 percent in 2010 to 93 percent in 2013. For science, results increased from 81 percent in 2010 to 87 percent in 2013. The report offered no breakdowns by science subject.

Mr. Mason told the committee that all this year’s seniors received high enough scores to graduate. However, some encountered problems and had to participate in retests. The report mentions problems for students with “limited English proficiency.” According to Ms. Holman and Mr. Mason, the high school has many students coming from foreign countries and many speaking languages other than English at home. The report mentions tutoring offered to low-scoring students.

The report shows percentages of “Hispanic” students in the top two scoring ranks increasing in English and math–approaching those for the total student body. However, a substantial gap remains in science. For “African-American” students, trends in English are also rising, but more slowly. For math and science, the most recent year saw a substantial drop in “African-American” students scoring in the top two ranks–from around 80 percent to around 60 percent in math and from around 50 percent to around 40 percent in science.

Bhs10thGradeMathMcas2010to2013

Source: Brookline High School, MCAS Competency Determination, 2013-2014

Questions from School Committee members focused on declines for “African-American” students in science and math rankings, which Ms. Stone described as “breathtaking.” Ms. Holman and Mr. Mason did not offer clear explanations. Ms. Holman said it was partly a “surprise” and there had been lapses in “tracking” student progress. They and Dr. Lupini committed to more frequent reviews. Possibly that also means more counseling and tutoring, but if so no one spoke about it.

Instruction and assessment came across as main interests of the committee, including “calculus for Latino and African-American students,” but motivation was hardly mentioned. In particular, no one spoke to the obvious: that transition to a new headmaster might have some effects. “Dr. Bob,” as he was often called, was famous for knowing nearly all students and staff by name and taking keen interest in students from disadvantaged backgrounds. If those shoes can be filled, that is not likely to happen overnight.

Surprisingly, committee members did not ask about the fraction of school resources diverted into coaching for tests in mainstream classes and into test-oriented counseling, planning and tutoring. They also asked few questions about testing students with learning disabilities, including ones in special education programs. In past years, these have been controversial topics.

New testing regime: Dr. Lupini mentioned he is to make a decision before July about whether to adopt new PARCC tests as a base of assessment, instead of MCAS. They are oriented to the so-called “Common Core” curriculum being promoted by the U.S. Department of Education, under the Obama administration. The state’s education department has said it will not change to PARCC before 2018.

PARCC looks high-risk for Brookline–partly because of a very complex and fast changing curriculum, partly because of differences in test administration. MCAS uses conventional, paper-and-pencil tests. PARCC is electronic and uses interactive computer software.

A more drastic difference is that PARCC tests have been strictly timed. MCAS began as a timed test but offered “accommodations” to students with learning disabilities. For practical purposes, it evolved into an untimed test. Decades of experience show that strictly timed tests put students from foreign-language and low-income backgrounds at severe disadvantages.

Tests are usually couched in dialects that tend not to match those of foreign-language and low-income home and community settings. With enough time to understand questions, students from those backgrounds often do better. With strictly timed tests, those students are placed at well known risks of lower scores. Because many are Latino or African-American, some critics have protested the practice as racial discrimination.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 12, 2014


Correction, May 15, 2014. Sentence added about Advisory subcommittee position on funding for Driscoll, a rare instance when a subcommittee reported no recommendation.


Bella Travaglini, Panel raises questions on PARCC, Boston Globe, April 12, 2014

David B. Tyack, The One Best System: A History of American Urban Education, Harvard University Press, 1974

Advisory Committee: $87 million for Brookline schools

A regular meeting of the Advisory Committee on Thursday, April 17, started at 7:00 pm in the southern first-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The committee has been reviewing articles on the warrant for the 2014 annual town meeting to be held in May. Most of this meeting was review of school spending proposed for the fiscal year starting next July. Attendance was slim, as it often is at Advisory meetings.

Despite a long siege of work, the committee seemed energetic. Subcommittee chair Leonard Weiss summarized the proposed budget through a set of comparison charts, showing in a general way how the financial resources are used. Unlike some of the reviews in past years, his comparisons did not include other school systems. They were distributed on paper. Copies were not offered to members of the public. Mr. Weiss cited risks in the proposed budget’s heavy reliance on grant funds and other one-time revenues.

