Swampscott schools suffering under state funding program

SWAMPSCOTT – Without a change in the state funding formula the school district could be faced to make drastic cuts in programs and services, according to Superintendent Matthew Malone.”We’ve been making program reductions for the past four years,” he said.”We’re trying to maintain a 21st century school and we’re getting 20th century funding from the state. It’s frustrating that at the end of the day it comes down to state funding and the state funding mechanism is broken.”Malone said the school district has had some success in recent years, but without adequate funding it would be impossible to sustain.”It’s hard to maintain momentum when you keep chipping away,” he said.”We’ve already cut all the fat and luxury out. That’s what keeps me up at night.”School Committee Chairman David Whelan agreed with Malone.”We laid off 30 people last year and without additional revenue are looking at layoffs of a similar magnitude,” he said. “How many years in a row can you do that? No one wants to see more people laid off but I’m afraid that’s what we’ll have to do.”Whelan said the state funding formula is flawed and, despite promises from the state to fix it, little is being done.”The governor talks about fixing funding problems, but we’re still waiting for answers,” he said. “Everyone is talking about casinos and quick fixes, but not the immediate problems communities are facing. Massachusetts is losing 25 to 30-year olds and there is no doubt in my mind people are leaving because of the way we fund schools.”According to Whelan, the district is receiving less in Chapter 70 school aid than it is entitled to. Whelan pointed out approximately 80 percent of school districts in the state are receiving 17.5 percent of their foundation budget in state aid, but for this fiscal year Swampscott is only receiving 14.3 percent – a difference of $557,000.Whelan said the state calculates a foundation budget, which is based on enrollment and numerous other factors. The state then reimburses each community a certain percentage of its foundation budget.Two years ago, Swampscott was among only 69 districts in the state that were reimbursed less than 17.5 percent of their foundation budget. At that time, communities receiving less than 17.5 percent of their foundation budget were told their rate would be “phased in” over a five year period and at the end of that five years all districts would be at 17.5 percent.”Presently Swampscott is ranked 29th from the bottom in terms of reimbursement,” he said. “At the end of the day it’s the Lynn’s and Lawrence’s that get the money.”Whelan said he is extremely frustrated because several state officials including Gov. Deval Patrick, Rep. Douglas Petersen (D-Marblehead) and Sen. Thomas McGee (D-Lynn) were invited to the annual financial forecast, but the elected officials did not show up.”Nobody showed up,” he said. “What does that tell you? Either they don’t care or don’t have an answer. I’m very worried it’s because they don’t have an answer.”Calls to McGee and Petersen were not immediately returned on Monday.

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