November 30, 2020

Amherst budget chief says Boston business groups’ state education funding report guillotines local school district

AMHERST – A proposal by two Boston-based business advocacy groups to alter how the state’s Chapter 70 local aid to school districts is disbursed would take a meat cleaver to the local school district, according to the town’s budget chief Sean Mangano.

Nearly $8 million of state education aid would be lopped off the revenue sheets for Amherst school system and Amherst-Pelham regional district, he said.

The two business groups co-wrote a 23-page report – saying more Chapter 70 school aid should go to the least wealthy cities and towns, and less to more affluent communities.

Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education jointly wrote the research paper – Ryan Flynn from the Alliance and James Sutherland of the Chamber.

The authors acknowledged assistance from a small group of experts.

Those include two men recently in senior leadership positions at the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Both are Chapter 70 whizzes, and oversaw the financial dimension of it – former Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson and former Administrator of School Finance, Roger Hatch, who departed the DESE in 2016 after 36 years.

Wulfson, who was also the acting DESE commissioner for a period of time, retired in April after 25 years with the DESE that included time as the agency’s chief financial officer. Previously, he was Director of Administration, at the Department of Revenue’s Division of Local Services for 8 years, and for 5 years Chief management analyst at Office of Massachusetts Inspector General back in the 1980s.

In a memorandum to Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman last week, Mangano wrote:

“Amherst schools (secondary and elementary) would lose appx. $7.85 million of Chapter 70 funding or 14% of their combined budgets if the funding formula was changed as advocated by the business groups.

He said their proposed changes “would have an unimaginably negative impact on the quality of education in Amherst and many other communities. The loss of funding would result in dramatic reductions to programming at the schools and across Town departments. The loss would have a ripple effect throughout the community.”

The Chapter 70 funding mechanism to disburse education aid was designed as a wealth-based formula to ensure the money to school districts takes into account their ability to fund kindergarten through grade 12 schools across the state.

The Boston Chamber and Business Alliance report more of the approximately $5.5 billion Chapter 70 aid should go to poorer districts and less to wealthier ones.

“Massachusetts would be wise to consider how needs-blind state aid currently sent to its wealthiest communities could be better directed toward low-in-come students and communities to help close the decades-long achievement and opportunity gaps,” the report says.

The report questions “needs-blind” factors in the state’s education budget that the report says offer the wealthiest school districts hundreds of millions in Chapter 70 funding even though the districts can afford to operate with less, or even no aid.

The business groups submitted their research to the DESE and to legislators.

Bockelman has informed Amherst Town Council that he plans to do the same — in opposition to the Boston business groups’ proposals.

Related:

  • Massachusetts’ wealthiest school districts would get nearly $500 million in state funding regardless of need, report says

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