LYNN — Robert A. DeLeo, speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, toured Ingalls Elementary School on Friday and saw firsthand Lynn’s need for more education funding.
The Winthrop Democrat asked a simple question to the elected officials and school administrators in attendance.
“If you were me, what would you put your focus on?” he asked.
State Representatives Dan Cahill, Peter Capano, Lori Ehrlich, Donald Wong, and Sen. Brendan Crighton said they wanted to make DeLeo aware of the city’s problem of too many students and not enough teachers. The conversation comes as the state looks into updating the school funding formula which hasn’t been revamped since the landmark Education Reform Act of 1993.
“There is an urgency to get this done,” Crighton said. “It’s the biggest item we have to tackle this year.”
Current changes proposed by Gov. Charlie Baker would boost state aid to Lynn by $15.1 million for fiscal year 2020, part of a $200.3 million push statewide.
If the reform is approved by the state legislature and fully implemented, state aid to schools overall would increase to $3.3 billion by 2026. The state’s goal is to provide more support for school districts to meet the rising cost of staff health care and costs for educating special education students, English language learners (ELLs), and low-income students.
“We need this funding desperately to give Lynn students the education they need and deserve,” said Lynn Teachers Union President Sheila O’Neil.
City councilors, Deputy Superintendent Kimberlee Powers, and Ingalls Principal Irene Cowdell addressed their concerns about class sizes of 30 students to one teacher. Ingalls alone currently serves 652 students, with 300 ELLs and 100 in need of special education.
“I think it’s exciting we get to share our story with Mr. DeLeo,” said Cowdell. “We’re having difficulties with over-enrollment. What I hope comes out of this is the realization that we need funding for more teachers and more classrooms.”
Lynn’s schools educate approximately 16,400 children who speak up to 42 different languages. The majority of those students are taught in buildings that are more than 100 years old, said City Council President Darren Cyr.
The aging buildings aren’t able to handle the technological upgrades necessary for a 21st-century education. In some of the buildings, refrigerators and appliances have to be turned off in order to keep the computers on for a full classroom of students, according to Powers.
“Another piece to this is we really need to build new schools,” said Mayor Thomas M. McGee. “We’re bursting at the seams.”
With housing being built throughout the city, the student population is only going to grow, said Cyr. If state aid was increased to fully cover health care, ELLs, and special education costs, the city would be able to use separate school funds for other educational needs, such as new schools.
“Being out here and seeing what’s going on, in terms of the number of kids and school conditions, it brings it much more into perspective,” DeLeo said.