Tuesday, March 20, 2007

An example

The Cape Cod regional school has twelve member towns, and each of them fits into the 17.5% target local share category. That is to say, they are all fairly wealthy and judged by target local share capable of making equal contributions for the schools.

The governor's preliminary numbers for this year assesses Provincetown $16,440 per student, which is 54.7% above its target of $10,631 per student.

Not to be outdone, Chatham is assessed $16,479, with the same $10,631 judged as the target local share.

Yarmouth is the lucky winner at this regional school, assessed exactly at its target local share of $10,223.

Overall, the state forces $916,319 of excess payments, unequally spread among ten of the member towns ranging from 11.7% overpayment to 55% overpayment, with two lucky towns paying at their target share.

Presumably, if this group of twelve towns were all given the correct and roughly equal minimum assessments exactly at their target share, at least seven of the member towns would vote to continue supporting the school generously. The mutually agreeable burden, beyond the foundation level, would be split equally and fairly among the towns. It's quite likely accommodations would even be made to acknowledge the difficulty for the towns which are currently subsidized to come immediately up to an equal assessment

And this is, in fact, the goal of the target local share reform, but the problem is, in this the second year of phasing in towards target local share, these towns still have a disparity of state-mandated spending of 55% between top and bottom, though all of the towns are judged equally capable of supporting the school.

And how about that $16,479 required assessment for Chatham? Why should the state mandate any town to spend that much money per student, when most other towns across the state spend half that much on their schools?

This is the most extreme example in the state, and my apologies to the folks on the Cape if this posting inflames any simmering disputes between these towns.

The purpose of this post is to illustrate the importance of finding a way to quickly resolve these absurd unjustifiable disparities between comparable towns participating in regional schools.

Given that the state is in a fiscal crunch, it seems the smartest way to approach this is with regulatory relief that seeks to minimize the required new spending at the state level. The governor's proposal slows down reform to save money, but putting a cap on the excess spending requirements in a way that avoids allocations of additional local school aid from the state can keep the reform on the five year schedule, or even accelerate it so that most of the reform occurs on the "gradual" four year schedule originally proposed by the Department of Ed.


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