Monday, December 15, 2014

Foundation Budget Review Commission hearing at Somerset-Berkeley HighSchool

And Somerset-Berkeley High School, which is brand new, is GORGEOUS. We're still awaiting most of the commission, as apparently the traffic coming down from Boston was difficult.
People are being asked to sign up at the door if they wish to speak.
Rep. Alice Peisch "charged with reviewing the way that foundation bdugets are calculated and suggest changes to that calculation"
specificially seeking testimony meeting one or more of the charges of the committee:

  • educational programs and services necessary to achieve the Commonwealth's educational goals
  • Components & assumptions used in the calculation of the foundation budget
  • Measures to ensure that resources are effectively utilized
  • Models of efficient and effective allocation

written testimony is accepted
"very interested in hearing from members of the public who live or work in this area"

first up Superintendent from Carver: citing the balance of the amount the state funds versus how much the town funds
cutting "to the marrow"
does not allow for the costs of special education: "we've brought back children from out of district placement, and we're still unable to release that burden"
"implore you to find a way to keep the schools open in Carver"
on the edge of 35 children in the classroom

speaker from Fall River
78% low income
needs are diverse, complex
"Fall River are not receiving"
"has not kept pace with the actual costs" of health care and special ed
no support for "critical" wraparound supports
Foundation budget gap is "over $25 million"
$16.5M diverted to health care; $6.6M to special ed
kindergarten classes too big
Fall River teachers have lowest average adjusted teacher salary among urban schools
"impertative that our educators receive the necessary resources"
Increase and provide a low income allocation
include full day preschool in the foundation budget
allocate funding for expanding the school day
assumptions of each of the foundation budget catagories, multiplied out by the number of students Fall River has
"diversion of $16M towards health care, and diversion of special education funds"
MBAE rep "overall looking at the overall approach to education...versus actual innovations to how education is delivered"
response: if you addressed some of the fixed costs, "imagine what we could do if we had that $25 million"
praise for illustration of how much the gap is; question as to how much is being covered by circuit breaker
rep from DESE: has Fall River made changes the state pushed in health care? short answer is yes

City administrator from Fall River: "have some huge challenges"
from municipal side "doing our best" to provide with education
best case scenerio is $2M a year
"by and large, when you consider that we had to increase education spending by $6M, we clearly are on a path that's unsustainable"
have rebuilt 3 of our 4 middle schools
"and yet, we can't really take credit for those...there are often times things a community is doing that don't factor in to direct or indirect school spending"
saw transportation increase by over $3M, mostly special ed
"trying to encourage our children to walk to school...and yet, school crossing guards are not an eligible net school spending request"
annual student population: a lot of movement after October 1
"have gone out a number of times to restructure our health insurance...BlueCross matched GIC savings"
going out again on a competive bid
"how far above foundation is Fall River?"
for FY15 at foundation; but FY14, $3.2M under foundation (thus the careover)
struggle with not full funding of McKinney-Vento, struggle that not all Medicaid has been achieved
question: if there were no deficit, would the amounts be adequate? it sounds as if he wants to know just about the gaps in special education and health insurance
"there's no doubt in my mind, they are in need of additional funding"
"It would go a long way"

Taunton: one of the lowest per pupil in the state
57% low income
class size around 30
need for assistant principals in large elementary schools
fulfill state mandates
"you have failed to fulfill the promise of the 1993 Ed Reform Act"
Taunton superintendent Julie Hackett: Gateway city, cites education level of parents
"experiencing sifnificatn demographic shifts"
ELL students in a low wealth district have different needs than those in a high wealth district
"perform very well compared to our urban counterparts"
headline in recent paper was "tight budget, right results"
"only six other school systems have less administration costs than Taunton"
"I want to make it clear that we've done a lot"
closed five schools, consolidated two schools, relocated sixth grade
added guidance and safety through federal grants
bringing special ed back
all day kindergarten increased chapter 70
"operations and efficiency award"
"consider an additional supplement for free and reduced lunch, increase supplement for ELL"
"increase accountability for chapter 70 funds"
same Q from MBAE:
"a complete redesign is necessary...I'd be content with more of a tweak"

Middleboro faculty member: right now the town is using half of the funds for its schools
"we are doing the best we can"
"amazing people in town, amazing employees"
"if we had more money...we'd be able to do even better"
don't have funding for PARCC and Common Core
don't have common planning time
infrastructure and technology
need to see more funding to be successful
"look at the mandates in changing education and look at the funding for those changes we have"

Superintendent Lynch of Somerset-Berkeley
speaks of small size of Berkeley (regionalized in 2009)
Berkeley passed two overrides to fund regionalization and education
"increased number of school choice students" : using funds for technology and to fund five teachers
lists number of teachers and programs cut over past few years
"running out of band-aids"
"I ask you to remember the small towns around the state"
in answer to MBAE question: needs full adjustment
"whole structure...needs to be looked at"
have increase number of seats of school choice as K enrollment has gone down

Robert Baldwin superintendent for Fairhaven
"more and more dollars must be diverted"
health insurance and special ed together nearly $2M "or 23% of our actual spending"
"gradual gap widening"
18.1% statewide for FY15
gap between the communities that can make up the difference by funding over foundation
"truly a financial tipping point"
"in order to make their budget balance, towns look at their biggest expenditure: their schools"
yet schools' gap continues to widen
"what is apportioned by the town
"spending is clearly connected to school performance"
"closing the achievement gap and the funding gap are one and the same"
"as the funding gap continues to grow, so will the achievement gap"
"we collectively cannot wait one more day"
Peisch: does the gap factor in circuit breaker?
Baldwin: "we are to provide the least restrictive does not qualify" (as it isn't as expensive)

