Regional School Committee alarmed by potential overreach of their state association

by beth on October 27, 2015

Last week, the Northborough-Southborough Regional School Committee discussed proposed resolutions to be voted on next week by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.

While the committee supported some resolutions, some members expressed alarm over others.

Superintendent Christine Johnson was pleased with a few draft resolutions “very favorable for us.” That included forming a state commission to examine issues with school start times. However, Johnson hoped that start-time commission would result in helpful guidance, rather than any unfunded mandates.

But a few resolutions caused dismay among committee members. Drawing the most ire was a tax reform ballot initiative to pursue additional funding “only from tax reform affecting the state’s wealthiest residents.”

Southborough member (and Selectman) Dan Kolenda stated that he was “shocked” by the resolution in which he found “absolutely no merit”. Northborough’s Barbara O’Mara also found that and other measures overreaching and “rather upsetting”. 

The committee has been seeking support to reform education funding. Their focus has been on ending unfunded mandates. (That includes a tendency in the state house to slash funding for previously approved mandates without repealing the mandates.) But Southborough’s Paul Butka said he didn’t believe they should dictate where the state’s education funds should come from.

Another resolution that members seemed to feel was beyond the MASC scope was a call for eradicating childhood poverty. And Butka raised concern about the wording and potential for changes in a resolution for an “equitable and sustainable placement program” for homeless children in school districts. He summed up,

There are some Mom and Apple Pie resolutions here that I don’t know if they are necessarily actionable.

Chair Kathleen Harragan Polutchko clarified that the resolutions were formed by a subcommittee and have yet to be voted on by the association. She said that not only may resolutions not be supported by delegates, but many could have changes made on the meeting floor.

Approved resolutions are a way of “taking the pulse” of member districts across the state. These then drive the conversations MASC has with legislators.

Resolutions that Johnson supported would link Chapter 70 Funding with October 1st enrollments (since some students transfer), eliminate a mandated Kindergarten assessment program, and better fund districts’ costs for educating homeless students.

The committee voted unanimously to have their delegate oppose the tax reform resolution. Other measures they entrusted to the judgement of their delegate based on final language. Northborough member Lynne Winter was elected to be the committee’s delegate at the MASC meeting. That meeting takes place on Wednesday, November 4.

Click here for the proposed resolutions.

1 Rose Mauro October 27, 2015 at 7:57 PM

Hi Beth,

I’m reading the text of this resolution for the first time (resolution # 5 at the link you provided). It is rather convoluted so I can see how it might have been misread. It is much clearer if taken in context. It resolves to support “a ballot initiative whose purpose may include a state constitutional amendment, tax reform, protection of the state’s neediest residents of all ages, and [which] seeks additional revenue only from tax reform affecting the state’s wealthiest residents.”

I’ve added the “which” to highlight that the part about “seeking additional revenue . . . only from tax reform” should not refer to the regional school committee, rather it refers to the ballot initiative. I assume this is initiative 15-17 recently certified by the attorney general’s office (see http://www.mass.gov/ago/government-resources/initiatives-and-other-ballot-questions/current-petitions-filed.html). It proposes to add a state income tax surcharge of 4% on annual taxable income in excess of $1,000,000 per year. So a filer who makes $1,010,000 of taxable income in a year would pay the additional tax only on the extra $10,000 (=an additional $400). The revenue raised would be reserved for education and transportation. This would also be indexed for inflation to avoid “bracket creep.”

Whether you think this is a good idea or not, there is nothing in this ballot initiative that takes away money from schools or stops them from pursuing additional funding.

Text at http://www.mass.gov/ago/docs/government/2015-petitions/15-17.pdf

Some background from the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center at http://www.massbudget.org/report_window.php?loc=Fair_Share_Tax_Reform_Factsheet.html

2 beth October 28, 2015 at 7:49 AM

Yes, I was referring to the initiative as doing the seeking, not to the regional school committee. I thought that was clear. If it wasn’t, I apologize.

The focus of the story was the committee’s response to MASC’s proposed resolutions.

As you mention, the resolution, includes a many qualifiers. And yet the title of the resolution states that it is about a tax reform ballot initiative.

Perhaps, you believe the committee’s response to the initiative was an overreaction. But I don’t think it’s fair to assume that they (or I) misread it.

