Superintendents spotlight ed funding formula flaws

Public school superintendents made the case for changing the state funding formula for education at forums in New Bedford, Fitchburg, and Malden on Tuesday as lawmakers on Beacon Hill prepared to roll out legislation addressing the problem.

After the House and Senate failed to agree on school funding legislation at the end of the last session, proponents are pulling out all the stops this year. Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, who cochairs the Joint Education Committee, is unveiling what she calls the Promise Act on Wednesday with a supporting cast that includes Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and legislative leaders.

But even more compelling are the stories of local school superintendents who say they are barely staying afloat under the current funding formula. The formula, developed in 1993, attempts to provide each school district with a foundation budget reflecting the cost of educating that district’s students and the surrounding community’s ability to pay. A commission concluded in 2015 that the formula was failing to adequately account for the rising cost of employee health insurance and surging expenses for special education and programs for low-income and English language learners.

At the Fitchburg forum, Brian Allen, the chief financial and operations officer for the Worcester schools, said 10 local districts spent $174 million in 2017 above what the formula estimated was needed to cover just employee health insurance and special education services. School officials said they were running out of places to cut spending to make up the difference.

“There’s really no where to go from here,” said Worcester Schools Superintendent Maureen Binienda.

At the New Bedford forum, officials from Wareham said they had cut 80 school positions over the last eight years while Taunton leaders said they closed schools and moved the superintendent’s office into an elementary school.

“We can’t meet the needs of our students,” said David Sawyer, the superintendent in Attleboro. “There’s nowhere left to go.”

At the Malden forum, Revere Superintendent Dianne Kelly said the inadequate funding formula creates an equity gap between students in districts without access to additional resources and wealthier districts that can often tap their residents for more money.

“We’ve been living on a fixed income since 1993, and that fixed income is not working,” said Chelsea Superintendent Mary Bourque. “This is not a sustainable model for funding school systems in our state.”

Fixing the formula won’t be easy. Many estimate the tab to fix the formula will be more than $1 billion. The House and Senate couldn’t agree how to address the problem last year, and Gov. Charlie Baker has indicated he will weigh in with his own legislative proposal this year. Communities such as Brockton and Worcester have been watching and waiting for a long time, and leaders in those cities say they may take legal action to fix the formula if policymakers on Beacon Hill fail to act.

BRUCE MOHL

 

BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker is facing pressure on a bill to ban the use of flame retardants, with lawmakers and fire officials urging him to sign the legislation and industry officials asking him to veto it. (State House News)

The state handed out a record $88.9 milion in film tax credits in 2016, money critics say should go to education, transportation, and other needs. (Boston Globe)

Business leaders are ramping up their effort to have the Legislature end after two years, as promised, an assessment on companies that is generated $300 million for the state Medicaid program. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A City Hall-commissioned report on sexual harassment and the culture of the Boston Fire Department is slammed for recycling past recommendations and not going far enough by City Council President Andrea Campbell, City Councilor Lydia Edwards as well as US Rep. (and former city councilor) Ayanna Pressley. (Boston Globe)

Quincy officials are worried that a Trump administration effort to have a question about citizenship included in the 2020 Census will depress the city’s count because of its large Asian immigrant population. (Patriot Ledger)

The Cambridge City Council advanced a measure that would allow residents to amend their birth certificate to show a “gender-neutral” designation. (Boston Globe)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Trump restates his case for a border wall in what the Washington Post lead story calls “a forceful and fact-challenged televised plea.” The effects of the government shutdown over Trump’s demand for border wall funding are being felt in Massachusetts, with supporters planning to open a food pantry at the Coast Guard’s Boston base for Coast Guard members struggling to make ends meet. (Boston Globe) Freshman US Rep. Ayanna Pressley slammed Trump over the government shutdown in her first remarks on the House floor. (Boston Globe)

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort inadvertently revealed in a court filing that he shared polling data with a business associate tied to Russian intelligence. It appears to be the clearest evidence to date of possible attempts at coordination between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russians. (New York Times)

US Rep. Seth Moulton isn’t taking a paycheck during the federal government shutdown. (Gloucester Times)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

While iconic retailing brands struggle or disappear altogether, discounter Ocean State Job Lot is expanding. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

After going on a paid leave in July, former Lowell schools superintendent Salah Khelfaoui received $63,598 in salary and and $34,481 for unused vacation time. (Lowell Sun)

TRANSPORTATION

Bostonians may have more travel options than ever, but Census data indicate they are clinging to their cars. The data show household vehicles are rising at a much faster clip than the population. (CommonWealth)

Slamming the idea of investing lots of money in bike lanes and other things to accommodate cyclists, Jeff Jacoby says bicycle commuting rates are on the decline — and that’s a good thing. (Boston Globe)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that surviving spouses are entitled to a share of their deceased spouse’s estate even if they were left out of a will. (Boston Globe)

Three Massachusetts district attorneys are appealing a court ruling that they must, under public records law, hand over to the Boston Globe data on charging and outcomes in cases they prosecute. (Boston Globe)

Boston Police Commissioner William Gross praised Roxbury residents for their help yesterday, but the Herald story with that headline seemed a bit like damning with faint praise as the kudos came in response to police receiving multiple calls to 911 reporting a man shot on a street corner, not because any witnesses have provided any leads in the case. The man who was shot died later Tuesday night, the second homicide in Boston this year. (Boston Globe)

MEDIA

Margaret Sullivan laments the horse race coverage of presidential politics, particularly the recent coverage of Sen. Elizabeth Warren. (Washington Post)