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Residents Give Cool Reception To School Merger Talk02:52
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This flagpole marks the town line between Cohasset, foreground, and Hull, rear. (Fred Thys/WBUR)
This flagpole marks the town line between Cohasset, foreground, and Hull, rear. (Fred Thys/WBUR)

WBUR’s "Towns In Trouble” series is examining how the state budget crisis is reverberating in two communities: Hull and Gardner. In May, Hull residents rejected a Proposition 2 1/2 override, which means property taxes won’t be raised to help pay for school activities.

It began at the school committee meeting in May. One of the members confessed he'd sat down with two people from Cohasset, Hull's much wealthier neighbor. Over coffee, they'd talked about the towns maybe sharing a Latin teacher.

Hull's school committee members loved the idea. They were still reeling from the defeat of the override and desperate to find ways to save money. Before the meeting was over, they had gone from talking about sharing a Latin teacher to merging the two school districts. They decided Chairwoman Stephanie Peters should approach Cohasset.

"Let's see how comfortable Cohasset is with us," Peters said to laughter.

Beach houses overlook tall grass in Hull. (Fred Thys/WBUR)
Beach houses overlook tall grass in Hull. (Fred Thys/WBUR)

Turns out, not so much.

Cohasset's school committee agreed to meet with Hull, but Cohasset's chairwoman said, "We’re not talking about a merger."

Instead, Cohasset wanted to talk about buying toilet paper and paper towels together. But Hull's school committee is not giving up. It sees a merger as a great way to reduce costs. And it has the state on its side, as Massachusetts is pressuring small school districts to merge. But I couldn't find anyone in town who thinks that merging schools with Cohasset would work.

"It's just two different cultures," said Denise Kaplan as she took refuge from the sun under the awning at Weinberg's Bakery.

Her husband, Bob, is a painter. "I do a lot of work in Cohasset," he said. "Cohasset is a very upscale town. There is a big difference in incomes and homes."

Some of the kids in Cohasset are pretty upfront about how they see the kids in Hull.

"We wouldn't want them in our school," said Will Lynner, who just graduated from Cohasset High School, "'cause it's such a difference between incomes it would create problems. We're a lot more richer town than they are, I guess."

Lynner was waiting for a sandwich at the deli in downtown Cohasset with his friend, Jeff Charles, who doesn't hold a high opinion of Hull students, either.

A busy summer day on a beach in Hull. (Fred Thys/WBUR)
A busy summer day on a beach in Hull. (Fred Thys/WBUR)

"Because they're not as prestigious as Cohasset High," Charles said, "their MCAS scores would…"

"Bring us down," interjected Lynner.

"And as far as applying to colleges," Charles added, "schools would see that our rank has gotten less, and we wouldn't be able to use the fact that we go to Cohasset public schools to our advantage anymore."

Hull students actually outperform Cohasset students on the science MCAS. But in Hull, people are painfully aware of how their richer neighbors see them.

"Kinda seems like Cohasset's got that attitude towards us that they're better than us, you know?" said Tim Brady, as he surveyed Hull's windy Nantasket Beach, where he is a lifeguard. Brady graduated from Hull High School a couple of years ago.

A few blocks north, the town beach is a lot quieter. It's nestled against sand dunes planted with beach grass about knee-high this time of year. The people of Hull plant new beach grass every spring in order to prevent the advance of the ocean on their thin peninsula. A fence of wooden slats leans into the grass waving in the wind.

"We're more like the Red Sox," said Steven Woodward, of Hull, as he sat in the sand. "(Cohasset is) more like the Yankees. They always seem like they got all the better things and they want nothing to do with us."

Woodward drives a Pepsi truck. "I deliver to Cohasset," he said. "I don't like going there to deliver. It's just aggravating. It's just the way people are. Some people, they don't even look at you. Some people I see almost every week and they want nothing to do with you. It's like a tunnel vision they have."

Houses overlook a pebbled beach in Cohasset. (Fred Thys/WBUR)
Houses overlook a pebbled beach in Cohasset. (Fred Thys/WBUR)

Several miles south, the tightly packed, slightly faded beach houses of Hull give way to the mansions of Cohasset, sitting atop hills, the lines of freshly mowed grass contoured around rocky outcroppings.

The most spectacular road south of Boston, Jerusalem Road, meanders along the Atlantic Ocean. It looks like a piece of Maine — a very wealthy version of Maine — plopped down in the suburbs of Boston.

Hardly anyone has ventured out to the modest pebble beach, but Helen Arnold has and she, too, questions whether Hull's children and Cohasset's children would fit together.

"I think people would wonder, too, whether they prioritize education the same way as Cohasset," Arnold said. "I think that would be the biggest concern is how they would keep standards high."

Not even a block away, Atlantic Avenue connects Hull and Cohasset along the coast, and where one passes from one town into the other, an American flag flutters right at the town line, as if marking a border crossing. Despite the cool reaction, Hull's school committee will keep talking to Cohasset's, but it looks like the schoolchildren won't be crossing the border any time soon.


"Towns In Trouble" Series:

This program aired on July 6, 2010.

Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reports on politics and higher education for WBUR.

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