School superintendent William Lupini gave more information to the Advisory Committee than he had provided a week earlier to the School Committee. However, the proposed school budget as distributed to the public on the school Web site remains vague–even less informative than the “program” approach the school department began to use in the early 1970s. From the public version of the budget, a reader will not be able to find out how many fifth-grade teachers there are at Pierce or Driscoll, how much is spent on supplies for High School science labs or almost any other practical item showing how the school department runs.

Lee Selwyn was the only committee member who noticed and spoke up. He commented to Dr. Lupini that the budget presentation was incremental, mostly showing changes from the current year. Momentarily the agile superintendent seemed caught off guard, but he recovered with a time-chart showing average spending per student–from the school year starting in 2004 to the one starting in 2012. Mr. Selwyn never got a direct response to his objection.

The per-student spending chart is actually part of the public version of the budget, on page 27. Total spending rose from about $14,000 per student per year for the school year starting in 2004 to about $17,000 for 2008, then leveled off. The chart compares Brookline with Newton and Lexington, showing for the last three years reported that school spending per student in those communities was about the same.

Dr. Lupini and his senior staff contended that controlling costs of special education had been the key to controlling total per-student spending. They did not present any charts or numbers. As described at the meeting, a major element has been “mainstreaming” more special-needs students who were being sent to services outside Brookline–bringing them into the town’s schools and providing extra staff to help.

The liveliest part of the review focused on a proposed “technology” initiative. Most of this involves more and newer computers available in classrooms. The department proposes to add about 600 hand-held computers next year and to begin replacing computers every four rather than every five years. Committee members were interested, but apparently no one did the math. There are about 7,000 students now. For each student to be able to work with a computer, the department would be buying at least 1,750 a year–not just 600.

Dr. Lupini and deputy superintendent Peter Rowe discussed with the committee a “budget addendum” much expanded from one previously distributed to the School Committee. Among other matters, it lists funds for the “technology” initiative. However, the addendum has not been made available on the school Web site, and paper copies made available to the public do not include a page explaining “budget magic” discussed with both the School Committee and the Advisory Committee–avoiding major program cuts or a tax override.

A large majority of the Advisory Committee voted to recommend the school budget as proposed, requiring about $87 million in local tax revenue for department operations, plus a capital allocation. Dividing the annual school department appropriation by the student population does not reflect full costs. A state agency reports per-student spending, including costs of health care and pensions. However, contrary to statements made at the meeting by school administrators, those state reports do not factor in the costs of school buildings. A few committee members abstained, but no one opposed the school budget.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 18, 2014

Candidates Night: controversies appear in town elections

The Brookline Neighborhood Alliance held a Candidate’s Night on Wednesday, April 16, from 6:30 to 9:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. It featured candidates for town-wide offices in the upcoming election on May 6. Margaret Bush, president of League of Women Voters of Brookline, presided as moderator.

The Alliance is a fairly recent organization, founded in 2001. It helps coordinate activities of more than 20 neighborhood associations in Brookline, many of them operating for 40 years or more. Current Alliance co-chairs are Dan Saltzman and Sean Lynn-Jones. Mr. Lynn-Jones introduced the candidates.

This year there is only one town-wide contest: four candidates running for two seats available on the Board of Selectmen. Incumbent Nancy Daly is running for re-election. Incumbent Richard Benka stepped aside after two terms; he remains co-chair of the Override Study Committee. The challengers are Brooks A. Ames of Whitney St., Arthur Wellington Conquest, III, of Tappan St. and Benjamin J. Franco of Cypress St.

Controversies
For more than two centuries, the Board of Selectmen was a gentlemen’s club, meeting at Dana’s and Punch Bowl taverns before there was Town Hall as we know it today. Over the past 55 years that changed. Louise Castle became the first woman to serve on the board in 1960. For many years afterward, there was never more than one woman among the five members. Recently–during 2007 through 2013–women formed a majority of the board, and currently there are two women on the board.

Another barrier has not yet been breached. There has never been an African-American or Latin-American member of the board, nor for at least a century has there been a foreign-born member. There has been only one minority head of a town department over the past 40 years. Those are major concerns for two of this year’s candidates. Mr. Ames and Mr. Conquest, an African-American, say they are campaigning jointly to promote minority representation in town management.

Continuing financial stress from growth in the school population has revived a controversy many thought was laid to rest in the 1970s: whether the town should continue its affirmative-action program in the schools, accepting minority students through the METCO program. A related element is school-age children of town employees who live elsewhere but have been allowed to attend Brookline schools. The combined groups are said by school administrators to number around 600, out of around 7,000 students now attending Brookline schools.

