Another divisive Town Meeting and another series of cuts that reduce the quality of life for our residents. This year the budget debate was focused on the failure of the unions to pass the Town’s healthcare plan by the state mandated 70% requirement (it should be noted a majority of union membership did in fact vote for the change i.e. 55%).
Ultimately the cost of healthcare needs to be controlled and reigned in, but the 70% union vote mandate is just one example of outdated state-level inefficiency and inaction.
The real culprit to Wakefield’s financial woes is the state’s antiquated education funding formula. Anyone who follows this issue knows that Wakefield receives some of the lowest amounts of state aid on the north shore.
The bulk of state aid received is known as Chapter 70 education funding.
Wakefield, a town with a population of approximately 25,000, receives $4.8 million a year from the state in Chapter 70 education funds.
Reading, a town with a population also of 25,000, receives $9.5 million. This would not be so unsettling if Reading was an anomaly among our neighboring communities or if it received more local aid for some justifiable reason.
Melrose, another of Wakefield’s closest neighbors, receives $7.3 million a year. Andover receives $7.0 million. North Andover receives $6.1 million.
Even North Reading, a town half the size of Wakefield, receives $6.5 million or $1.7 million dollars more than Wakefield from the state.
Among our neighbors, only Lynnfield with a population of 12,000, receives less than Wakefield i.e. $3.8 million and Stoneham, a pathetic $3.3 million.
The following table depicts this more clearly:Town
Population State Aid
The inequality is much worse when we start to look at what our neighboring urban communities receive.
Lynn with a population of about 90,000 is approximately four times the size of Reading. So logic dictates that since Reading receives $9.5 million and Lynn is four times the size of Reading then fore Lynn should receive somewhere around $40 million in chapter 70 state aid, perhaps a little more due to socio-economic factors.
Lynn receives $118 million.
That’s over 1000% more than Reading and over 2000% more state aid than Wakefield.
When local leaders pressured our own state legislators as to why there is such a big inequality in state aid, we were told among other things:
1. That if we increase the number of students on free and reduced lunch, our funding will increase. So the School Committee created policy mechanisms that did just that, but the amount of state aid Wakefield received did not change.
2. That local aid is distributed relative to the amount of debt held by each city and town. This implies that since Wakefield is fiscally well run, that we are being punished. This doesn’t make sense.
3. That no one really understands the formulas and that the political will to change things is just not there. This reminds me of an old adage my grandmother told me: “If you don’t understand what a salesman is selling, you don’t buy it.”
Well our legislators should take Nonna’s advice: If you don’t understand Chapter 70 funding, stop voting for it.
For years Wakefield has lived within its means and thrived. Even with all the budget cuts our extra-curricular programs have flourished, our test scores remain high, course offerings have expanded and throughout town you see innovation and volunteerism reaching new heights. Wakefield has a lot to be proud of. In the throes of deep economic recession, we’ve done better with much less than most of our neighbors. Now can you just imagine what we could do if the state gave us the fair share of state funding given to neighboring towns?
Population numbers according to the 2010 census.
Chapter 70 funding numbers according to Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website: http://finance1.doe.mass.edu/chapter70/chapter_12p.html