Oct. 5, 2011
BOSTON — A North Shore educator joined with an area lawmaker yesterday to make a pitch for legislation that would raise minimum state funding for school districts across the commonwealth.
“We are one of 58 communities that have been underfunded, and for Swampscott that means $500,000 a year,” Lynne Celli, superintendent of schools in Swampscott, told the Joint Committee on Education.
The committee is considering a bill, proposed by Rep. Lori Ehrlich, D-Marblehead, that would require the state to follow through on its pledge to fund 17.5 percent of every district’s minimum budget — known as the foundation budget — within two years, restoring a higher level of state funding for schools under Chapter 70.
Each school district is required to make up the difference between its foundation budget and the state contribution, using local property taxes.
According to Ehrlich, the process hasn’t been fair.
“Some communities, based on those factors, sometimes for some fluky reasons, ended up with very little funding, with the majority of the burden on the local taxpayer,” she said.
The current funding formula directs more state aid to poorer communities, but some of the wealthier communities, including Swampscott, feel they are being shortchanged. Celli told the committee that the deficit represented 10 teachers for the Swampscott schools.
“It has impacted our ability to deliver the skills necessary for the 21st century,” she said after the meeting. “We have reduced our staff to the bare bones.”
The Legislature has attempted to raise the minimum level of funding in the past.
“Back in 2006, with all good intentions, the Legislature pledged to raise the minimum funding for all communities to 17.5 percent over a five-year period,” Ehrlich said. “When it got to the final year, the economy fell apart and the pledge never came through.”
Ehrlich said the failure to follow through on the pledge hurt school systems such as Swampscott.
“They were dependent on that promise being realized as they hired teachers, bought textbooks and did other budgetary things,” she said.
In addition to Swampscott, schools in Ipswich, Marblehead, Nahant and Saugus would receive more state funds if the legislation passes. Ehrlich said she felt good about the bill’s chances after yesterday’s meeting.
“I think they recognized that it was a commitment that the Legislature made and they need to follow through on it,” she said. “But with the legislative process I’ve learned to never count my eggs before they hatch.”