Committee Corner: School Budget talks have started in Worcester

Committee Corner: School Budget talks have started in Worcester

John Monfredo, Worcester School Committee

 

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”…Ben Franklin

That is sound advice from a great leader… Ben Franklin!  Again it’s that time of the year that the community needs to be involved in the school budget and look what we, as a city, are allocating for our schools.

The past few weeks the School Committee and Administration have met with our Local Legislator Delegation to discuss the educational needs of our school system.  The first discussion had to do with the state’s foundation formula that is under review by the Foundation Budget Review Commission.  Needless to say they found the Foundation Budget to be woefully underfunded.

As Brian Allen, the Worcester Public Schools chief financial officer and Superintendent  Dr. Marco Rodrigues pointed out to the delegation based on its findings  the budget is underfunded in the current foundation budget formula. Areas of concern are health insurance, special education and the skipped inflation adjustment in 2010.  This total adds up to $67.9 million and the Commission’s recommendation on funding English Language Learners and Low Income students could potentially provide an additional $25 million in funding, totaling $92.9 million as follows:

Category                                             Impact

  • Health Insurance:                               $29.1
  • Special Education:                              $29.8
  • English Language Learners:             $  5.0
  • Low Income Students:                       $20.0
  • Inflation Factor Adjustment:           $  9.0
  • Shortfall and Impact:                        $92.9

The students are being short changed in the following areas.  Under the current formula, we are spending less on non-special education instructional positions, operations & maintenance of school buildings, professional development, and instructional supplies and materials than the foundation budget provides because of the underfunding in other areas.  Worcester spends at the foundation budget level, so any underfunding in one area cause under spending in other areas; unlike other state-wide districts we only have as much as the state formula provides.

If the state had the needed revenue, as recommended by the Foundation Budget Review Commission, administration stated that they would recommend the following to the School Committee to consider:

  • Align elementary class sizes to the foundation budget ratios in any areas that class size exceeds the current formula and provide targeted interventions as intended in the formula ($9 million)
  • Provide additional secondary teachers for additional course offerings, particularly in new or enrichment classes for students thereby providing greater opportunities and fewer study halls for students.  ($9.3 million)
  • Implement full-day Pre-K opportunities for students (space availability), provide Kindergarten instructional assistant positions in all classrooms, and expanded K-3 instructional support services.  ($10.0 million)
  • Increase school instructional supply and material allocations to current foundation allocation, nearly doubling the current per pupil allocation, as well as providing all opportunities for adequate and current levels of textbooks at all schools.  Administration envisions creating an annual textbook replacement cycle that would be funded from this new revenue.  ($9.3 million)
  • Increase teacher specialist and other support positions, such as school adjustment counselors, guidance counselors, psychologists, wrap around services, instructional coaches, literacy and numeracy specialists, school librarians and school nurses.  ($15.8 million)
  • Provide current foundation budget formula spending levels in area of operations and maintenance by implementing lower-cost preventative maintenance procedures, addressing deferred maintenance needs, and investing in school safety and security equipment ($11.4 million)
  • Provide current foundation budget formula spending levels in the area of staff development through additional and on-going training opportunities and common planning time for instructional staff.  ($3.1 million)

With regards to the recommendations for ELL and low income students (total potential funding of $25 million), administration recommended to the Foundation Budget Review Commission that Worcester would replicate successful turnaround practices that were used in each of our three Level 4 schools at our lowest performing schools as measured by their state’s accountability status.  These strategies have included expanded school time for students (90 minutes per day), common planning time for teachers (30 minutes daily), expanded staff development (90 additional hours per year), wraparound services, and other additional instructional support staff positions.  As Mr. Allen stated, “We have estimated that the sustainability of these services to be approximately $2,000 per student.”

The problem at the present time is that the money is not there to support the changes as recommended by the Commission for in Governor Baker’s budget the changes were not considered.  Unfortunately, the delay in implementing the recommendations continues to leave Chapter 70 inadequately funded for another year and leaves  all the schools in Massachusetts, especially Worcester, short changed and places an added burden on the city to increase the school budget.  Obviously the Foundation Budget can’t be fixed in one year or in five years but there has to be a starting point for change and it should start this year.

The Governor’s budget will now go to the House and then to the Senate for review.  Hopefully there will be some movement for according to Brian Allen, at the present time, Worcester has a short fall of $12million.   If the legislator’s could consider even a small change this year in the inflation adjustment it would bring in another $9 million and that would be huge to Worcester.  Keep in mind that 61% of the school’s budget comes from the State, 21% from the city and 11% from the Federal Government.  Let’s hope our local delegation can make it happen for the children of this city deserve our support!  The quality of education that our children receive will shape not only their economic future, but the economic future of this city.   Stay tuned more on the budget will be forthcoming!

 

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