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The Future of Public Education in Massachusetts

by: David Whelan

Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 10:14:14 AM EST

My name is David Whelan and I am the Char of the Swampscott School Committee. My comments are my own and not those of my fellow School Committee members.

Imagine the unimaginable. The state GOP gets its act together and actually makes public education their issue in the soon to occur Governor's election. It is possible and the dialog should start today.

Parents and taxpayers across the state have had it with the state of our public schools. Those schools are overburdened by unfundated mandates and the special interest of the teacher's unions. Compounding the funding problem, the party in charge has decided to "close the achievement gap" on the backs of the children in the suburbs. I make no claim that the urban districts should forgoe their funding so that the suburbs can receive additional funding. I do believe that appropriate funding for both the suburbs and our urban centers should ultimately be our goal. The present chapter 70 formula is unfair and has contributed to the incremental dismantling of school districts across the commonwealth. So unfair is chapter 70 that none other than Governor Patrick publicly referred to chapter 70 as a "broken" program. Those comments were made at two of his Town Hall meetings this summer, one in Salem and one on the Cape. The Cape video is available on you tube.

So what's it going to be GOP? Do you want this issue to be yours because if you do it's there for the taking. Starting today Mass GOP, make a vow to reach out to those of us on the ground and you will find that change can happen, but is starts with returning calls and listening. The alternative is a one party state and more of the same.  

David Whelan :: The Future of Public Education in Massachusetts
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You come to a strange place, Mr. Whelan (0.00 / 0)
You have come to the folks who are the architects of the problem you decry.  The Romney folks, and the Pioneer Institute, had an agenda to:

- starve public school districts of funding
- divert funding to private charter school operators
- use a punitive accountability system to undermine confidence in public schools

For the GOP to get its act together to make public education its priority, in the way you want, they would need to get out of bed with the Pioneer Institute and the privatization crowd. It might happen, but the odds are very small.

Of course Pablo doesn't know (3.00 / 2)
what he's talking about! Thank God the Pioneer Institute has been around to help craft the ERA of 1993. It's about accountability. Charter schools work. Pablo's probably a mouthpiece for the teachers unions. Why are so many parents lining up to enroll their children in charter schools? That burns up the liberals in this state. Take a look at the Excel Charter School in East Boston for example.

"Work is the essence of Man."

I think Pablo is or once was a card carrying member of... (0.00 / 0)
...a local school committee.  

[ Parent ]
True.. (0.00 / 0)
I support Mr. Whelan's general point.  Where Republicans have been successful in the Northeast, they have been defenders of the non-urban areas against taxing and budgeting policies that favor the urban centers.  They have been particularly strong at insisting on generous aid to rural and suburban communities, particularly in terms of public works and schools.  The "starve the public schools and privatize" model, which seems to resonate in the south, doesn't play well in the Northeast, which reflects in the demise of GOP seats in Congress in the entire region.

Republicans can't embrace the Mitt Romney and Grover Norquist agenda in this region, as the clear majority of folks don't like it.  However, the local GOP has shrunk to a core group of folks who think the Romney and Norquist agenda is the righteous path to political enlightenment.

Remember, Romney ran as a New England moderate, and voters were presented with a candidate that was much closer to Tom Kean than Grover Norquist.

[ Parent ]
"Chapter 70 formula is broken" (video link) (0.00 / 0)
As stated in my entry, the Governor publicly has stated that the education funding formula under chapter 70 is "broken." So what do we do when something is broken? We ignore it!

The link to the video is below and the remarkable comments made by the Governor are at 1 minute 15 seconds of the video. Enjoy!

"Never, never, never give up" - Winston Churchill

OK, but what should the GOP be saying? (0.00 / 0)
There is a balance between advocating reform the saves public education and sounding like an advocate for dismantling it.  Given the contempt many conseratives have about the concept of PUBLIC education (I've read RMG posters write taht they were forced to attend public schools), the electorate will be suspect of Republicans bearing gifts.  

[ Parent ]
What the GOP should be saying!!! (0.00 / 0)
Clearly what they are saying today is not working. Speak the truth. Parents all over the Commonwealth are trying to understand how public education has become such a mess. A strong candidate for Governor, Republican or Democrat, should discuss the following:

1) unfunded mandates
2) SPED reform
3) health insurance reform
4) pension reform
5) regionalization
6) etc., etc., etc.

