MWDN: Southborough school board rips selectman after he questions spending

If you spend more money on schools, do you necessarily ensure a higher-quality education for students? That’s the question posed by Selectman John Rooney at last night’s K-8 School Committee meeting. But the question – and the data Rooney presented to back it up – was not well received by the School Committee.

Reports the Metrowest Daily News:

K-8 School Committee members slammed as “irresponsible” and “infuriating” comments Selectman John Rooney made at their meeting last night about school spending, calling them an insult to the district.

“Does spending more money equal better education?” Rooney asked during the public comment session, saying he was speaking as a resident, not a selectman.

Rooney, referencing a recent report put together by Shrewsbury’s assistant superintendent, said standardized test scores in Shrewsbury were actually higher in many grades than those in Southborough, even though Shrewsbury spends about $3,000 less per pupil and has larger class sizes.

The full article in the MWDN is definitely worth a read, so pop over there and check it out, then come back here and share your thoughts. Was Rooney’s question about cost versus quality on the money (so to speak)? Or was the School Committee justified in their outrage? Do you believe the data Rooney presented? Sound off in the comments below.

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Jim Freeman
11 years ago

The school committee got it half right – Mr Rooney’s comments may have been infuriating but they weren’t irresponsible. The school committee should be a little introspective & find out why they didn’t know about the Shrewsbury data ahead of time.

I also find it troubling that they chose to ‘kill the messenger” rather than table the issue and come back to it at the next meeting. The question is reasonable and deserves a like answer. Attacking the messenger is an old ploy and not a very clever one. The taxpayers deserve better.

SB Resident
11 years ago
Reply to  Jim Freeman

+1 (or LIKE for you facebookers)

Southside Gadsden Flyer
11 years ago
Reply to  Jim Freeman

+1 again! Not an irresponsible question at all!

John Rooney
11 years ago

I am reminded of Shakespeare’s sentiments “Come hither, sir. / Though it be honest, it is never good / To bring bad news,” (Antony and Cleopatra), and a more modern equivalent: Please don’t shoot the messenger.

Ms. Dargan alleges that she was “dismayed” that I did not present the data to the board before hand. My apologies. I made the incorrect assumption that our elected school committee was conversant with data and information from the Massachusetts Board of Education (BOE). All of my “irresponsible facts” came from

I also incorrectly assumed that our school committee was cognizant of how surrounding towns fund their schools, how surrounding towns pay their teachers, and how surrounding towns publish, in detailed and comprehensive reports, the performance results of their children. Residents should read the following . Is it too much to ask our elected school committee to comment on this report or perhaps issue a report for our town? Residents concerned with the state of public education should really take a look at that town’s school committee website and all of the information provided.

The information I relayed is noted by Ms. Strickland to be “irresponsible.” Really? The information is from the state BOE, a board charged with the responsibility of overseeing the public education of our children. Is it the unanimous position of the Southborough School Committee that the state BOE is irresponsible?

If the BOE publishes irresponsible statistics, that is troubling since the state statistics are received directly from the schools and districts. Did we provide them inaccurate data? How many years have we been providing inaccurate data? Who is responsible for providing this data? What has the school committee done to correct this irresponsible data? Is the data wrong or “irresponsible” for every city and town in the Commonwealth, or just our town? Are state funding decisions made or guided by this data and, if so, if the data is wrong, have we been getting more or less money than entitled? Are all of the state statistics from the BOE wrong? Are all of the test results wrong? Is the teacher salary data wrong, the special education funding data wrong, the teacher certifications wrong?

Rather than shooting the messenger, since the School Committee takes the position that the BOE publishes inaccurate data, please address the message and answer these questions:

How do our class sizes compare with surrounding or comparable towns?

What do surrounding or comparable towns spend per pupil annually?

Does Southborough spend more than Northborough per pupil and if so, how much and why?

How do our children rank in comparison to surrounding or comparable towns?

How do our teacher salaries rank in comparison to surrounding or comparable towns?

What analysis has been done to determine exactly how many schools we need in town?

Why hasn’t a report similar to the Shrewsbury School Report been issued for our town?

If we spend more money than surrounding or comparable towns, why is that?

If we spend more money than surrounding or comparable towns, what results have we seen from that increased spending?

