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Swampscott school board chairman says fix Chapter 70

SWAMPSCOTT – “Fix it” is the message some Swampscott school officials want to send to Gov. Deval Patrick.Swampscott School Committee Chairman David Whelan, who is speaking only for himself and not the school committee, said Chapter 70 school funding has been a hot topic in town for years and it’s one Patrick touched on Tuesday evening during a town meeting in Salem.”The Governor said Chapter 70 is broken and everyone knows it,” Whelan said. “Well that is not entirely true. Not everyone knows that. Apologists for the flawed formula include folks in the municipal finance division at the Department of Education. (Former State Rep.) Doug Petersen was an apologist for the formula as are many still in office at the State House. If Chapter 70 is broken, then fix it. In the meantime what do we say to the teachers that are losing their jobs and the kids that are receiving a less than adequate education because the program is broken?”According to Whelan, the district annually receives approximately $500,000 less in Chapter 70 school aid than it is entitled to. Whelan pointed out more than 80 percent of the school districts in the state are receiving 17.5 percent of their foundation budget in state aid, but last year Swampscott got only 14.3 percent and this year it’s receiving 15.1 percent.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.Superintendent Matthew Malone has also been a vocal critic of the Chapter 70 funding formula.”We need to take action,” he said. “Enough talk. Chapter 70 hurts kids. I can’t stand for that. Blow it up; it needs a total redesign. Reform requires radical ideas and bold renewal strategies. We could sit around and study the issue to death, but that would not put dollars back into the classroom. Our pain? Forty-four employees eliminated in two years – that’s pain.”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. Today Swampscott is one of only 60 communities below the 17.5 reimbursement rate.”Presently Swampscott is 25th from the bottom in terms of reimbursement,” Whelan said. “Inequity is inequity and at the end of the day there is a problem. The education of 2,400 kids in Swampscott is at stake here. The idea that we have to wait another year or two to fix this is completely ridiculous and outrageous. Swampscott continues laying off teachers and cutting programs while everyone talks about it being broken.”Whelan said he finds it infuriating Patrick is talking about new educational initiatives before the state is able to live up to its obligation to existing programs.”The governor has no right in my opinion to talk about new initiatives such as the readiness project,” he said. “He has no idea where the money for new programs would come from and the state can’t even fund the programs that are in place now. I don’t think the kids in this district can wait two years.”

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