Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Who Rules Brookline's Dexter Southfield Private School?

During the 2015-2016 school year, around 8,000 students were enrolled in Brookline’s public schools. In Brookline High School, for example, around 1,800 students were enrolled in 2015-2016; and it’s anticipated that by 2023 Brookline’s public school system will need to find enough public high school classroom seats for 2,600 enrolled public high school students.

Brookline’s public school students, however, are not the only elementary, junior high school or high school age students enrolled in a school in Brookline. At 20 Newton Street, on a 36-acre campus hilltop estate, opposite Larz Anderson Park and the Antique Auto Museum, around 825 students are enrolled, for example, at a “non-profit” private school called Dexter Southfield, whose entrance is located on St. Paul’s Avenue off Newton Street.

In 1966 the then all-male Dexter School purchased its 36-acre Newton Street property for $520,000 and soon began constructing a Brookline campus containing 69 classrooms in four buildings, athletic facilities and art studios. In addition, Dexter Southfield also has a Rowing Center, located on the Charles River, just 4 miles away in Dedham.

According to the Exempt Property Record Card data for 20 Newton Street, that’s posted on the Town of Brookline Assessor’s Office website, the valuation of Dexter Southfield’s Brookline real estate increased from $37.2 million in fiscal year 2007 to $78.3 million in fiscal year 2017, yet its fiscal year 2017  town real estate tax payment bill was zero dollars. In addition, according to its Form 990 financial filing for 2014-2015, the value of the “non-profit” Dexter Southfield private school’s endowment fund on June 30, 2015 was over $30 million.

An “Upper School” secondary school was not established on Dexter Southfield’s Brookline campus until 2002, when the school was still called the Dexter School; and following its merger with the Southfield private all-female day school in 2013, the name of the private school was changed to Dexter Southfield. Despite this 2013 merger, however, according to Dexter Southfield’s website, “the school will always operate under”” a “core belief that boys and girls benefit from distinct paths of learning;” and except for some selected special advanced high school level classes, all pre-8th grade classes and most secondary school classes apparently don’t include both male and female students in the same classroom. Dexter Southfield’s website also notes that “transportation to and from the School” for its students “is provided by our fleet of faculty-driven school buses from central locations throughout Greater Boston, Metro West, and the South Shore.”

The Town of Brookline doesn’t charge an admissions fee for any Dexter Southfield private school student, parent, teacher or administrator who might wish to play across the street in Brookline’s Larz Anderson Park on weekdays or weekends. But Brookline parents in the neighborhood whose sons or daughters were accepted for admission to Dexter Southfield’s campus were generally required to cough up a tuition fee of $43,175 for a 6th, 7th or 8th grader and $46,670 for a 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grader, in order for their child to be allowed to enter the Dexter Southfield classrooms during the 2016-2017 school year.

Among the special educational advantages provided the 825 private school students enrolled at Dexter Southfield is that only 14 other students are generally sitting in each class that a student takes. So, presumably, each classroom teacher can provide more special attention and personal instruction to individual Dexter Southfield private school students than what a Brookline public school student might receive in most Brookline public school classrooms, where the average class size is 21 students, rather than 15, like it is in Dexter Southfield.

The Dexter Southfield private school claims in its Form 990 financial filing for 2014-2015 to be non-discriminatory in its admissions policy. Yet its website indicates that only 15 percent of its students are “students of color;” and, as late as the 2013-2014 school year, The Handbook of Private Schools indicated that only 2 percent of Dexter Southfield’s male students were African-American in racial background.

Not surprisingly, Dexter Southfield is governed by a board of trustees whose members include folks with business, professional or family links to corporations, Wall Street investment banks, corporate law firms and various tax-exempt “non-profit” institutions that might be considered economically exploitative by some of Brookline’s 21st-century working-class and middle-class residents.

K & L Gates corporate law firm partner William Shaw McDermott, for example, has been the president of Dexter Southfield’s board of trustees since 1991; and according to the website of K & L Gates, the law firm’s corporate clients include The Goldman Sachs Group, Halliburton, Microsoft, Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Starbuck’s, Duke Energy, E.I. DuPont du Nemours, United Technologies, Honeywell, Viacom, CBS, One Lincoln Street Boston, John Hancock Financial and Education Management Corporation. McDermott also is a member of the Harvard School of Public Health Leadership Council and has been a trustee of Deaconess Hospital or overseer of Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital since 1990.

