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Concerned that education funding isn’t going far enough, some are attempting to build momentum for yet another Proposition 2 ½ override. A few have even suggested that the School Committee consider an override every year, so that some magical/mystical funding level is assured of being reached.
The facts are, that Westford taxpayers essentially built one of the state’s top tiered public education programs, all on their own. At a recent budget meeting Selectman Mark Kost revealed that Westford ranks 98th in Massachusetts in terms of community support for its school system. This includes combined allocations in the school’s operating budget, with school directed allocations in the town’s capital and human resource budget. Some estimates put total school spending in Westford as high as 80 percent of the town’s budget.
Some override advocates downplay these metrics pointing to the “spending per pupil ratio.” They fail to understand the state local aid system. State aid, originally devised to offset the impact of Proposition 2 ½, was intended to provide communities like Westford with supplemental state funding. Chapter 70 education aid was part of this. However, like so many government initiatives it has fallen short of expectations.
Today, local aid is a major state subsidy program, supporting some communities at the expense of others. For example, state aid supports close to 50 percent of the operating budgets for Lawrence, Brockton, Worcester, Springfield, Lowell, Holyoke, Haverhill, Fall River, New Bedford, Pittsfield, Fitchburg, and more than 30 percent of the budgets for a host of other cities and towns. The overwhelming percentage of the aid goes to education. Westford gets very little. In fact, millions of revenue dollars are lost to Westford, because state revenue generated in the town is redistributed to other communities. Comparing spending to pupil ratios in this context is absurd.
Things may get worse. The legislature recently passed a $1.5B education package, funneling even more money to aid dependent communities failing to identify a revenue source, so increases will come from current appropriations. Governor Baker warned that local aid for towns like Westford may be reduced.
Questioning the need for heightened school spending within the context of a state system that works to the detriment of towns like Westford is hardly unreasonable. In the face of a school population that is shrinking, skepticism over spending demands does not necessarily signify the taxpayers heartlessness. It may simply mean they are not fools. — Dennis Galvin, Westford
Editor’s note: Proposition 2 1/2 is a state law that limits property tax increases to 2.5 percent plus new growth.