Brockton business manager: much of what has been said by Fall River and Taunton
"many, many ELL"
"we find that the ones that we receive are the ones that are most expensive"
students come in all year long
"we're not complaining about the students; we're very good at teaching them"
coming in third or fourth grade, by high school, achieving as well
1/3 of students received Adams scholarship
83% low income
15,000 to 17,000 students
"to carry that continual growth of students year to year...has put quite a strain on our system"
Q: is there a date? "I would love April 1...anything would help"
Q: is the city spending under foundation budget? a bit of an off the topic question: how do you achieve these results if you're not funded even at foundation?
eliminated a lot of positions
"I can balance class sizes easily; we bring class sizes to 34"
"basically, we overwork our staff"
225 students net coming in after October 1
1400 students changed
McKinney-Vento "is a general fund receipt and goes to the city" (not the school; city doesn't share)

President of Attleboro teachers' union
6200 students
"a plea, a plea for a formula that works for everyone...a number that superintendents can count on...that cities and towns can count on"
list of things that districts are asked to fund...without funding
"and these are unexpected gaps"
"make changes or redesign the formula, whatever is needed"
Q: how could this be more transparent?
when this ($155,00 change; they were expecting more) last year happened, we asked and were told "the numbers hadn't changed"
Q: did your enrollment fall? No.
someone just pulled open the spreadsheet and found that there was a change in enrollment
argument is that it was unexpected which it shouldn't have been; enrollment is known by fall of the previous year, inflation by the previous year, as well
Chang-Diaz: what factors has Attleboro used to predict?
Doesn't think that the superintendent would be able to answer either
"we've had four business managers in the past few years..."
Tom Gosnell "complexity has significantly decreased...historically, it is significantly easier to understand"

Jim Hawkins: MTA, retired teacher from Attleboro

Fall River teacher: "not one person said that their salaries" were the priority
"a good week for me is when I don't read my former students' names in the police log or the obituary column"
students who have special needs are not being serviced...falling further and further behind
two alternative middle school programs, at least three alternative high schools
"our resources need to be expanded and our formula need to be changed"
"there seems to be plenty of money for Common Core training and materials"
"leaving our youngest children behind"

Superintendent Lincoln Lynch, Walpole
students we receive back from vocational schools or private schools
high needs need to be adjusted
"seeing a trend of students who are moving into Massachusetts" due to our interpretation of special ed law
cites multiple cases of students moving out of state and coming back due to services provided
difficult to explain formula to town meeting
"perhaps we should think of different formula for urban, for rural...even if it's a multiplier, like wages"
significant amount of mandates from DESE, in addition to minimal state aid
need to have time and funds to implement what already have
"a lot of efficiencies, saved funds on transportation, but loss of circuit breaker"
this last in response to same circuit breaker Q; the commission is flummoxed that circuit breaker isn't somehow making a difference; looks like they need a breakdown on how special ed budgets are being spent

Ron Clark, Carver: "this formula is very complicated, but the goal is very simple: that every child in the state should have access to a quality education"
needs to take socio-economic factors of towns into account
citing cranberry juice prices
wealthier towns arguing that they pay a lot in taxes, but "I don't think that's where you start applying 'fairness'"

Whitman-Hason School District testimony
regionalization presented as financial saving
2001, chapter 70 was 68% of foundation budget
rely on chapter 70 and regional transportation for funding
after 2001, these percentages declined
local contributions have not increased enough to make up the loss of chapter 70
"over time, programs have disappeared, class sizes have grown...and unfunded and overfunded mandates have continued"
"while regionalization has helped for the first decade..." it doesn't anymore
growing percent of free and reduced lunch students
concern with students in the middle
ranks in the bottom 2% of per pupil expenditures
formula "has become obselete and has now become inadequate"
"realistic support for regional school districts and cost effective regional collaboratives"

Allen Crowley, Board of Selectman Middleboro
"we get just under matching contribution for chapter 70"
"I don't understand how this formula works; I try"
citing increases in foundation budgets and chapter 70 levels (which by themselves don't mean anything!)
"would appreciate your taking a look at it"

Bob Montero, superintendent in Swansey
"most of the areas I'd like to discuss have been discussed by my colleagues"
meeting the needs that our students have on the budgets that we have
"we're pretty lucky in that the community supports our budget"
low income students increasing, increasing needs
in the last 16 months, 60 homeless students coming into the community
"just that number alone, just the transportation, affected our budget $130,000"
"I know that there has been some movement in the House in terms of McKinney-Vento...we need to look at it"
ELL services go to the unfunded mandates, required to have our staff trained
"put on our plate, but we're not seeing the funding"
"needs in technology...we are a district that chose to go PARCC. We think we're ready for that, but it's drained our resources"
Q: you talked about low income population has doubled, and you're far from a Gateway community; explain Title I funds
"increase in Title I funds has been a little bit...draining in some ways for the services we have to provide, with the homeless students in particular"
argument that the Title I goes 'into the general pot' of funding I think...but that isn't quite right

former finance committee member from Lakeville
would like them to look at how much a town is worth
"on the property value side, do the appraised values get used, or do the assessed values get used?"
because the appraised values aren't how much the town gets from the property
which is why they don't use that. They thought of that.
Peisch: points out that this is not under their purview; they are ONLY looking at the foundation budget, not the community wealth model
answer that comes back is "it tracks pretty close to assessed"

Carver School Committee chair: "I wanted to make the town a better place, and the school system a better place"
tight budget when he joined 15 years ago "and every year it has gotten worse and worse"
"we're always going to do a little bit more next year when there's more money"
kids need a little more help; please keep them in mind

HEARING CLOSED: four or five more to come
meeting over the next six months
always willing to take additional testimony via email or letter
All can be sent to

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