How will spending less impact our children? Please be specific in your answer and use comparative data to support your response.

If spending more money on public education results in better performing students, please explain the most recent (2011) MCAS results.

If you believe MCAS results are not an appropriate yardstick to measure performance, despite being mandated by the state for compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act, what yardstick should we use? If we use college acceptances, compare our high school students with comparable or surrounding towns. In that comparison, please also educate us as to per pupil costs.

America is suffering the worst economic downturn in 50 years. Over eighty-two percent of American’s disapprove of how Congress is handling the economy. Families struggle to make ends meet and towns struggle to provide services. In order to meet the increasing needs of the public, elected boards must scrutinize how limited resources are being spent.

I am in total agreement that educating our children is the town’s number one priority.

I will never agree that simply pouring more and more money into public education has a direct correlation to student performance. In 2011, Washington D.C. spent the third most in the country per pupil but ranked dead last in SAT scores. At the other end of the spectrum, the state of Utah, spent the least amount of money per pupil but ranked higher in SAT scores than thirty-four other states. In fact, Utah spends less than half the money each year on each pupil than what either New York or Washington D.C. spends and Utah has much higher SAT scores.

If you are going to attack the data by simply attacking the medium used for measurement, then, Southborough School Committee, please give us another medium to use?

Remove the emotion and publish facts. If your facts reveal that surrounding towns, the state, and the nation are all operating with “wrong” data, then give us the correct data please.

And, finally, to engage in a debate that is beneficial to the community and to educate the community so that important decisions can be made, I would suggest that the discussion be done in public when ideas can be fully explored. Let us not teach our children that important discourse is best advanced by remaining quiet and only speaking after a person has left a meeting.

John Boiardi
11 years ago
Reply to  John Rooney

Mr Rooney ,

Here here! It’s about time we take a look at the costs of our schools. It’s bad enough that our toady school committee is absorbing so much of our taxes (70%) that we are hurting all other town departmental budgets. The school committee excoriated you and your statistics yet they could not counter any of your facts. The numbers are shameful !
I say vote them all out one at a time.

C. Nicholas Ellis
11 years ago

Selectman Rooney presented a fair, logical, and reasoned question. Instead of responding in a similar manner, the School Committee chose to ignore the question entirely and instead slam him and “his numbers” – statistics that come from the state Department of Education. If the School Committee has a problem with Rooney’s numbers, they should take it up with the source – the state – rather than try to paint him as trying to “disparage the public school district”. That sort of commentary and ignorance is infuriating, as is the overall attitude and behavior of the School Committee from where I sit. You don’t win an argument by disparaging your opponent. That’s the number one rule of debate. Clearly our School Committee members need to be reeducated on that matter, and perhaps an ethics course is in order to educate them on proper respect.

Anger aside, the proper response to the question Rooney posed – if you weren’t prepared to answer the question at the time – would be to politely request to review the numbers presented by Rooney (taken from the state DoE, I must reiterate), and continue the discussion at a later date. Were I a school committee member, I would find that information disconcerting – just as Rooney has – and would do my very best to look into the matter, to see whether it truly is a mistake, or whether there is in fact room for improvement within our public school system. Discarding the numbers as “false” without even looking at them is not a proper response. Becoming infuriated at the fact that someone, particularly someone who SHOULD be questioning the budget, decided to pose the question after looking over those numbers is not a proper response. Ignoring the issue completely because “they’re just wrong”, rather than delving into it head first with the interest of the education of the children being the primary concern is not a proper response.

Frankly, I am deeply disappointed and disturbed by the behavior of our School Committee presented in that article. It does not convey to me any sort of leadership I would want in charge of anything – I wouldn’t want someone like that running a lemonade stand on the corner of the street, let alone the budget for the public school system of this town. As someone who works in the service industry, I understand the value of the customer getting more for their dollar. One would think that would be a universally pursued goal – more for less. At the very least, we should not be getting less for more.

11 years ago


Status Quo
11 years ago

As it has been for time on end, it’s okay to talk about schools and school budgets, as long as it’s nice and isn’t considered by the school board to be detrimental. Bring something to light or point out something they missed and look out!

Tim Martel
11 years ago

I can only say that I am disappointed in the school committee’s response, and I hope they plan to provide a better one in the near future. Residents deserve it.

