, Newburyport, MA


June 2, 2014

In school budget woes, state bears brunt of blame

Nearly every year we see the same problem play out in our local communities. It is like a broken record that skips and replays the same sorry line of lyrics every year.

This year it’s played loudest in Newburyport and Amesbury. The mayors and school officials have scrambled to find ways to cover escalating costs in the public schools. Parents have gotten deeply involved; they want to be sure that the schools don’t slide backward. They want their kids to receive the best education possible. Political pressure mounts, frustration and anger too.

The problem is, the people who are really at fault here are not held accountable. Instead, our local mayors and school committees face the wrath that should be directed elsewhere.

Our state government — primarily the governor, state Senate, and House of Representatives — is where the real furor should be directed.

Consider these stark facts:

According to the state Department of Revenue, since fiscal year 2009 — the period in which the “Great Recession” began — aid provided by the state to both Newburyport and Amesbury has dropped. Newburyport’s aid package totaled about $7.5 million in this current fiscal year, a reduction of almost $1 million since 2009. In Amesbury, total aid in 2014 is $11.1 million, which is a $1.4 million cut since 2009. Most of that money goes to our local public schools.

One would logically think that the state’s budget must have also dropped, or perhaps remained stagnant. Actually, it has increased substantially. Since 2009, the state budget has skyrocketed by over 30 percent. Where did the money go?

Much of it went to “Romneycare,” but not all of it. It has gone just about everywhere but local aid. As the financial watchdog organization Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center has pointed out, the state’s spending on local aid, which includes our public schools, is 46 percent below what it was in 2001, when adjusted for inflation. That is an enormous sum of money.

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