I Got 99 Problems and Money is Most Certainly One

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I Got 99 Problems and Money is Most Certainly One

Money has always been an issue in public schools all over the country, and our little town of Ipswich is just another town forced to make cutbacks and raise the price of its services to students. In the past few years new ways to raise money have been instituted across the school district. Things like parking passes and bus passes were not even in a student’s vocabulary a few years ago, but now they are just another back to school fee faced every year by students and their families.

Ipswich schools receive an annual budget of $25 million from town and state taxes along with grant money given to the school. You may have read that last line and said, “What’s the big deal? That’s plenty of money!” Yes, $25 million dollars is a lot of money, but divide that by four schools, then the number of teachers, then the office workers, guidance counselors, lunch personal, and the custodial staff, then the cost of just keeping the building habitable and you are out of money pretty quickly.

I had the opportunity to sit down with our new superintendent, Dr. Hart, regarding the school budget. Dr. Hart was raised in Andover, where his father was a principal in town. He has been married 25 years and has 3 kids. The youngest is a high school senior at Newburyport; his middle daughter is a nursing student at UMass Lowell, and his oldest son is a submariner at Portsmouth Navy Yard. Dr. Hart followed in his father’s foot steps when he began teaching social-studies at the middle school level in the Andover school system. Eventually he would move up to the Andover High School. After this he went overseas to start his first administrative position as an assistant principal in an international high school in Greece. Dr. Hart returned to the United States and got a principal’s job in Midcoast Maine. Going from the small Maine high school of just over 300, Dr. Hart would take the principal job at Leominster High School with 2,000 plus students. Finally he would go to Pentucket to be the assistant superintendent before he came to Ipswich.

Dr Hart and the rest of the school are depending on an override to help boost the funding to the schools. In any given year a town cannot raise property taxes over 2 ½ percent as per Massachusetts statute, Proposition 2 ½, without going to the town and asking them for a raise in taxes and telling them why it needs to be done. The school needs about a 4 ½ percent increase to properly fund each building, leaving a gap that needs to be filled. New Growth, as in new housing and other buildings, helps fill the gap by adding new income to the town. “But that doesn’t always happen, and New Growth doesn’t always close the gap between 2 ½ and the 4 ½,” says Dr. Hart. “So most of the time school systems have to cut back on personal, programs, and maintenance, because there is always a gap between what taxes will generate under Proposition 2 ½ and what it takes you to maintain programs.”

Therefore an override is called in to ask the town to raise taxes and bring more money to the school. Ipswich has had this gap for quite a while, all the way through the recession, and the previous administration has tried to deal with this gap by cutting supplies, custodial services, maintenance, all while trying to keep the Ipswich schools within the law while keeping class sizes as small as possible for as long as possible. Now that all the fat has been trimmed, along with some muscle, the buildings are slowly deteriorating from lack of maintenance due to cuts. The choice money has been over spent by $400,000; we must turn to an override before there are significant cuts that will affect each student in a negative way.

In order to pass the override, Ipswich needs Dr. Hart to present in front of the town’s tri-board, consisting of the school committee, the selectmen, and the finance committee. Last Thursday Dr. Hart went in front of this board to outline the schools’ finances and paint a picture of our school system with and without the override in the next couple of years. The number Dr. Hart and the school system will be asking for is going to be fairly large. as of now the school is dependent on $1.1 million in choice students, with only around $600,000 coming in next year. And just as in every year, the 4 ½ percent grows, without any expected significant New Growth to help fill the gap that is growing ever wider.

When Dr. Hart puts out his override request he believes the town might be shocked at such a high increase. “A lot of people would say ‘Well, ya know, I send my kid to our elementary school; there’s twenty-two kids in the class. That’s not bad. What’s the problem?” Because we have figured out other ways of closing that gap, we have been able to maintain those class sizes, but we don’t have that anymore.”

The amount we are talking about in this override is somewhere around or exceeding $3 million. This number will certainly shock some people and taxes will noticeably be impacted, but Ipswich does pay just about the least in taxes and least per-pupil in the area except Georgetown. So, a tax hike is not totally unreasonable for our town. If this override does pass, it is here to stay. As the operating costs of the school grow, so does the amount of funding the school will need. These numbers will never go down unless drastic and perhaps, unreasonable, action is taken to downsize the school system trying to live within our 1 ½ percent, cutting services along the way to keep the bill down.

Now that Dr. Hart has presented to the board telling them how the school will be affected depending which way they vote, they will discuss what they heard and a final decision will be made at a later date.

If this override does not pass there will be noticeable cutbacks seen by every student. Cuts are projected to get rid of $1 million from the school’s expense. As of now, in the draft stages of these potential cuts, 50 percent would come from personnel while another 50 percent comes from services, material, and supplies. Cuts may end up leaning more towards personnel if this does become a reality, meaning larger class sizes than ever for everyone. Dr. Hart’s major question he has for the tri-board and the town is, “What type of school system do we want here in Ipswich?” He, along with many other people in the town, are very proud of our schools, students, and teachers. He loves that our students are an individual in the eyes of their teacher, not just another face in a crowded classroom.

Upon following up with Dr. Hart about his meeting with the board, he told me how it went. He said, “The group clearly understands the school system’s financial challenges. The committees will not vote on the override request until later in the process. However, it is a good sign that everyone understands the problem.”

As student in the high school are already facing some larger sized classes, I hope that for my fellow classmates in the future, the override passes.

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