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Swampscott Schools Underfunded by at Least $500,000

A former school official and others say the commonwealth broke its promise to the town.

The state’s failure to fund Swampscott schools as promised five years ago is costing the district more than $500,000 this year, says David Whelan, cofounder of the North Shore Coalition for School Funding.

A Massachusetts Department of Education spokesman says the commonwealth’s fiscal crisis threw a wrench into its plan to fund a number of towns at 17.5 percent in 2011.

Even so, it riles Whelan to see some towns funded as advertised and others, notably Swampscott, left wanting.

“They are treating suburban communities differently,” says Whelan, a former Swampscott School Committee chairman.

He wonders why Marblehead and Wellesley — with their much higher property values — get funded at the prescribed 17.5 percent of the annual cost to run their schools, and Swampscott receives only 14.3 percent in school funding.

He is not alone in his concern.

School Committee Chairwoman Jacqueline Kinney says the town has been shortchanged for years.

Less aid means less money for teaching programs in the district, she said.

Superintendent of Schools Lynne Celli says Swampscott should be funded at the same rate as other suburban towns — 17.5 percent.

State Rep. Lori Ehrlich said the shorting of Swampscott has been a concern since she first took office in 2008.

She has been working with advocates and other legislators on a bill that would make sure “that the town is finally caught up to the promised minimum,” she said.

Swampscott, in particular, is hurt by the underfunding.

“This unfulfilled promise, which amounts to nearly $500,000, has a proportionately large impact on the town's budget,” Ehrlich said.

Five years ago, the Legislature and then-Gov. Mitt Romney promised 60 suburban communities, Swampscott among them, that they would be funded at the 17.5 percent level by 2011, Whelan said.

Jonathan Considine, spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said the formula for bringing communities, such as Swampscott, to the 17.5 percent funding level are still being implemented.

“We were right on schedule through FY09, and then the state fiscal crisis resulted in slowing the pace of the phase-in,” Considine said.

He said variables including enrollment, property, income and municipal revenue in towns account for differences in how the funding formula has been phased-in.

David Whelan January 19, 2011 at 01:37 PM
Here's the question that state officials will not answer. "Why are the children and taxpayers in Marblehead and Wellesley more important than the children and taxpayers in Swampscott?"

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