The Funding Formula: Meanwhile, in Woonsocket…
The Woonsocket school representatives that testified in favor of a formula (a bad formula) today in the Senate Finance Committee hearing were ridiculed and insulted. The committee members were abusive simply because we have an ass for a mayor who likes to abuse people and falsely brag about not raising taxes when all she has accomplished is to create a classification system combined with homestead exemptions that artificially make it seem like we don’t raise taxes. In fact, we now have among the lowest effective single family home (voters) tax rates (31st at last measure) in the state while chasing out business with the highest commercial rate in the state (Number 1). We have to fix that now. It won’t be easy.
The generic criticism of teacher unions makes people believe that we are all in the same boat. The Woonsocket school employees have already agreed to no pay increase for both next year and the year after and reduced their current year pay by 1%, deferred for five years. Can you name one other community in the state where that kind of agreement is in place, or might even be expected to occur? The teacher contract compensation package is in the bottom third in the state. Yet we are criticized by Senators and the blogs as being among the ineffective money grabbers.
Our elementary class sizes are at an average of 23.4 per classroom across the district and in schools with odd numbers, grades are combined into multigrade classes of 23 to 25 students; any others out there at that level across their whole district? Our inclusion classes average over 22 students with only one special ed teacher and a regular ed teacher with no assistants; we’ve cut them all except for IEP mandated TAs. Our high school class size is at 30 and next year several programs will be cut from the class offerings so as to force class size in most elective courses as close to 30 as possible to save money. Maybe that helps to explain some of our performance problems on the tests. Oh no, that’s right, we just have lazy teachers, right?
We have among the lowest per pupil administrative costs in the state according to In$ite data. Since 2003 we have cut our school staffing by 133, from 910 to 777 while experiencing a 13% enrollment decrease (884 students); a fair response I think except that it has eliminated teacher assistants still enjoyed by the students in the burbs. Over the last seven years local funding for education has grown by 12.9% while state funding has grown by 12.7%. When we factor in the impact of level funding by the state in the last two years, the city contribution will have to increase to 28.2% for FY09 to cover the deficit with the average seven year average jumping to 41.2%.
The Woonsocket School Dept is (soon may be was) part of the GHGRI, a group health care self insurance company paying administrative rates at almost the same low rate as the state now pays. Soon they may move to RIMIC where the admin fee is $28/employee/month, same as the state.
I can go on and on, yet I know there will be those out there who will scoff at my comments and ridicule the folks here trying to get legislation passed that is fair to all. Ideas like “hold harmless” and “minimum funding” are offensive concepts if we are to try to provide for equitable support based on the student, wherever they are.
When our budget comes up for passage I will not agree to use a super majority to override the cap in order to provide the $5 million needed to balance the school budget (They are asking for $7 million, but I know it can finish out at $5 million if the GA passes real pension reform). We were promised a fair formula when S-3050 passed. Maybe when we get that promise kept, I’ll see fit to agree to support an override of the cap for whatever amount we can demonstrate is needed by the school department.
But our state Senators mock us and treat us like second class citizens. What a great state we live in.
In the original post, I offered this response…
Based on what you’ve described about tax rates and taking into account Woonsocket’s school spending, you’ve got a mayor who’s pretty clearly abusing the state education aid system. She’s not using the $6,000+ per pupil her community gets from the state to overcome the posited difficulties of being a densely populated community, but to replace as much local revenue as she can, while spending a minimal amount on schools. The problem is that the “funding formula”, as our legislature is trying to implement it, is completely insensitive to this type of concern about how money is being spent, and is instead based on the concept of cities-just-deserve-more, no-matter-how-strangely-they-are-run. It’s wholly legitimate to ask if it’s truly “fair” to take money away from taxpayers who would be willing to fund better education, to give it to units of government that don’t seem to be.