Regional school committee gets first look at budget, considers school choice

by susan on December 17, 2010

Superintendent Charles Gobron presented a preliminary budget to the Northborough-Southborough Regional School Committee on Wednesday night. The budget represents a 2.7% increase over the current year and does not include teacher or staff reductions.

The budget subcommittee is looking into ways of increasing revenue in the district. One option being considered is the school choice program. Historically, our district has opted out of the program which allows out-of-district students to attend our schools. The fact that Algonquin could take in as much as $100K through the program, has officials taking another look.

From TheDailyNorthborough.com:

School districts accepting school choice students are compensated $5,000 per student. Gobron said the move is something to consider for the upcoming year because the projected enrollment for incoming freshmen at Algonquin Regional High School for 2011-2012 is 338 students, 35 less than the 373 freshman that are enrolled at the school this academic year.

But the Metrowest Daily News reports not all are in favor of the idea:

But some committee members expressed reluctance, citing some of the program’s rules. For example, Algonquin can’t choose which students it accepts under the program, and all students accepted as freshman are required to attend the school for all four years.

“We’re talking about taking in more students, but on the other hand, we’ve admitted that our class sizes are already too large,” committee member Cheryl Levesque said. “For that reason, I don’t look at this possibility as money in the bank.”

Where do you come down on the class size vs. revenue debate? Do you think school choice is worth another look? Share your thoughts in the comments.

1 Angela December 19, 2010 at 6:48 AM

Class sizes are already too large. Children will begin to feel “lost in the system” if we don’t focus on making learning an individual experience. I would not support looking at school choice as an option to resolve budget problems.

2 carrie alpert December 19, 2010 at 6:45 PM

absolutely not. no way, no how. class sizes are already too large, this year my sons 5th grade class is literally and i mean literally squeezed into the classroom, and that is just the desks–by 5th grade the kids are BIG no more itty bitty things.

3 Pat Q December 19, 2010 at 8:19 PM

Would this decision impact K-12 or just Algonquin?

4 susan December 19, 2010 at 8:37 PM

Pat, I believe the decision would impact Algonquin only. As I recall, each school committee votes separately on whether to participate in the school choice program. So, the Regional School Committee makes the decision for Algonquin, and the Southborough School Committee makes the decision for the K-8 schools. At least, that’s how I think it works.

5 Al Hamilton December 20, 2010 at 7:52 AM

Susan:

Your understanding is correct. Each town’s K-8 programs are governed by local (Town) K-8 School committees. Algonquin is governed by the Regional committee. What confuses things is that the entire system is administered by a single central office.

My understanding is that the question of school choice is limited to Algonquin which has substantial excess capacity in its physical plant. We pay for it whether we use it or not. So it is a question of marginal analysis. Given a requirement for a consistent quality of education, would the increased revenue more than offset the increased costs? For example, if we took in 20 school choice students (+$100k) and hired an additional teacher (-$?k) would there be anything left over to help us cover our fixed costs? If so then this is a question that deserves serious consideration.

There certainly are other considerations, in particular student diversity and if we add staff, the option of a more diverse course offerings. However, I think these are secondary.

6 Pat Q December 20, 2010 at 8:43 AM

sorry, I meant to ask would it impact K-8, not K-12

7 Pat Q December 20, 2010 at 8:44 AM

Thank you for responding Susan and Al. I think this is an important point to be aware of if the issue is considered.

8 carrie alpert December 20, 2010 at 9:32 AM

So, the kids have to get to know a new school, new kids (unless they play lax and have met some along the way) and additional kids who are not from Northborough? That should make Facebook wicked’ fun for them.

thanks but no thanks.

9 Pat Q December 20, 2010 at 2:53 PM

Carrie,

Getting to know a new school and new kids was the best part of high school for my son. In fact, some of his closest friends, to this day, are from Northborough. I don’t think that is a strong enough reason to not consider the option.

I am not saying I am for or against it…….I don’t know enough about it but, being exposed to more kids from different towns shouldn’t be a negative thing.