Actually, I’ll also say that I’m pleased Selectman Rooney chose to ask the tough question. Thank you.

Infuriated and Insulted
11 years ago

All I can say is that I am infuriated and insulted when we have a school committee that controls 70% of our town money comprised of people who do not know about the state data and are ignorant of the way other towns fund schools. I read the Shrewsbury report. Major black eye to S’Boro. Ouch. Spend more get less. Spend even more, get even less. The school committee should be ashamed and embarrased. That is the only way to explain their response. And to wait until after Rooney leaves to comment, grow up. We as residents have been misled on matters critical to our kids. It is time to act.

Art Fay
11 years ago

Could one of the very well-informed people who post here shed some light on what rules/laws/bylaws govern the school commitee and provide it with whatever authority it has. thanks

11 years ago

It is about time that the school committee was held accountable. They have a large segment of our population (read – majority that shows up at town meeting whenever there is a school funding issue on the table) held hostage by the school committee’s rhetoric about any trumped-up threat to their childrens’ welfare. Because they can wield this weapon whenver they see fit, they feel immune to accountability to ALL the residents of our town. It is critical that the school committee starts to be infused with new blood so that there might be hope for some relief from the strangle hold they have had on our town.

And what is this business of discussion on any matter after a meeting is adjourned? Sounds like the school committee needs a course on Open Meeting Law as well as courtesy, professionalism and responsibility. Does the BOS have any authority over their compliance with these laws? If not, who does?

BTW, kudos to Mr. Rooney!

We need more Elected officials like John Rooney
11 years ago

As my “name” implies, I am a huge fan of John Rooney. What a breath of fresh air to try to discuss issues with facts and in open settings.

I hope the school committee looks at the reports fairly and with an open mind. Disagree with the facts or conclusions, but don’t shoot the messenger.

I hope the taxpayers and voters also read the information and remember how this school committee responded when the next election happens.

Southborough town government benefits from a wide range of opinions, ideas and experiences. The more and varied, the better!

Its great to see citizens like Mr Rooney who already have very busy lives, make a commitment to serve 3 years as a selectman. Its like taking on a second job.

I don’t always agree with Mr. Rooney, but I always respect him for the good he is trying to do.

We need more people like Mr. Rooney to step up and run for office. We need people who have NOT been involved in town government for so long that they are really part of the institution itself, and really part of the problem.

We need people who can ask the simple questions like “Why do we do it that way?”

Hopefully, we can find someone else like Mr. Rooney to run for selectman in the spring. We need new ideas and new faces.

Mark Ford
11 years ago

Maybe YOU should run!

New Southborough Resident
11 years ago

Our family are new residents to Southborough in no small part because of the reputation of the school system. I know that Mr. Rooney spoke as a resident and not as an elected official, but I’m thinking that next month he needs to go back and ask the same questions *as* the elected official. I like that he’s got questions about how the taxpayer funds are being spent. That sounds like he’s doing his job.

Next up, it’s time for the School Committee to do their job. The School Committee members that were quoted in that article should be embarrassed. They should also stop with the defensive whining and answer the questions. Here’s an idea… how about picking up the phone, calling Shrewsbury and asking what their secret is?

11 years ago

So I took the time (hours) to go through the websites noted by Mr. Rooney. I am shocked at what I found.

From the state website:

2010-2011 average class size: Sboro K-8 17.4; Algon 18.4; Shrews 21.8
2009-10 Annual per pupil cost: Sboro K-8 $13,036; Algon $13,695; Shrews $10,564
2009-10 Teacher salaries: Sboro K-8 $71,258; Algon. $80,156; Shrews $66,886

Test Results from 2011

7th Grade state ranking
Shrews: English 67th; Math 34th
Sboro: English 98th; Math 137th

8th Grade state ranking
Shrews: English 81st; Math: 55th; Science 51st
Sboro: English 81st; Math: 126th; Science 120th

10th Grade state ranking
Shrews: English 33rd; Math 34th; Science 78th
Algon: English 50th; Math 48th; Science 36th

I also looked at the Shrewsbury report. The results track many towns for many grades. You will probable come to the gastly conclusion I have.