Other than that all is well! Change starts with admitting things are a mess. Whoever starts the dialog relative to bringing some sanity back to an insane process wins.  

"Never, never, never give up" - Winston Churchill

[ Parent ]
My reaction... (0.00 / 0)
1) unfunded mandates
What do you them...if so, how? Or are you for repealing the mandates?

Which reforms exactly?

3) Health Ins reform

I assume your referring to moving local health plans to the state plan, without requiring the 70% union vote.  I'm all for it...maybe a little more sensitive to collective bargaining than you...but it must be done.

4) Pension Reform

What you don't want people to retire with a full boat in their 50's?  I'm with ya--right behind you...

5) Regionalization

I'm with you, but have you really brought that up in a local forum?  It's not the teachers that fight that (although I assume they do) but other local forces.  That maybe a political third rail.  If you succeed in # 4, I think this one will kill ya.  But I'm right behind you.  

[ Parent ]
Public education is a mess because of the Democrats. n/t (0.00 / 0)

Ed Markey is now the official 'cheapest' man on earth.  1.5 percent to charity while the average American gave 3 times as much...

[ Parent ]
Public Education is a mess because of the Iron Law and the Peter Principle. (0.00 / 0)
The Democrats had the bad fortune of being willing accomplices.

Dissolve the Department of Education, and let the local school councils run the show.

Sincerely, your humble servant,

William Claude Rhaines

[ Parent ]
Welcome David. (0.00 / 0)
I think it is interesting that you ask the GOP what they are going to do about the problem with public education.  You see, the GOP is not in power.  The GOP has not been elected to fix anything and somehow you subtly imply that the GOP has dropped the ball - or failed to pick up the ball on this issue.  I assume you have asked the Democrat party the same question?  If so what was their answer?  Let me guess - more money, right?

I think if you want to see what the GOP is going to do about the issue of public education then you should encourage all your friends and use all your influence to get GOP elected in both the town and the state.

Ed Markey is now the official 'cheapest' man on earth.  1.5 percent to charity while the average American gave 3 times as much...

Yes it's interesting! (0.00 / 0)
My biggest point is that without a robust second party in this state we are in deep trouble. My issue is the public schools since I am a SC Chair. I've asked my rep and senaotor for cost containment legislation such as special ed reform, etc. It's not allways about additional revenue.  

"Never, never, never give up" - Winston Churchill

[ Parent ]
By the way..Why the attitude Vote3rdpartynow?? (0.00 / 0)
I am new to this blog and hope that is it one of the small first steps in bringing back the state GOP. Why the attitude? I have no reason to think more funding is available and it you read my prior posts you would have seen that my recommendations relate to cost control. And yes I recognize that the GOP is not in power.  

"Never, never, never give up" - Winston Churchill

[ Parent ]
Why the attitude? That's my job. (0.00 / 0)
It also bothers me when people from public education post comments and don't bother to use spellcheck or fix grammatical errors.  Don't take it personally.

Ed Markey is now the official 'cheapest' man on earth.  1.5 percent to charity while the average American gave 3 times as much...

[ Parent ]
Thank you Mr. Whelan (0.00 / 0)
Chapter 70 is flawed and broken. In our town we fork over 2 million to our regional vocational school based on property value.  Who decided that funding is based on the town property value is insane. Instead it should be based on the number of students attending from our town.

This deprives our school system in the process. No one wants to upset the apple cart in beacon hill. So nothing changes

" A republic if you can keep it"- Ben Franklin 1787

No...thank you (0.00 / 0)
A group of like minded SC folks (16 and counting) on the North Shore has started the North Shore Coalition for School Funding Today we met with Congressman Tierney and we are starting to get a bit of attention. We are not about asking for more revenue. We have advocated for cost containment strategies to be passes thru legislative action. Before the recent fiscal freefall I did put together a short term fix to ch 70. My proposal helps to raise the per pupil reimbursement under ch 70 to one half of the state average. My proposal is at:  

I certainly do not have all the answers, but nobody is talking so read my proposal and let's have a discussion.