10 carrie alpert December 20, 2010 at 10:23 PM

getting to know new kids is fantastic, some of my sons closest friends are from surrounding towns, some not so close, due to his travel hockey team–sleepovers, the works–friendships that are enduring.
I think that it is great that the 2 towns merge and the kids have the opportunity to meet other children from Northborough come high school.
What i am on the soapbox about is that this decision is based on the fact that we are so desperate for ways to make money–this is not about what is best for the children academically, emotionally or spiritually. Who is to say that the kids will not adjust or acclimate–surely they will.

this is about the fact that we need revenue and what is bothersome to me is that we are discussing importing children for cash flow under the guise “school choice”

11 Brad D December 21, 2010 at 1:13 AM

I am seeking clarification of two statements from local newspapers which are listed in Susan’s Dec 17 2010 blog on this issue:

” School districts accepting school choice students are compensated $5,000 per student.”

“…For example, Algonquin can’t choose which students it accepts under the program, and all students accepted as freshman are required to attend the school for all four years.”

If a parent from another district decided to send a child who is special needs student to ARHS, would that person be allowed to attend? If the cost for that student exceeded $5,000, would we still be limited to the $5,000 payment?

Regarding carrie alpert’s comment “this is about the fact that we need revenue and what is bothersome to me is that we are discussing importing children for cash flow under the guise “school choice”. Yes, this is ALL about the money and that’s the reality of what we face today. But its also about Dr. Gobron and the school committee trying to creatively find sources of income to help maintain the excellent school system we have in these very difficult economic times.

We are very fortunate to have Dr. Gobron as our administrator.

12 Al Hamilton December 21, 2010 at 9:39 AM

A student with an Individual Education Plan (special ed) can apply and would probably have to be accepted. The costs of the IEP are reimbursed above and beyond the $5k for the student. At least that is how I read the arcane language here:

http://finance1.doe.mass.edu/schoice/choicead.html

Delving into school finance is a surreal activity.

13 Al Hamilton December 21, 2010 at 7:52 AM

School Choice is a two edged sword and potentially a win win for the parties involved. For parents looking for better options for their children it is an opportunity to send their child to a “better” school. For the receiving school it is an opportunity to garner additional resources. The only party that might think they are loosing is the sending school. While they still typically get to keep a portion of the money set aside to educate the student, I suspect that those leaving reflect families that give a higher priority to education and may be some of the better students in the sending facility. The also suffer the market signal that they are not as “good” a school as the receiving institution. There are students in our systems that take advantage of this type of program and charter schools.

Money is the lifeblood of education. (Sorry to be crass but try running a school without it). It will also be in short supply next year. The State budget is 1.5 Billion out of balance as we speak and the Stimulus is winding down. I doubt that there is any stomach for a large increase in property taxes given the anemic economic recovery and weak property market.

I applaud Dr. Gobron for giving this matter serious consideration. I have my doubts that he can make the numbers work. The real cost of a teacher including current benefits and retirement benefits are quite high and there are other variable costs that need to be taken into consideration including supplies, ancillary services (coaches, after school activities, janitorial) and support staff. If he can make the numbers work in a meaningful way then this option merits serious consideration. We need to explore all options to make sure we continue to operate a high quality school system.

14 southsider January 2, 2011 at 9:14 AM

Wasn’t sure if it was better to start a new string or add
on to this one. Today’s MWDN headline story discusses education and
unemployment but also provides some data on median income by town.
MWDN reports that ” Among the top-ranking towns are Franklin…
Hopkinton… and Northborough..” Southboro is not mentioned. This
info got me to wondering why it is that there is a belief that
Southboro is the richer town. I know that there is some state
mandated regional school funding calculation that causes Southboro
to fund more than its proportionate share of the school’s cost
because we’re considered wealthier. Seems the US Census disagrees!
Northboro residents have higher incomes, pay less in property taxes
and yet it seems Southboro is required to subsidize their
children’s education?

15 DLD January 2, 2011 at 5:14 PM

Southsider – not sure why the author of the MWDN article
left out Southborough, but according to the census data
Southborough has a median family income of $128,980 compared to
Northborough’s $85,507

16 southsider January 3, 2011 at 8:56 AM

thanks for the clarification …. an interesting omission/oversight by MWDN. I’m glad you researched it further.

17 carrie alpert January 3, 2011 at 7:01 AM

Reading your comments Al gives me an opportunity to think about things from another angle– often times not the angle i am coming from. I am not shy about the way I feel about Dr. Gobron, I think that he not only has the interests of the children first and foremost but that he honestly enjoys his work to the fullest degree. I cannot see him supporting something that would be detrimental to the educational system or our kids, I might not be in support of it but the funding has to come from someplace and I applaud him for thinking outside the box.

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