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Wakefield’s Chapter 70 Woes Continue

The real culprit to Wakefield’s financial woes is the state’s antiquated education funding formula. Wakefield receives some of the lowest amounts of state aid on the north shore.

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the cost of healthcare needs to be controlled and reigned in, but the 70% union vote mandate is just one example of outdated state-level inefficiency and inaction.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               

Reading

24,747

$9,488,181.00

Melrose

26,983

$7,323,565.00

Andover

33,201

$6,928,057.00

North Andover

27,202

$6,124,740.00

North Reading

14,892

$6,459,260.00

Wakefield

24,932

$4,794,886.00

 

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

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jeff Crump May 17, 2011 at 08:15 PM
The real problem for Wakefield -- and the reason why I am not at all optimistic that this will get fixed -- is that our Representatives have divided loyalty. If C70 is a zero-sum game (like everyone seems to think) then why would Brodeur advocate taking from Melrose and giving to Wakefield? Same for Wong and Saugus. I'll feel much better about our elected officials when they stop getting hauled in to Federal court. And for Brodeur specifically, he can't hide from his record on Beacon Hill so far -- a big O-fer when it comes to protecting the interest of the citizens against his union backers. Take a look at his legislative record, it's not pretty.
David Whelan May 17, 2011 at 08:27 PM
Jeff: Like Anthony, I have been at the ch 70 things for a few years. Your "zero sum game" comment is appropriate, particularly given the economic climate. Where "zero sum" really becomes a problem is in the never ending battle between urban and suburban districts. Tens of millions of education dollars are pouring into urbans communities and the suburbs have typically been awarded .54% increases. Nothing like class warefare and income redistribution. My State Senator,Tom McGee, represents 5 suburban communities and the City of Lynn. Tom is also from Lynn. Three of Tom's suburban communities are amongst what I call the "forgotten fifty eight," communities not at the promised 17.5% level. McGee to his credit has shown signs (he called me!) that he is interested in solving the ch 70 problem, but he's one Senator. I've said it before and it's worth repeating, a lawsuit is the solution. Even that is problematic given the cost and the time involved, plus I get the feeling that folks like Clark, McGee, etc. would love to see a suit simply because that takes away the need to make a "profile in courage" type choice. I think it's otherwise known as leadership. David P. Whelan, Jr. davidwhelanjr@gmail.com
Jeff Crump May 17, 2011 at 08:35 PM
Right on, David. The clowns we keep electing can't make decisions on their own -- just look at the voting records, virtually mirroring the "leadership" on Beacon Hill in every single vote. New Reps find out awfully quickly that they have to choose between integrity and a nice cushy office or committee assignment. It's easy to show interest. It's hard to show leadership. Sigh.
Laurie Hunt May 18, 2011 at 01:29 AM
Dave, I wish I shared your optimism about walking and chewing gum at the same time ((wink)).
David Whelan May 18, 2011 at 06:06 PM
The Senate just released its fy 12 budget. No fix to ch 70 "funding gap" and lots of rhetoric about watered down health care reform. More of the same. Ugghh!

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