, Newburyport, MA

March 26, 2014

Clarifying report on school funding meeting

Newburyport Daily News

---- — To the editor:

There are a number of points within today’s (March 20) report on the informational meeting held on Tuesday of this week to hear a presentation on school funding by a senior Education Department official that would benefit from clarification.

The report asserts that there has been “a wave of taxpayer displeasure over the School Committee’s budget.” The public hearing on the first draft of the budget held on March 5 was publicized eight days before the meeting. The only people to attend the hearing were selectmen and Fincom members, one journalist and one parent. The School Committee heard nothing from the broader community. The committee’s March 12 meeting, at which the final budget was approved, was attended by a small number of selectmen, one Fincom member, two teachers and a parent. I am therefore wondering what evidence there is to support the assertion that there is “a wave of taxpayer displeasure.”

As work seeking potential reductions in expenditure continued between the publication of the draft budget and presentation of the final budget, the administration identified $357,747 in savings in addition to the $545,080 included in the draft budget. That reduced the average town assessment from 5.38 percent to 4.00 percent. Over the past five years, including the proposed budget for next year, the Triton budget has increased on average by a little over 1.5 percent per annum.

One of the legislators who contributed to the discussion is misidentified in the report. Comments attributed to state Rep. Mirra were offered by state Rep. Brad Hill. I do not recollect Senator Tarr remarking that our students receive a “substandard education.” Massachusetts is widely regarded as the top state in the country in terms of student achievement.

The final section of the report confuses two issues. Court cases that have centered on whether state funding of public schools results in equity among students have generally been lost. In the last case brought in Massachusetts the court acknowledged that there is a problem, but found for the state on the grounds that it is making progress to resolve the issue. As the state department official reported, the state’s contribution of the funding formula has fallen well behind actual expenditure. The independent Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center’s 2011 analysis of school spending reported an aggregate $2.1 billion shortfall in the funding formula for health insurance and special education alone.

That is why interest in the possibility of successful litigation on the basis of the adequacy of state funding is gaining strength.

Christopher Farmer

Superintendent of Schools

Triton Regional School District