What exactly is it we are getting for spending more? Last year I fully supported the schools at town meeting. But I ddidn’t know about this HUGE problem? If our money is not being spent to better educate our kids, is it just going to pay for more teachers?

I feel duped.

John Rooney
11 years ago

I appreciate the words of support and assure everyone that I can take care of myself. I have been stabbed, been brought back from the top step of death, and been involved in many adversarial disputes as a trial lawyer. It is beyond obvious that by launching into a needless inflammatory and ad hominem attack against me, their comments seek acceptance to continue their pattern of deflecting the discussion away from the core issue. As Mr. Jim Freeman notes, this dubious form of argument is not something one would expect from an elected board. It surely is not something that should be condoned by those with whom we have entrusted the education of our children.

But I urge everyone to remember that it is important to maintain focus and get answers to these important questions. That should be the primary objective of everyone involved. The conduct of the school committee is, though very much troubling, secondary and is easily addressed through the vehicle of democracy.
My disagreements with the school committee should not and cannot cloud or take priority over the education of our children. From the comments last night, that is what they want.

John Boiardi
11 years ago

School department costs.

The driver of school department costs is the student teacher ratio. Bring that figure in line with other towns such as Shrwesbury and the per pupil costs will normalize and be comparable to other towns, the state, and other states. The artificially low student teacher ratio set by our school committee along with their out of line with economic reality teacher contracts they approve brought us to where Southborough is regarding comparative costs. Of course they will tell you that a ratio of 20:1 would suddenly cause our children to be under educated.

11 years ago
Reply to  John Boiardi

Current ratio is 21.33:1

C. Nicholas Ellis
11 years ago
Reply to  Deb

Got a link to support that figure?

SB Resident
11 years ago

Since ratio keeps being brought up, here are the totals by k-8 school obtained from a document titled 20110920-school-enrollment.pdf that I saved from a link posted here previously. This ratio is definitely student/teacher ratio, whereas the 17.4 number I will speculate is most likely a student/faculty ratio.
Finn 19.11
Woodward 19.38
Neary 20.03
Trottier 21.41

Also interesting is this link saying algonquins ratio is 13.9:1 Which brings up the point that growing the ratio will hurt our rating especially because if you look at the MCAS scores, it looks as if we should be a few notches lower.

I personally think 20:1 is a nice round number to try to obtain, but we face a challenge to obtain that nice number because of declining enrollment. Starting from K up to 8, the enrollment numbers are: 129,115,160,150,157,184,188,165,159. The town census data for ages 0-5 suggest that class sizes of 100-120 should be expected for the near future as well. When dividing the 1st grade population by the current 6 teachers, you get 19.17 ratio, but if you take away a teacher you go up to 23, when the class sizes are > 150, its a bit easier to stay close to a target number. If you are like me and like the 20:1 ratio, then we are really right on target.

My concern is that it seems obvious as these smaller class sizes trickle up, we should save some serious cash, but I doubt it will happen. The schools will try to hide this and find ways to spend the money rather than do the right thing and reduce the budget.

As for the MCAS scores I assume that we just aren’t teaching to the test, and for better or for worse, its probably time to start. In my day, I remember teachers taking the day or two before our standardized test to go over specific things that weren’t part of their curriculum to go over the extra stuff that could be on the test, and it was astonishing how much of it was then on the test just as the teacher presented it.

C. Nicholas Ellis
11 years ago
Reply to  SB Resident

Statewide teacher data:

Algonquin Student:Teacher Ratio is 14.2 to 1

Shrewsbury Senior High School Student:Teacher ratio is 16.3 to 1

Those numbers are purely the total number of teachers versus the total number of students, however (source: They do not reflect average class size (source:, which I linked and posted below.

SB Resident
11 years ago
Reply to  SB Resident

Here’s the link to my data. I bet this data most accurately represents how many kids are in each classroom, which is the number that matters to me. The state data seems to be a mess.

C. Nicholas Ellis
11 years ago
Reply to  SB Resident

Thank you for the link (I found it via Google shortly before). Some things to consider:

1) The state’s data is for the 2010 – 2011 school year. The data you provided is for the 2011 – 2012 school year.

