Education costs are crushing small communities, and a local resident is calling for a meeting of state lawmakers to see what can be done about it.
The Pentucket Regional School District administration is considering cutting eight teaching positions, along with other cuts, after its school board approved a proposed operating budget of $48.7 million Tuesday afternoon.
The school committee originally approved a proposed budget of $49.2 million in March, but waivers from the 2½ proposal to support the budget failed in Merrimac and Groveland. West Newbury is also part of the Pentucket Regional School District, but did not ask voters to approve a deviation from Proposition 2½. The three towns include the Pentucket School District, whose administrative office is in West Newbury.
Joe D’Amore, a member of the Groveland government review committee, is an outspoken critic of the proposed waivers to Proposition 2½. He is also a former coach, as well as a former school board member, and said the state’s Chapter 70 education formula is well-prepared to support schools that have a high percentage of low-income students. revenue.
But the formula has become less user-friendly for districts such as Pentucket, he said, whose three host cities can be considered financially well-off compared to some other cities and towns in the state.
State aid has been down in the Pentucket District for years, according to D’Amore, who also said the district is facing $500,000 in additional expenses, while the state is short $144,000.
With Proposition 2½ replacements becoming a potential annual event in the district, D’Amore phoned and called his state representative, Lenny Mirra.
D’Amore said Mirra was receptive to his idea of having a district-wide meeting to address a more permanent solution to Pentucket’s financial problems.
Parents in the region are frustrated and want the state to invest more in their schools, Mirra said. And, he said, older residents who own their homes are also concerned about ever-increasing real estate or property tax bills.
“It always comes down to the same thing,” Mirra said. “Beacon Hill has wronged these towns year after year. People are very frustrated and they have every right to feel that way. »
The State Student Opportunities Act 2019 was intended to help all school districts across the Commonwealth. But, according to Mirra, this was not the case.
“It has benefited big cities very much, but it has not benefited small towns like those in the Pentucket District. We just don’t get as much as those big cities and that’s how the formula is designed,” Mirra said.
D’Amore said he’d like to see the Chapter 70 formula adjusted to specifically address funding for special education transportation and circuit breakers, which he says has been a thorn in the side of school districts such as Pentucket. and the nearby Triton Regional School District.
“I would like to take the Chapter 70 component out of the state formula and have it as a stand-alone formula, based on the actual dollars we are really spending,” he said. “It’s not just a problem for the Pentucket either. We’re looking for a structural change in the current formula.
Mirra and D’Amore reached out to Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, State Rep. Jim Kelcourse, R-Amesbury and Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, to make sure Gov. Charlie Baker hears a message unified. neighborhood voice. DiZoglio is a candidate for the position of auditor in 2022.
Representatives from the offices of Tarr and DiZoglio said they would attend the future meeting or send someone from their offices, and Kelcourse said he would also attend in person.
“The North Shore delegation has long advocated for increased funding for circuit breakers, regional school buses and paratransit to help cover the costs of our school districts. Unfortunately, the formula is designed to favor urban communities over suburban communities,” Kelcourse said.
Mirra said the state’s education formula takes into account personal income and assessed home values, as well as student enrollment. A district like Pentucket, which has seen an increase in home assessments with a decrease in student enrollment, may find itself caught in the middle.
“We’ve lost about 1,000 students at Pentucket over the past 10 years, and enrollment is a big factor in how much you get under Chapter 70,” he said.
Writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.