Local Government and Politics, News

Lynn Public Schools to net additional $15.1M with foundation budget overhaul

LYNN — Superintendent Dr. Patrick Tutwiler said a proposal from Gov. Charlie Baker that would revamp the state’s foundation budget formula and potentially net Lynn Public Schools an additional $15.1 million this year is a start, but falls far short of the $47.1 million officials have determined the district is underfunded by annually.

Two weeks ago, as part of the state budget that was filed, Baker recommended updating the foundation budget formula over a seven-year period, which the administration says would provide an additional $200.3 million in Chapter 70 funds, the major program of state aid to schools, in the first year, or fiscal year 2020.

When the school finance reform, if approved by the state legislature, is fully implemented, the foundation budget would increase by more than $1 billion, resulting in an increase of an estimated $3.3 billion by 2026.

The revamp is meant to provide more support for school districts to meet the rising cost of health care and special education costs, as well as educating English language learners (ELLs) and low-income students, with significant funding for districts with the highest need, such as Lynn.

For Lynn, preliminary figures show that could mean an additional $15.1 million in Chapter 70 funding in FY 2020. Although it’s more of an increase than the district has seen in the past, it’s far below the $47.1 million a report shared by the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents (M.A.S.S.) found Lynn Public Schools was underfunded by annually.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Tutwiler said. “I’m not going to be disappointed. It doesn’t reflect where we believe the funding should be, no, but I don’t think anyone was of the expectation that there would be a precipitous change in one year. I see this as being a gradual, but at the same time substantive, move in the right direction.”

Tutwiler said if the funding were in a better place, the district would be better able to service the social and emotional needs of its students. There are approximately 1,800 students apiece at Lynn English and Classical High schools and only one social worker staffed at each school. There should be five, based on a clinical recommendation of one social worker per 300 students, he said.

It’s too early to say where the additional funding would go, Tutwiler said, as school leadership is determining where the most need is, but he said there’s a deep commitment to meeting the social and emotional needs of all of the district’s students.

“Quite frankly, if we don’t do that first, reading, writing, and arithmetic take a significant hit,” Tutwiler said. “You can’t be as effective with instruction … if students can’t socially and emotionally engage with you around teaching and learning.”

The foundation budget is the state’s estimate of the minimum amount needed in each district to provide an adequate educational program. Municipalities pay a share of the foundation budget, part of the Chapter 70 funding structure, based on an ability to pay, aggregate wealth, using property taxes and income.

The formula hasn’t been updated since it was established in 1993, leaving districts, especially low-income ones such as Lynn, spending significantly more than the foundation budget assumes municipalities need to educate its special education students, ELLs and low-income students and for health insurance.

For instance, the report showed there’s a $13.7 million gap between what the foundation budget provides for special education and what Lynn Public Schools actually spends, and a $20.7 million gap in health insurance.

The Lynn Teachers Union is in favor of a revamp of the formula. Last week, the Lynn School Committee approved a resolution in support of the update, or “full funding for Lynn Public Schools.”

“Updating the formula would help the Lynn Public Schools reach appropriate staffing levels to address overcrowding, substantial increases in the English Learner population and students’ social emotional needs and attend to millions of dollars in deferred maintenance that is threatening our schools’ learning environment, among other needs,” the resolution reads.

School Business Administrator Kevin McHugh could not be reached for comment.

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