Gov. Charlie Baker brought a short smile to the face of many when he unveiled an increase in education funding in his State Budget proposal two weeks ago, but this week Supt. Mary Bourque said the proposal needs to go further for cities like Chelsea.
“Although a step in the right direction for public education and in particular gateway cities, the Governor’s FY20 budget does not go nearly far enough,” she wrote in a letter on Feb. 6.
Bourque said the Chelsea Public Schools are facing another year where they will likely – as it stands now – have to cut another $2 million from their budget. That falls upon multiple years of cuts that have weighed cumulatively on the schools and taken away core services from students.
One of the problems is that salaries, health insurance and special education costs are rising so quickly. This year, she said, they are looking at increases in those areas of $5.2 million.
Gov. Baker’s budget proposal steers an increase of $3.2 million to Chelsea over last year, but in the face of rising costs, that still leaves the schools in the red.
It’s yet another year of advocacy for the schools to fix the Foundation Formula – an exercise that has seemingly played out without any success for at least five years.
“Once again we are facing another year of painful budget cuts because the foundation formula used to calculate aid to our schools is broken,” she wrote. “The formula from 1993 has not kept up with inflation, changing demographics or increased student needs. I am however, encouraged this year that all leaders at the State level have acknowledged that the formula is broken, including for the first time the Governor.”
Bourque also spelled out the complex nature of the Chelsea Schools, including numerous factors that are contributing to the reduction in funding.
One of the most startling situations is that there are fewer kids, and with education funding based on numbers of kids, that translates to even less money for the schools.
Bourque said this year they have begun to identify a downward trend in enrollment for the first time in years. She said fewer kids are coming in from outside the U.S. and families are leaving Chelsea for areas with lower rents and costs of living.
“In addition to the foundation formula undercounting critical costs, a significant portion of this year’s $2 million dollar gap is due to student demographic shifts taking place in our schools,” she wrote. “We are seeing a downward trend in student enrollment…This year we have noted fewer students entering our schools from outside the United States as well as a number of students and families moving from Chelsea due to the high cost of living in the Boston area.” The Chelsea Public Schools under the City Charter have until April 1 to submit their balanced budget. Bourque said they plan to lobby members of the House of Representatives and the Senate in the meantime to fix the funding gaps that now exist.