METCO was organized in 1965. An initial effort was led by Prof. Leon Trilling of M.I.T., then chairman of the Brookline School Committee. Key participants included Dr. Robert Sperber, then Brookline superintendent of schools, and the superintendents in Newton and Lexington. When METCO started sending students to seven founding communities in 1966–75 to Brookline–the program was described as filling “available seats” in classrooms. For many years, the added students were not considered a major factor in achieving a goal of 25 or fewer students per class, and the costs to Brookline were described by school administrators as small.

However, the Education Reform Act of 1993 led to a statewide reporting system for public school populations and spending, so that the added populations could not be discounted. Over time, the numbers of added students grew. State payments for METCO students and so-called “materials fees” charged for children of town employees are much less than the average cost per student in Brookline schools, as calculated by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Moreover, state-certified costs do not include costs of school buildings.

The Ames and Conquest campaigns for minority representation, together with revival of disputes over the METCO program and new disputes over the “materials fee” program, comprise a level of agitation not seen in the town since struggles over rent control and high-rise zoning in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Those controversies formed a backdrop for the discussions at Candidates Night which no one there could ignore.

Board of Selectmen
Nancy Daly is seeking a fourth term on the Board of Selectmen. She named experience in town government as a major qualification. Ms. Daly formerly chaired the Advisory Committee. She cited recent efforts in getting Brookline recognized as an “age friendly community” and in proposing to revise the town’s bylaw on diversity and inclusion, Article 10 on the warrant for the annual town meeting in May.

Brooks Ames is seeking a first term on the Board of Selectmen. He has been a member of the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission since 2013. Mr. Ames described himself as a Heath School graduate and now a Heath School parent. He complained that there had been “no department head of color in over 40 years” and said his goal is “making sure that everyone has a seat at the table.”

Arthur Conquest is seeking a first term on the Board of Selectmen. He has been a Precinct 6 town meeting member since 1997 and is a past president of the High School parent-teacher organization. Mr. Conquest described his unsuccessful application to serve on the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, clearly indicating he felt the current Board of Selectmen acted unreasonably.

Benjamin Franco is seeking a first term on the Board of Selectmen. He has been a member of the Advisory Committee since 2008. Mr. Franco described himself as growing up on Amory St. He said he is particularly concerned about financial pressures from school enrollment increases. He cited as a qualification his experience in state government, gained as a legislative aide in the state senate.

Ms. Bush, the moderator, posed several questions submitted by members of the audience to candidates for the Board of Selectmen. On the chronic issue of tax classification, with businesses seeking a lower tax rate, no candidate favored much change. On the efforts to get payments in lieu of taxes from nonprofit organizations, all would encourage them.

Responding to a question about how to handle the proposed Chapter 40B housing development at Hancock Village, Mr. Ames cited his legal experiences with 40B developments and said he favors a “negotiated settlement.” All the candidates were familiar with the situation and cited potential problems, but none had any more to offer toward a solution.

A question on which the candidates clearly differed asked whether they “support a robust METCO program.” Mr. Ames said his support is “100 percent.” Mr. Conquest said METCO is “an integral part of our school system.” Ms. Daly said she would “fight strongly for the program” but there are limits “to what the taxpayers can pay.” Mr. Franco stated he could not “say that regardless of financial pressure…we’re going to retain it.”

Another question that drew differences asked about support for “Local First,” a business initiative proposed under Article 29 at the annual town meeting in May. Mr. Ames criticized the proposal for excluding franchised businesses. Mr. Conquest offered no opinion. Mr. Franco said Brookline “should make sure everybody is protected.” Ms. Daly said she saw problems, notably the issue of “what’s local?” The proposal seeks more town purchasing from local business, while Ms. Daly said the town is “subject to state bidding laws.”

School Committee
Three candidates are running for the three seats available on the School Committee. Incumbent Rebecca Stone is running for a fourth term. Incumbent committee chair Alan Morse stepped aside after three terms. Incumbent Amy Kershaw stepped aside after one term. The new candidates are Michael A. Glover of Franklin Ct. and Lisa R. Jackson of Winthrop Rd.