No matter how you read it, it is clear that the resolution would have MASC involved in taking a stance on where tax dollars could be found to fund education. And there was a focus on making sure that any additional taxes only come from the wealthy.

At least two committee members felt that was a political stance outside the association’s scope, and no one voiced disagreement or cast an opposing vote.

3 Publius October 28, 2015 at 9:25 AM

MASC is an organization known for radical votes. Prudent school committees should stay far away. There is enough to do with education anything outside of education should be left to the legislature. As far as any tax surcharge or graduated tax to raise meaningful revenue of course the threshold will have to be lower than $1million, much lower. But advocates of higher taxes always start going after a small part of the population. And as far as transportation. Did we not just have a 15% increase in the gas tax, 2 short years ago, dedicated to transportation issues? The school committee has no business putting their noses in this busy unless and until everyone graduates on time, at a high level of achievement and the fiscal house is in order. Kudos to Kolenda and O’Mara for seeing through this. .

4 Southville October 28, 2015 at 1:25 PM

We actually haven’t increased the gas tax in 24 years. It was briefly increased a few years ago, then immediately rolled back by a ballot question. So our revenues there are probably far below what they should be.

5 SouthboroDave October 28, 2015 at 4:12 PM

Southville – that is inaccurate. The $0.03 gas tax increase stuck. It was only the inflation-linked language that was repealed.

http://www.masslive.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/11/massachusetts_question_one_gas_tax.html

A YES VOTE would eliminate the requirement that the state’s gas tax be adjusted annually based on the Consumer Price Index.

A NO VOTE would make no change in the laws regarding the gas tax.

http://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/ele14/pip141.htm

6 Al Hamilton October 29, 2015 at 11:18 AM

Our revenues are exactly what they should be. They fund the government with a basically balanced budget.

7 Southville October 29, 2015 at 3:55 PM

I didn’t know about the .03 increase, good to get that info!

However, I do disagree that our revenues are where they should be (in infrastructure at least.) Our roads, bridges, MBTA, etc, are all old and in desperate need of repairs and improvements. Just in bridges alone we have 450 that are rated as structurally deficient. Congestion and delays are legitimate costs to our state and workers and businesses. Spending more to fix things up would be well worth it in the long run. Although I do realize I’m just about the only person around clamoring for more increases in gasoline taxes! :)

8 Frank Crowell October 30, 2015 at 7:09 AM

I do not think you are that alone in your opinion: 95% of the Statehouse polls agree with you and all of the Democratic party. The only reason we do not have a gas tax that rises every year is due to the people who showed up and voted last fall.

As for MASC, it is just a matter of time that some obscure board with ties to the teacher’s union or tied to the growth of government dictates what we should pay in taxes for the school system. There will never be enough money in town school systems that satisfies the educational elite. To continue the great results – need more money; to fix an abject failure – need more money.

9 SouthboroDave October 30, 2015 at 9:45 AM

I’m all for increasing taxes if we can be sure they will fund infrastructure especially bridges/tunnels. I drive ~70mi on these roads and the 90/95 interchange frightens me daily. Those bridges do not look safe at all.

10 Rose Mauro October 28, 2015 at 12:00 PM

Thanks, Beth, for the clarification. I wonder what MASC’s general position is regarding additional sources of dedicated state funding. It seems like it wouldn’t be inappropriate for them to vote on that. But this resolution seems unnecessarily divisive to me.

11 AvidReader October 30, 2015 at 5:35 PM

Seems like questionable journalism to not request a comment from MASC.

12 beth November 1, 2015 at 8:53 AM

Once again the point of the story is not MASC. The focus is the regional school committee’s public reaction to MASC.

13 Publius November 2, 2015 at 11:01 AM

MASC has $2million dollars a year in revenues, $1.5 million in assets and some high paid directors. They claim status as a 501(c)(3) public charity but seem to spend a whole lot of time lobbying and pushing legislation.

14 Rose Mauro November 5, 2015 at 5:47 PM

Update: According to a notice on Tracy Novick’s blog, this resolution was not adopted by MASC. It was brought before the MASC Delegates Assembly on Nov. 4 and failed upon a counted vote.

Several other resolutions did pass and are summarized here.

http://who-cester.blogspot.com/2015/11/masc-delegates-assembly.html

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