"Never, never, never give up" - Winston Churchill

[ Parent ]
Interesting, but wrong (0.00 / 0)
Your vocational school assessment is based on your total enrollment, minus the Chapter 70 aid credited to your town.  If you are in a wealthier town, your Chapter 70 aid credited against your minimum net school spending will be lower than for a city or town without a tax base.  It's the same calculation for regional districts as it is for cities and towns.

Under education reform, the state sets a minimum net school spending requirement for your town.  The state also calculates how much your town can afford to contribute, and pays the difference in Chapter 70 aid.  That's the design of our local aid system.

[ Parent ]
You maybe right but still needs to change (0.00 / 0)
If your town has to fork over two million plus to another school. Then lose teachers in the same year. The system is flawed. Having it based on property is the issue.

We usually get a yearly increase in School section on chapter 70 from the state but get a reduction on the rest of the cherry sheet. We stuck covering the difference increased costs. Then cover the two mill plus to the vocational.

I know students need vocational education. I'm not disputing that. The regional schools benefit in chapter 70. It looks like a waste. Our town has way more students in town than the vocational.

My guess is the western half of the state has numerous regional school. And there are numerous vocationals staewide.
I'm not sure though. That's why they need it. But it is at the expense of the medium income towns who aren't regional.

" A republic if you can keep it"- Ben Franklin 1787

[ Parent ]
Greater New Bedford Voc. (0.00 / 0)
I see you are from Fairhaven.  Nice town.

You are a member of the Greater New Bedford vocational district.  The district educates 2,022 students.

1580 from New Bedford
254 from Fairhaven
188 from Dartmouth

Here's how it breaks down.

The minimum net school spending amount for the district is $14,522 per pupil.  Based on the state aid allocation:

Dartmouth gets $3,747 per pupil
Fairhaven gets $6,384 per pupil
New Bedford gets $12,096 per pupil

In 2008, the total taxable property values in the three municipalities:
$5.797 billion in Dartmouth
$2.243 billion in Fairhaven
$6.726 billion in New Bedford

Considering the wealth of the communities, and the number of students they send to the school, the aid allocation doesn't seem off base.  The poor city with lots of students gets more help than the wealthy town with much fewer students.

[ Parent ]
NB Voke (0.00 / 0)
Considering I live in Dartmouth, serve as a Town Meeting Member, & all three municipalities are within my State Senate district, let me weigh in a bit here.

The municipal assessments concerning Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational-Technical High School have been a local controversy since at least spring of 2005:

Dartmouth Democrat Rep. John F. Quinn has sponsored a measure aimed at getting financial relief for Dartmouth and Fairhaven from their skyrocketing assessments for Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational-Technical High School in New Bedford.
Under his proposal, which passed last week as part of the House budget, both towns would be eligible to apply for grants from the state Department of Education. The purpose of Rep. Quinn's amendment is to ease problems associated with a new state Department of Education formula for determining local assessments.
 The above was taken from a Standard-Times article published May 16, 2005 and found at

Dartmouth and Fairhaven learned yesterday they will receive a total of $425,000 in additional state aid to help with their assessments for the Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational-Technical High School in New Bedford.

The money -- $216,000 for Dartmouth and $209,000 for Fairhaven -- is a big assist for the two SouthCoast communities, both strapped for cash.

 This article dates from October 5, 2005 and was originally found in the Standard-Times but is now found at

More recently, from a Standard-Times article dated August 18, 2007:

Dartmouth will receive a $371,000 grant from the state's "pothole" account to help cover the increasing cost of its vocational education assessment, a rare bit of good financial news as it continues to struggle through its budget doldrums in the wake of last month's $8.46 million override defeat.

Dartmouth has a $70 million budget and it is hardly a wealthy community.  Heck, we've been on the verge of financial crisis for years now and are facing, yet another, drastic budge deficit.  I'll spare you the municipal intrigue going on in recent weeks.

I can assure you that the local consensus is that the local aid allocation is entirely out of whack.  The forumla is broken and if not for supplemental aid from Beacon Hill, Dartmouth & Fairhaven would be in even greater dire straits.

