This site aims to inform and mobilize Beverly parents to take an active role in all issues related to the funding and operation of the city's schools. It was launched in the spring of 2008, when the city saw its first-ever override attempt fail, followed by the closure of a nearly-new elementary school. Subsequent years have seen further cuts that have led to larger class sizes across the district. While the opening of an impressive new high school and plans to replace the city's aging middle school give us reason to be optimistic, the school community must be ever vigilant in demanding appropriate school funding by city and state governments, and better community communications from the district and School Committee.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Area School Committees Join Forces

School Committee President Annemarie Cesa has joined her counterparts from Danvers, Ipswich, Marblehead, Swampscott, Hamilton-Wenham, Manchester-Essex, Gloucester, and Rockport to discuss a group effort to address Chapter 70 funding, and other budget issues that are affecting all the area's school systems. Today's Salem News has a report on the group's efforts.

The group response was spearheaded by Cesa and Swampscott School Committee chair Dave Whelan following a July Town Hall meeting in Salem with Governor Patrick, and a subsequent story in the Salem News (see post below also). At the meeting Patrick agreed that the state funding system was broken.

"We're really trying to work sort of as a geographical coalition to spread the word that the infrastructures of schools across the state are imploding," said Whelan.

"We've all had a difficult budget season, and we're all saying, 'How can we work this out together?'" added Cesa, who also sees the group as the start of a more regional approach to education.

"Foreign languages, for example, tend to be first on the chopping block when there's not enough money. But if one school offers Russian, and a student at another school wants to take it, there could be a way for them to do it," she said.

Last month Whelan distributed his own plan to correct some of the glaring inequities he sees in the state funding formula. The plan takes more of a per pupil approach to the funding. Below is an outline of his thinking in developing the plan, which would cost $154 million, no small amount in these tough economic times.

  1. It is my position, and that of some folks that I have discussed chapter 70 issues with, that each child’s funding should be subject to a minimum dollar threshold. The dollar value that I have consistently heard is $2,000 per child. These discussions have been with professional educators and various school committee members.
  2. It is also my point that on a per child basis, chapter 70 funding should never be less than one-half the state average per child for that year. That state average per child for fy ’09 is $4,182 and 50% of that value is $2,091.
  3. There are 104 communities [including Beverly] that are being paid less than $2,091 per child for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2009. That means that 27.7% of all districts receive less than one-half of the state average per child.
  4. The $2,091 figure represents less than 1/7th the per pupil cost of the highest reimbursed district ($2,091 vs. $14,811). Is it reasonable to ask that no district gets less than 1/7th the amount of the highest reimbursed district in the state?
The benefits of my plan are as follows:
  1. My plan substantially reduces the number of override attempts that are inevitable for fy ’10. This is consistent with Governor Patrick’s assessment that there is an overreliance on the property tax. We certainly agree on this point. This plan also removes the destructive nature of what an override does to communities.
  2. Districts like Swampscott can start the process of rehiring critical staff that will be necessary if Massachusetts is going to compete in the global economy as discussed prominently in the Governor’s Readiness Project.
  3. My plan also will insure that good, young, enthusiastic, and yes, inexpensive teachers stay in the Commonwealth instead of finding no employment in Massachusetts and moving to North Carolina and/or Arizona, for example. The shortage of young qualified teachers in the next few years will be soon become what the nursing crisis is now in the Commonwealth unless something is done to avoid the massive layoffs of these young people that are already happening. My district alone will have laid off 40 plus in two years and next year looks bleak at best.
  4. It is quite possible that my solution effectively ends the politically understandable but morally offensive five year phase in to 17.5% of foundation budget that effects 60 plus communities. Swampscott has lost approximately $1.6 million because of this phase in fy ’07 to fy ’09.
  5. The Governor recently said that “Chapter 70 is broken…everybody knows that.” I have congratulated him on his honesty and this surely is a step towards fixing what the Chief Executive Officer of the Commonwealth has described as a “broken” program.
The challenges are as follows:
  1. Where do we get the $154 million? My answer is simple. Anywhere you can find it! Consider the alternative which is the implosion of districts all over the state.
  2. What to do about the fallout from fy ’09? That certainly is a value judgment that state officials have made, but can and should be reversed.
  3. Why ½ the state average? Why not? It is certainly an arbitrary number, but all discussions need to start somewhere.

You can see Whelan's full spreadsheet here. His plan would add $1.9 million dollars annually to Beverly's Chapter 70 funding, or about 75% of last year's deficit, which resulted in the closing of one elementary school.