This fall, the Massachusetts Foundation Budget Review Commission was formed to satisfy recently enacted law that requires exploring whether/how the Foundation Budget formula should be changed. This formula "defines the minimum level of school spending necessary to provide an adequate education to students" and ultimately impacts the amount of state money (aka Ch. 70 money) that cities and towns receive for their schools based on things like enrollments, programs, student demographics, etc. (For details on the calculation, check out http://www.doe.mass.edu/finance/chapter70/.) The Commission includes legislators, BOE/DESE reps, and reps from school-related associations (teachers, school committees, superintendents, business officials, etc.). There is also a seven-member Advisory Committee.
Last night in Danvers, the Commission held the first of six hearings to "solicit testimony from members of the public." MASC Field Director Mike Gilbert estimated the audience at 150 people. The meeting began at 4:55, and by 6:30 (when I had to leave) 17 people had testified including mayors, state representatives, superintendents, school committee members, MASBO consultant, and a teacher/association president. Speakers hailed from Marblehead/Swampscott/Lynn (Rep. Ehrlich), Amesbury, Winchester/Malden/Melrose (Rep. Lewis), Newburyport, Shawsheen Valley, Nahant, Triton Regional, Danvers, Dracut, Beverly, Winchester, Wakefield, and North Reading.
* Need to keep politics out of this debate and focus on students
* School budgets are increasing much faster than Ch. 70 money which is unsustainable
* Two largest drivers of increases are health insurance and special education which are beyond the control of cities and towns; next two are technology and extended learning time; last three are library media services, full-day kindergarten, and wrap-around services (before/after school academic complements)
* Ch. 70 should follow students when those students leave a district
* Taking into account property values isn't useful
* [Underfunding] is a death knoll for neighborhood schools
* Gaps are widening between haves and have-nots (haves can accommodate by sending their children to private schools when publics can't afford even the basics)
* The special ed challenges now compared with '93 are the adding the best practice of inclusion along with the increasing complexity of diagnoses - and the rate hasn't increased
* Homelessness has increased dramatically
* Are co-curricular activities (athletics) part of a free and appropriate education? (yes?)
* Need to inflation-proof the formula
* State has no requirement for curriculum materials - should they?
* Teacher salaries are much higher than when the formula was enacted
* Charter school and vocational assessments are a big issue
Next meeting is on December 15th at 4:30 on the South Shore (location TBD).
#fbrc for Twitter folks....
Margaret Raymond Driscoll is a nine-year Melrose School Committee member who is passionate about excellent teaching and learning for all public school students, and considers it a privilege to collaborate with others who share that passion. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MargaretDrisc. Just to be clear - opinions expressed here do not represent those of the Melrose Public Schools, the Melrose School Committee, or the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials - they are hers alone.