2) The data you provided shows student enrollment, across grades Pre-K through 1, to be 281. The state’s data for 2010-2011 shows student enrollment in those same grades to be 325. This translates into an enrollment drop of ~13.5% for this year as compared to last year. If we lost no teachers in grades Pre-K through 1, this should understandably result in a decrease in the student:teacher ratio for this year as compared to last.

3) The state collects its Teacher Data via EPIMS (source: There is a wealth of information available to any who seek it, but the bottom line from my reading is that each teacher is assigned a unique ID by the state for easy tracking of this information. The state’s data may not be the easiest to read (for example, shows there to be 23.7 teachers, yet shows there to be 24.8 teachers – the discrepancy falls under the dubious heading of “Multiple Grades”), however it is supposedly collected from the towns (source:

It would be interesting to note how the School Committee’s numbers correlate to the state’s, and what (and why) the discrepancies are, if any. I’m even more curious now than before as to how this all breaks down. Combing through the state data has been interesting, at least to me.

Mark Ford
11 years ago
Reply to  Deb

Deb, how is it that the DOE figure is so much lower? And is it fair to assume that all towns are skewed lower in the DOE report–that is to say, that Shrewsbury’s number is actually greater than the 21.8 DOE figure? So relatively speaking it’s still a valid comparison, no?

Mark Ford
11 years ago
Reply to  susan

OK, I get that, but the number quoted at Algonquin is 18.4 against the entire Shrewsbury system of 21.8. That 21.8 I’m assuming reflects lower numbers at K-8 and larger numbers at the High School–so it may be 18.4 Algonquin vs. 23ish at Shrewsbury 9-12.

I’ve noticed in past years how well Shrewsbury performs–we’d do well to benchmark their system…and I really hope we hear soon from our School Committee–they should be asking the hard questions, instead of reacting defensively to them.

C. Nicholas Ellis
11 years ago
Reply to  susan

The state provides data for per-school and per-district, but not class size ratio for per-grade that I can see. They do, however, provide enrollment per-grade and per-grade within each school, so it would be a question of finding per-class data for each school, and using the formulas the state uses (which I can’t find).

The bottom line is that simply taking the class size and dividing by the number of teachers will give grossly low numbers – far lower than the state provides. This is because the state calculates student:teacher rations including multiple-class per student numbers, to arrive at a more realistic number of average class size. I’ve linked below the data figures for Southborough and Northborough-Southborough (Algonquin), although it’s not hard to look up any town / school once you figure out how to navigate the site (took me a bit).


Southborough (K-8):

Using this information we can compare on a school-to-school basis, i.e. comparing Algonquin to Shrewsbury High School, so the “argument” that Shrewsbury is K-12 and Southborough is K-8 falls flat in that regard. I haven’t looked into Shrewsbury’s numbers, but I do know that you can find what grades are held in each individual school, so a semi-competent comparison can be formed.

C. Nicholas Ellis
11 years ago
Reply to  susan

So here’s some semi-direct comparisons.

Algonquin Regional High School (Grades 9-12) – 18.4 ratio:

Shrewsbury Senior High School (Grades 9-12) – 18.9 ratio:
P. Brent Trottier Middle School (Grades 6-8) – 17.9 ratio:

Sherwood Middle School (Grades 5-6) – 24.8 ratio:

Oak Middle School (Grades 7-8) – 24.1 ratio:
Mary E. Finn School (Grades PreK-1) – 18.9 ratio:

Parker Road Preschool (Grade PreK) – 13.3 ratio:

Beal School (Grades K-1) – 22.4 ratio:
Albert S. Woodward Memorial School (Grades 2-3) – 17.9 ratio:

Margaret A. Neary School (Grades 4-5) – 15.0 ratio:

Calvin Coolidge School (Grades K-4) – 21.4 ratio:

Spring Street School (Grades K-4) – 21.6 ratio:

Floral Street School (Grades 1-4) – 23.8 ratio:

Walter J. Paton School (Grades 1-4) – 23.4 ratio:

mike fuce
11 years ago

You know I love our schools, I really like most teachers and administrators (but there are some bad ones as well that in a non tenured environment would be fired), and oh my gosh what a concert all the kids at Neary put on last night. I am so impressed with the quality and what Mr. Curtis and his team does each year (and thank you Mrs. Murdock for playing with them at times). Same up the street at Trottier. However, why everytime, when a question is raised like Mr. Rooney’s, and they are legitimate, the anger, the aggression, the horrid remarks and the outright immature response by the school committee happens (and so many parents). If I were to act that way in the boardroom or in a sales meeting, it would be shortly thereafter I would be reprimanded or maybe even fired. Let’s all try to listen to each other. I happen to agree with Mr. Rooney, however I do learn form all sides, and sometimes my view is moderated. Stop the silly immature facebook type behavior folks. And this same type of behavior at town meetings.

