Swampscott’s School Committee is scheduled to approve the public school budget on Wednesday even as answers to a number of spending questions remain out of reach to committee members.
Before continuing on its predetermined path to Town Meeting, the budget needs to get untangled from state funding questions and teachers’ union challenges. If the teachers’ union and town officials can agree on a contract, what will the agreement’s price tag total and how much money will teachers get for raises?
Public employee contract talks are prone to heating up when money becomes a focal point of the conversation. The teachers want an explanation for how a school budget gap topping $1.6 million dropped to a fifth of that amount.
Their question deserves an answer and it is not the only pressing concern committee members need to address as they resolve budget challenges. Covering the budget’s $275,000 gap could mean ending all-day kindergarten in town and reverting to half-day kindergarten. The full-day option would be retained — but only for parents interested in paying tuition to cover part of the day.
It is a shame to see a community like Swampscott, where parents and educators value local schools and education, consider cutting a fundamental program like all-day kindergarten.
Education in the 21st century is a process that begins before children can walk and includes familiarizing them with reading fundamentals while making them technically adept to function in the virtual world of online education.
All-day kindergarten is an opportunity to immerse children in education and acquaint them with the socialization skills required for modern learning.
Swampscott is home to Massachusetts’ governor and Charlie Baker’s past service as a town official makes him familiar with the challenges involved in funding local budgets and making sure schools receive enough money.
State tax dollar support for city and town schools is an enduring source of debate and contention for local officials and legislators. There are renewed cries this year to revamp the state Chapter 70 education funding formula to better benefit communities. This is a complicated process and an important one in an era when charter schools and traditional public schools compete for tax dollars.
It makes sense to consider juggling the state finance formula with money to ensure communities like Swampscott receive “must have” money to make sure services like all-day kindergarten are preserved.
Swampscott, like all communities, must get its own house in order when it comes to providing enough money for local schools. But the town could use help from the state in the form of additional money or more freedom to spend state allocations the way local educators see fit.