Public Policy Updates: The Tale of Four Cities

On October 9, Holyoke hosted a presentation by the superintendents and school business officials of Brockton, Holyoke, Springfield, and Worcester of their respective gaps in budgetary spending and the need for advocacy around implementation of the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission. The gathering at Holyoke High--Dean Tech was welcomed by Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse and State Representative Aaron Vega. Devin Sheehan welcoming Tale of Four Cities

Brockton Superintendent Kathleen Smith began by relating the difference the influx of funds after the settlement of the McDuffy case in 1993 made in her work at that time as a teacher in Brockton. The group was reminded of the four financial findings of the Foundation Budget Review Commission in 2015: the need for new calculations in health insurance and special education, and the need for recognition of need in English language learners and low income students. Those presenting cautioned that due to the enormous disparity between the foundation budget and actual spending on special education, even if the Foundation Budget Review Commission's recommendations are fully implemented, there will still be a $700M gap between actual spending and the budgeted amount at this time.
The PowerPoint presented may be found online here. Each districts' special education and health insurance gaps between the calculated foundation budget amount and actual district spending were presented, as each district also reviewed what had been done control costs. Even as districts joined the GIC, or changed plan designs and contribution rates, plans, and designs, these four districts in FY17 in total spent $80.5M more than the health insurance calculation in their foundation budgets. Likewise, even as districts brought services back into the district, eliminated to third party services, and reviewed processes to control costs, these districts in FY17 in total spent $104.5M more on special education than was calculated in their foundation budgets.
As a result, these districts, in cities able to spend just the mandated amount, are millions of dollars short on administration, on facilities spending, on student supplies, and on professional development. Most troubling, the districts are hundreds of regular classroom teachers short: Brockton is 414 short, Holyoke is 161 short, Springfield is 744 short, and Worcester 773 short. 

Relating the calculations from the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center's recent report on implementing the Commission's recommendations, those presenting shared what implementation of the recommendations (without a minimum increase) would be for each district for a total for these four districts of $242.6M.

In the ensuing discussion, it was emphasized that this in no way pits special education students against others. Public schools are responsible for educating all students who come to them, but those costs must be appropriately recognized. Superintendent Zrike of Holyoke noted the difference that having a special education stabilization fund, as more wealthy districts may, can make in effectively cushioning costs. Several attending from Chicopee noted that city's recent parallel struggles; while only four cities presented, "we could have brought another eighteen." 

Asked about the advocacy of MASC on revenue, President-elect Devin Sheehan noted the MASC Delegate Assembly's vote to support the Fair Share amendment. Further, he said, "We keep hearing that there is a surplus," but if we have unfunded transportation and education needs, we don't really have a surplus; we simply aren't meeting state needs. 

 In closing, those attending were encouraged to continue to do outreach in sharing the real budgetary gaps of districts and the need for further action.