Letters

The commonly used measures of state and local tax burden – revenues per capita and in proportion to personal income – are both apples-and-oranges comparisons, primarily because the revenues are not exclusively from personal taxes. But CommonWealth‘s attempt to improve upon these flawed methods by charting average tax burden as a percentage of median household income (“Weighing the tax burden,” Winter 2003) amounts to comparing apples and marmalade.

Even if your compote of averages and medians made sense, the method would add no useful information about taxes, because it cannot get to the matter of who pays what. At best the results suggest something for which we already had far stronger evidence: that, at least in 1999, an above-average share of Massachusetts tax revenues came from upper-income households.

André Mayer
Cambridge

 

Charter schools aren’t the ones under the gun

Reporter Laura Pappano did not file an accurate report on the Framingham Community Charter School in her article (“Multiple Choice”). Her failure resulted in a very misleading and negative impression of the town of Framingham and leads the informed reader to question the validity and accuracy of the whole article.

Pappano opens her article dramatically, describing an alleged shooting. She then reports on executive director Rob Kaufman and principal Michael Delman forcing an emergency lockdown of students in the Framingham Community Charter School and likens the situation in Framingham to that in the war-torn Balkans. (The charter school is not in Kosovo, but located in busy downtown Framingham in sight of police headquarters and down the street from Framingham Town Hall.) Most surprisingly, Pappano never mentions how the Framingham Police responded to and handled such a serious incident, implying a lack of effort on their part.

On February 24, I spoke with Framingham police chief Steven Carl and learned that there is no police report of the incident. The chief said no person was shot that day and neither Kaufman nor Delman ever called the police to report the “emergency” situation. A minor BB gun incident took place in a different neighborhood that day, but children at the Framingham Community Charter School were never at risk.

Pappano also omits or fails to verify critical facts about charter schools in general and the Framingham Community Charter School in particular. According to the October 2002 state student census, the Framingham public school system is 69 percent white, 26 percent low-income, and 51 percent male. The Framingham Community Charter School is 89 percent white, 11 percent low income, and 66 percent male. It serves a white, affluent, largely male student population that is not representative of the town. In fact, the state is paying big bucks to fund a school that actually increases de facto segregation in the public school system. This is especially relevant because the state has imposed a costly racial balance plan on the town but has exempted the charter school from it.

In the 2003 fiscal year, the state awarded the 8,500 students in the Framingham public schools $1,050 per pupil in Chapter 70 funds. At the same time, the state gave the Framingham Community Charter School $9,600 per pupil, taken from Framingham’s Chapter 70 funds. The state considers charter school students nine times more valuable than Framingham public school students. The state actually took dollars away from the less affluent, more diverse Framingham public school students to give to the charter school students.

Right now Framingham must tackle a disastrous $4 million deficit in a level services budget for the 2004 fiscal year. Half of the projected deficit results from the loss of nearly $2 million in Chapter 70 funds to the charter school. Framingham faces the closure of two award-winning elementary schools and the layoff of 35 town employees, negatively impacting all town services, property values, and the quality of life for the our 66,000 residents and businesses.

According to the charter school’s Kaufman, 100 families — such as selectman candidate and charter school founder Katie Murphy — are not happy with the Framingham public schools. Framingham has over 26,000 households. Is it right to satisfy those 100 families by slashing educational opportunities for 8,500 other children and town services to 26,000 households and 2,000 businesses? Charter schools are dividing and destroying the very communities they purport to serve.

Maureen Dunne
Framingham town meeting member
Framingham

Laura Pappano responds:
The opening scene of my story, at the Framingham Community Charter School, was based on my being there as the incident unfolded. I was in the room as school principal Delman and executive director Kaufman received word over walkie-talkies of a shooting, called students in from outdoors, and put the school in “lockdown mode.” I did not intended to suggest that this situation is typical of life in Framingham, nor to make any observation about police response. Rather, I saw in this incident, and its resonance with Kaufman’s Kosovo experience, a fair war-zone metaphor for the increasingly pitched battle between school districts and Commonwealth charter schools.