[ Parent ]
To my new friends in Dartmouth: "The formula is broken." Quote from Governor Patrick (0.00 / 0)

At about 1 minute 15 seconds of the you tube video the Governor admits that the formula is "broken." The same comments were made in Salem this summer.

If the formula is broken then what is being done to fix it? The silence from the Governor on this issue has been rather remarkable. On one hand I give him credit for his honesty, but where is the political courage?

"Never, never, never give up" - Winston Churchill

[ Parent ]
Chapter 70 quote..A profile in courage? (0.00 / 0)
On local aid: "Chapter 70 is broken -- everybody knows that."  Too much pressure on the property tax.  Chapter 70 "is a miserable discussion."  Enormously difficult to figure out the right solution.  Chapter 70's dependence on property value creates big problems.  Very hard problem.
Above is a quote and blog entry from the Governor's Salem, MA Town Hall meeting this summer. The You Tube entry is from a Town Hall meeting on the Cape late in the summer.

Let's see here. The Governor has twice declared that the program is "broken." Now where is the proposed fix?  

"Never, never, never give up" - Winston Churchill

[ Parent ]
Dartmouth has wealth (0.00 / 0)
Dartmouth has wealth, plenty of it.  Go back and look at the number of children it needs to educate compared to the taxable real estate in town.  New Bedford doesn't have the real estate value to tax.

While you have wealth, you lack taxing authority.  Your fiscal problems result from the Prop. 2.5 levy limit.  

[ Parent ]
6 of these and one half dozen of those (0.00 / 0)
Whether it is the fault of prop 2 1/2 or chapter 70, the way we fund education in this state is nuts!

"Never, never, never give up" - Winston Churchill

[ Parent ]
True, but very different discussions (0.00 / 0)
The numbers for Greater New Bedford look reasonable for what the formula is trying to do, make sure children from poorer communities get the same resources available to children from wealthier towns.

If I were to look for places where the funding formula is broken, I would look more to:

Why does Westford get so much more than Chelmsford?
Why does Pentucket get so much more than Triton?
Why did the partial regions get exempted from the 20% reductions in FY 2004?  Go look at how Sudbury gained when everyone else was getting cut.

[ Parent ]
Tax & Spend (0.00 / 0)
There you go again, tax & spend... the eternal answer?  The answer that has been repeatedly rejected by the overwhelming majority of Dartmouth residents as they have voted, time & time again with the rarest of exception, to vote NO on Prop 2 1/2 Overrides.

No, the answer is not to find new & creative ways to tax people into oblivion.  Personally, I'd rather cut waste & inefficiency locally, regionally, & statewide.  If we're cutting down to the bone then it's time to amputate. Privatization & regionalization need to be enacted.  Dartmouth has a $70 million budget with something like $65 million worth of funding.  Throwing even more money at a broken system is irresponsible.

Prop 2 1/2 not only should not but it cannot be lifted for the sake of the future of the average taxpayer.

Here's the flaw in your theory.  Are you familiar with Dartmouth (or other parts of the SouthCoast)?  The Town of Dartmouth does not consist entirely within the confines of the seaside, picturesque Padanaram Village.  No, most of Dartmouth is the yacht filled harbor where out-of-towners, and the rumored Hollywood persona, spend their idle summers.  No, Dartmouth is 64 square miles of hard working, blue collar year 'round residents who are fed up with the current high level of taxation & you want to pile on more?!  My friend, that cure is worse than the disease.

Part of the Voke problem is the portability of funds.  When Dartmouth sends its money over to Voke for one of those 188 students, if the student returns to DHS for any reason the money doesn't follow him or her back home.  No, it stays at Voke.  In addition to the formula problem now we have to pay for a spot, briefly filled by a Dartmouth student & now given to - generally a New Bedford child - who's city is now getting a free ride for the rest of the year.

"If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And If it stops moving, subsidize it." -- Ronald Reagan  

[ Parent ]
I am very familiar with Dartmouth (0.00 / 0)
I am also very familiar with the traffic that is generated by all the nice taxable commercial property whenever I try to get off I-195 in Dartmouth.  Wealth, in the sense of property taxes, is based on how much taxable real estate you have, particularly in relation to the municipal expenses.  Dartmouth certainly is better off than the other municipalities in the regional vocational school district.

[ Parent ]

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