Despite being the board of trustees president of a private school located in Brookline, however, K & L Gates Partner McDermott has apparently been less interested in establishing an open admissions and free tuition policy at the Dexter Southfield secondary school, for all high school students whose families reside in Brookline that wish to attend his school, than in being involved in Dedham, Massachusetts town politics. Since 2005, McDermott has, for example, been the president of the Citizens for Dedham Neighborhood Alliance; and he also is both a Dedham, Massachusetts Town Meeting Member and the co-chairman of Dedham’s Master Plan Committee.

Other members of the Dexter Southfield board of trustees include: former Managing Director of The Goldman Sachs Group Scott Barringer; Thomas H. Lee Partners investment/stock-speculation firm Co-Chair and Dunkin Brands/Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins corporate board member Anthony Di Novi; and Welch & Forbes LLC Chief Investment Officer and Portfolio Manager Charles Thorndike Haydock.

Kraft Group President Jonathan Kraft—the son of the billionaire owner of the New England Patriots who also owns a stake in the Ultimate Fighting Championship [UFC] mixed martial arts promotion company, Robert Kraft—is also, coincidentally, a member of Dexter Southfield’s board of trustees. Besides sitting on Dexter Southfield’s governing board, Jonathan Kraft (whose father’s personal wealth was estimated to be $5.2 billion in 2016 by Forbes magazine) also is a Massachusetts General Hospital [MGH] trustee who chairs the MGH board of trustees’ Finance Committee, a member of Harvard Business School’s Board of Dean’s Advisers, the Williams College Investment Committee’s Chair and a Williams College Trustee Emeritus, and a trustee of another private school, the Belmont Hill School.

The tax-exempt Dexter Southfield private school in Brookline claims to be “non-profit.” But according to its Form 990 financial filing for 2014-2015 between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015, Dexter Southfield’s total revenue of $36,077,974 exceeded the school’s total expenses of $32,783,379 by $3,294,595; and the value of the school’s total net assets increased from $24.5 to $24.8 million. Yet the tax-exempt Dexter Southfield private school paid zero dollars in U.S. federal income tax during the same period (although it has also apparently benefited from millions of dollars in Massachusetts Development Financing Agency-issued tax-exempt bonds financing in 21st-century).

The $36 million that Dexter Southfield collected included over $29.5 million from tuition and fee payments from families of enrolled students, over $2.4 million from grant contributions and $2.2 million from stocks and bonds portfolio investment income.

Over $16 million of the $36 million that Dexter Southfield earned from its “non-profit” private school operation was used to pay salaries of Dexter Southfield’s 105 employees. Between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015, for example, Head of School Todd Vincent was paid a total annual compensation of $331,664, including an annual base salary of $284, 652, by the Brookline private school (while the annual base salary of the Superintendent of Brookline’s public school system is apparently just $170,115). The Head of School’s wife was also employed by Dexter Southfield and paid an annual salary of $62,500; and according to its Form 990 financial filing for 2014 “Head of School Todd Vincent lives in campus housing provided by the school.”

In recent months, there has been much discussion in Brookline about whether or not public tax money should be diverted from unionized non-charter public schools in Massachusetts in order to create more, generally non-unionized, publicly-funded charter schools in the Commonwealth; and about whether or not a new public school building in Brookline should be constructed for $95 million on the 2.7 acre Baldwin School land site on Heath Street.

Yet until the well-heeled folks who control Massachusetts private schools like Dexter Southfield are politically pressured to help fund Brookline’s public school system more and to prioritize serving community educational needs—by perhaps enrolling for free more working-class and middle-class students whose parents live in Brookline and sharing land space on its 36-acre campus with Brookline’s public school system—students in under-funded and overcrowded Brookline public schools may be in danger of not receiving, during the next 8 years, the same schooling advantages received by Dexter Southfield students.  

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