11 years ago

Do any of the numbers from Shrewsbury show the special education student numbers? In Northboro and Southboro we have a LOT of special education students, some that move here just because of the school system. The cost is astronomical to all of us to educate these children. Before you go crazy, I am not saying they shouldn’t be educated in our schools, but the cost is huge. The funding for special education has dropped significantly placing a burden on the taxpayers because of special education laws. Perhaps Shrewsbury does not have the kind on special education numbers that our systems do. I would hate to see the current good relationship with the BOS and the schools compromised because of a witch hunt that Rooney has now opened. I am not saying he was wrong (or right) just saying sometimes there is a better way to do things – from both sides. It really is important that both sides get along for the best interest of not only the children but the taxpayers too.

C. Nicholas Ellis
11 years ago
Reply to  Curious

You can find this data (and more) in the links I provided above, but to save a step here they are.

Special Education Numbers (%):
Algonquin = 9.2% of 1433 students (~132)

Shrewsbury High School = 13.7% of 1616 students (~221)

As to your comment about a “witch hunt,” I can only respond that you are grossly misstating the facts, and leave it at that. If I responded to your query here saying your questions were “infuriating” and “irresponsible”, would you then be seen as creating a “witch hunt” against me? I should think not. No different for Selectman Rooney and the School Committee.

The fact of the matter is the townspeople, as taxpayers, have questions as to where their money is going and what it is getting them in return. Selectman Rooney, as part of his job as an elected official – elected by us, the taxpayers, to represent us in town matters – has posed those very same questions (and more) to the School Committee. They, in turn, have yet to respond with a satisfactory answer – although understandably it takes time to do so properly. Their only response thus far has been denigration towards anyone who would ask those questions in the first place, which is simply inappropriate and irresponsible (to say the least). I find your comments to the tune of our selectman “inciting a witch hunt” to be a severe distraction from the core issues – the very same behavior Rooney has asked us all to avoid when discussing this matter. As to what’s in the best interest of the taxpayers and the children, “getting along” has very little to do with it. If you hired a babysitter to tend to your children while you were away on vacation, and you felt they were not doing an adequate job, would you accept my response that it was in everyone’s best interest that we all got along? I highly doubt it.

The bottom line is this is not a “witch hunt” Trying to characterize it as such is wrong, and completely avoids the real issues. It is important that we all act civilly and responsibly in discussing the matters before us, and remain focused on the real concern – what is our school budget doing for our children, or put another way, what is our return on investment.

Frank Crowell
11 years ago
Reply to  Curious

How is possible to characterize presentation of facts and asking questions based on those facts as a “witch hunt?” How about the BOE and the superintendent just do their homework and answer the questions presented by Mr Rooney? Civil discourse occurs when good questions are answered.

11 years ago

Curious, The state website has the special ed funding numbers. Shrewsbury’s special ed amount exceeds Southborough’s and Algonquin’s by about 20 million. That doesn’t help the school committee’s position all.

Neil Rossen
11 years ago

As I’ve posted before, the School Committee acts on behalf of the teachers and their unions. This latest simply confirms it. What we get for our education $$ is a valid question. If not test results, then what? I’ve asked it on various boards before and been attacked for being anti-school. I am anti the annual extortion of money residents without reference to performance.
But now I get it. The Committee is for teacher and union satisfaction. But then I at least knew that all along.

11 years ago

First step to take?……..Do Not Re-Elect!

11 years ago

I find nothing wrong with the questions that Mr.Rooney asked. I also agree that it is about time the the school commitee is held accountable especially in this economy. Thank you for asking those questions now to get the answers !!

Hewitt Heiserman
11 years ago

1. Thank you to the school board and to Selectman Rooney for serving our community.

2. Mr. Rooney asked an important question, and he–and all Southborough taxpayers–deserve an answer.

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