Rebecca Stone cited as accomplishments a strategic plan, improvements in “educational equity” and renovations to Heath and Runkle Schools. She voiced support for school-building recommendations from the Bspace Committee but also concerns about “fracturing the community” over costs of the work. Michael Glover, a real-estate lawyer who moved to Brookline from Jamaica Plain 1-1/2 years ago, described his goal to “retain the culture and characteristics that attracted our family, without compromising the quality of education.” Dr. Lisa Jackson, an investment portfolio manager, came to Brookline in recent years from California. Her aim, she said, is to “grow strengths around technology, science and math.”

By “educational equity,” Ms. Stone may have been alluding to the Equity Project that began about ten years ago, early in the Lupini administration. According to contemporary town reports, it aimed at “eliminating the racial achievement gap” in Brookline schools. However, an earlier “equity project” began in the 1960s during the Sperber administration. It aimed to eliminate disparity among what Dr. Sperber once called the four rich and the four poor elementary schools. A comment by Dr. Jackson suggested the older project has yet to meet some objectives. She mentioned finding many more classroom computers at Heath than at Pierce.

Ms. Bush again posed questions to the candidates. The first asked about their support for METCO: is it still necessary? Ms. Stone said she is a “very strong supporter” and said the program provides “extraordinary benefit to students and the community.” Mr. Glover said he is a “wholehearted supporter” and said a “holistic school requires exposure to different backgrounds.” Dr. Jackson said she offers “full and robust support” for METCO as an “integral part of an education.”

A question on which the candidates differed asked about the accuracy of school enrollment projections, which now predict continued growth for at least several more years. Dr. Jackson said she lacked knowledge about the accuracy of the projections. Mr. Glover said the projections were “conservative, maybe too low” and did not take full account of the proposed Hancock Village development. Ms. Stone did not answer the question directly, instead referring again to work of the Bspace Committee and describing it as a “broad set of recommendations.”

Key elements of the most recent projections for the school population appear in the public version of the proposed school budget for fiscal 2015, on pages 21-24. They estimate that by 2018 the total school population will rise at least 1,000 students above the historical norm for which Brookline’s school buildings were designed.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 17, 2014


2014 Annual Town Meeting Warrant, town meeting files, Town of Brookline, MA

Superintendent’s FY2015 preliminary budget, Public Schools of Brookline, MA, March, 2014

Edward W. Baker, The old Worcester Turnpike, Proceedings of the Brookline Historical Society at the annual meeting of January, 1907, Internet Archive

The Trilling plans for METCO, pp. 193-210 in Lily D. Geismer, Don’t Blame Us: Grassroots Liberalism in Massachusetts, 1960-1990, PhD, U. Michigan 2010

School Committee: budget crisis evaporates for this year

A regular semimonthly meeting of the School Committee on Thursday, April 10, started at 6:00 pm, mostly held in the fifth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Topics included final review of the budget to be proposed for fiscal year 2015, starting this July.

The FY2015 budget became a chronic source of anxiety because of growth in school enrollment, combined with uncertainties over state funding and other outside support. However, Dr. William Lupini, the superintendent, announced that enough funding had been identified to avoid program cuts, layoffs and a need to consider a tax override. A document titled FY15 Budget Addendum #1 was displayed to show how that was accomplished. It could not be found on the school department Web site at the time of the meeting.

The committee approved Dr. Lupini’s proposed budget and also approved a six-percent increase in tuitions and fees for Brookline early education services, plus increases in materials fees charged for children of Brookline employees who live elsewhere–all needed to balance the budget. Early education programs now serve almost 300 children, aged about 2-1/2 to 5, and are provided at all the elementary schools, the high school and the Lynch Recreation Center. All committee votes on the budget were unanimous.

The school budget released March 13 shows how the budget crisis emerged and worsened. A table on page 19 shows that total enrollment rose above the long-term historical level of around 6,000 in 2009, as Massachusetts started to emerge from the severe recession. For school years ending in 2009 through 2014, total enrollment grew by an average of 187 students per year–a growth of 19 percent over a six-year span. School-department projections anticipate no relaxation of the trend for at least another three years.

This was committee chairman Alan Morse’s last meeting; he is not running for a possible fourth term in town elections to be held in May. Committee member Amy Kershaw has also stepped aside after a single term. Since only two new candidates are running, their replacements in the May 6 election are known: Michael A. Glover of Franklin Ct. and Lisa R. Jackson of Winthrop Rd.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 11, 2014