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Letter from Selectboard re: School Funding
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Last Updated: 2018/10/4
The following is a message from the Princeton Selectboard. Attached is a copy of the same information, in a formal letter format.

October 4, 2018

Letter from the Selectboard regarding School Funding

Dear Princeton Residents,

School funding in Massachusetts is a complicated and often discussed topic. At the root of it is a 1993 Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling in McDuffy v. Secretary of the Executive Office of Education which said, in short, that the State has an obligation to educate its students and it can’t rely solely on cities and towns to do so. The Education Reform Act followed in response to McDuffy. It was based on 3 main principles:

  • Adequate funding should be available to every school district to provide each child with an adequate education.
  • Local communities should each contribute to their schools according to their ability to raise tax revenue, based upon local property values and income levels.
  • The state is compelled to provide enough funding for each school district to fill the gap between the baseline local ability to contribute and the funding level needed to provide each child with an adequate education.
Under the Education Reform Act, with its highly progressive state funding and broad-based accountability, Massachusetts has topped the National Assessment of Educational Progress consistently since 2005. According to Commonwealth Magazine, it is also the only state that is internationally competitive in math and science.

This letter attempts to explain school funding in a simplified way. There are many nuances to school funding that are beyond the scope of this letter. There are subject matter experts on the Advisory Committee and School Committee who might be able to answer further questions.

How is state contribution to school spending calculated?

There are 2 parts: Chapter 70 Aid and Chapter 71 Transportation Reimbursement.

A district’s Chapter 70 aid is determined in three basic steps:

1.       The State defines and calculates the foundation budget, an adequate funding level for each district, given the specific grades, programs, and demographic characteristics of its students.

2.       It then determines a minimum local contribution, specifically, how much of that “foundation budget” should be paid for by each city and town’s property tax, based upon the relative wealth of the community (based half on property values and half on income) with a goal of a community not paying more than 82.5%.

3.       The remainder is funded by Chapter 70 state aid.

The preliminary FY19 numbers from January 2018 for WRSD showed that the average per pupil cost to educate a student to an adequate level is $9836. Because of varying wealth measurements, the State determined that the following should be paid, by town, and the rest would be paid by the State.

 


Minimum Contribution


Town Contribution / Student


% of Foundation Budget


Holden

18,233,270


5848


59%


Paxton


4,217,007


6267


64%


Princeton


3,481,413


7932


81%


Rutland


6,954,143


4330


44%


Sterling


7,944,064


7164


73%

Note that the State goes through a similar process for vocational school districts but the total cost to educate a vocational student is significantly higher.

As you can see, Princeton pays more per pupil than any other town in the WRSD.

Each town pays an additional operational assessment which is described below. In FY15, WRSD spent $11,527 per pupil while the state-wide average was $14,936.

The Foundation Budget is lower than the actual budget because, in part, it has not kept up with inflation (particularly in the areas of special education and healthcare costs). There was a bill before the state legislature this past session to update the funding formula, but it didn’t make it to a vote.

Chapter 71 Transportation Reimbursement

Transportation Reimbursement is based on the number of students who are more than 1.5 miles from their school. The State reimburses a little less than 75% of eligible transportation expenses. Note that the State has never reached the 100% reimbursement level promised but has been slowly increasing the reimbursement rate.

What shows up in our budget at town meeting?

We show a breakdown for Wachusett Regional School District and single lines for Montachusett Regional Vocational School and other vocational school districts.

Wachusett Regional School District (WRSD) Warrant Line Items for Princeton
  • Wachusett Minimum Contribution ($3,481,413 - see number in bold in table above)
  • Operations Assessment ($932,016)
The excess over the State’s Foundation Budget that the District votes to spend is the Operations Assessment. Note that this is paid at the same per pupil rate in all 5 towns. 80% of school districts have a budget that exceeds the Foundation Budget. The 20% of districts with the highest wealth spend over 30% more than the Foundation Budget.
  • Transportation ($275,171)
  • Long Term Debt ($175,270 - our share of WRSD debt service)
Who puts together the school budget?

The WRSD school committee, working with WRSD administration, puts together the school budget. One thing that is factored in is the preliminary Chapter 70 numbers from the State. Princeton has 2 members on the school committee. Towns with larger enrollments have more members.

What happens if 2 of the 5 towns vote NO on the school budget?

The school committee and district administration work to reduce the budget. Note that they can’t reduce it below what the State has determined to be the Foundation Budget. Typically, by the time the adjusted budget is presented, actual state funding figures, usually higher, are used.

What % of our budget goes to schools?

53% in the budget passed at Town Meeting in May 2018.

How quickly has the school budget been growing?

The school budget growth over the 5 years of FY14 to FY19 is broken down below.


 

5 years

Per year

WRSD Budget

2.2%

0.4%

WRSD Budget per Pupil

6.2%

1.2%

WRSD Operational Assessment
153%

30%

Monty Tech
84%

17%

Monty Tech per Pupil

7.6%

1.5%

Total School Budget
5.5%

1.1%

 
Notes:
·         Though the WRSD Operational Assessment has grown significantly, it is only 19% of the total WRSD figure.
·         Monty Tech’s high growth can be attributed to a 71% increase in the number of Princeton students enrolled there.
 

Sincerely,

The Princeton Selectboard
Richard Bisk, Chair
Karen Cruise
Edith Morgan

 

Town of Princeton, 6 Town Hall Drive, Princeton, MA 01541