|North Adams School Officials Endorse Resolution on State Funding|
|By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff|
04:26PM / Wednesday, March 06, 2019
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — School officials on Tuesday approved a resolution supporting changes to the Chapter 70 state aid formula for education that could bring more than $2 million in state funding to the North Adams Public Schools.
In doing so, the School Committee joined a statewide effort urging the State House to recalculate formulas for both K-12 and higher education. Supporters of the effort say public educational institutions are being shortchanged by millions of dollars a year — funds that could make higher education more affordable, provide more educational opportunities at the local level and relieve pressure on local school budgets.
"This is a resolution informed by, but not identical to, what has been put forward by other groups in the state," said Mayor Thomas Bernard, the chairman of the School Committee. "This is specifically as proposed a statement on behalf of our committee."
Vice Chairwoman Heather Boulger thought it "comprehensive, pretty straightforward." Advocating for updating the Chapter 70 funding formula, she said, "would only benefit the North Adams Public Schools."
The Massachusetts Teachers Association is a major advocate behind the group Fund Our Futures although lawmakers have been debating a change in the 25-year-old funding calculation for some time. The Legislature's Foundation Budget Review Commission back in 2015 recommended a number of changes that would add upwards of $400 million in state funding. The Massachusetts Teachers Association asserts that the state is underfunding preK-12 education by more than a billion dollars annually.
Fixed costs and benefits exceed their foundation budget allotment by 140 percent, the commission found and were largely driven by rising health care costs. That left less and less funding for direct educational services. The report also noted that foundation budgets were understating in-district special education costs and that out-of-district placements far outpassed actual allotments. The formula also doesn't adequately address inflation, the needs of low-income students, English Language Learners and universal preschool.
Advocates also say the public university system is being underfunded by $574 million, or about $20 million per college.
In an interview last month, state Sen. Adam Hinds said the Legislature will be focusing on how to implement the commission's recommendations.
"The fundamental question with education is the foundation budget and how do we get the revenue," said Hinds, who's now chairman the Joint Committee on Revenue and a member of Senate Ways and Means.
According to the MTA website
, Berkshire County schools are due some $36 million annually. North Adams is being shortchanged $2.5 million (almost 14 percent of this year's budget), Pittsfield $11 million and Adams-Cheshire Regional some $1.7 million. Among the area school committees passing resolutions are Berkshire Hills Regional, Clarksburg and Pittsfield.
"I'm in favor of encouraging our legislators to move forward on reaching an equitable foundation formula, to upgrade it to bring it into the modern day," said School Committee member Tara Jacobs, who suggested punching it up by inserting another amount she said was estimated by the MTA: $22 million. "I think the only thing I would say would be even stronger language."
Where the MTA's suggested language includes a place for amounts, the North Adams resolution keeps the wording general and states "the inadequacies of the foundation budget formula contribute to economic inequity among districts, which in turn lead to inequities in learning outcomes for students."
Lisa Tanner, co-president of the North Adams Teachers Association, told the committee the resolution comes from the MTA and teachers' unions across the state.
"We wanted to bring them to all our school committees and all our local lawmakers and just wanted them to say, 'yes, we're behind you,'" she said. "The ultimate goal is to bring them to our local legislators."
Boulger argued it was better to keep the resolution general, particularly since Tanner and Jacobs were quoting different amounts.
Jacobs agreed, saying, "it doesn't come down to what we individually say so much as we as a group are agreeing."
The MTA is hosting a public forum on Fund Our Future on Thursday, March 7, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Berkshire Athenaeum.
School Funding Resolution by iBerkshires.com on Scribd