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Local Officials: Aid Cuts Will Inevitably Hurt Schools

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Governor Deval Patrick is cutting local aid in order to balance the state's budget for this fiscal year, which ends in June. The governor is proposing deeper cuts in aid to cities and towns next year, but he is promising to maintain aid to schools. WBUR's Fred Thys reports that in fact, schools are going to take a beating, too.

Governor Patrick is not proposing to cut the part of the state budget that goes specifically to education. But the reality is that most towns put in a lot more money into their schools than what the state gives them, so if any local aid is cut, school funding is likely to be cut as well. Geoffrey Beckwith, the executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, was there yesterday when the Governor announced his budget at the State House.

GEOFFREY BECKWITH: The Governor's budget proposes to level-fund what's called Chapter 70 School Aid for every community, but 63 percent, statewide, of public schools are paid for through property taxes and other what's called municipal local aid, and the budget includes a 30 percent reduction in municipal aid, non-school local aid for cities and towns, and that means that this will have a very negative impact on schools, as well as the core municipal services of public safety, public works, libraries, and so on.

City and town officials say a cut in local aid will affect the schools, no matter what you call it.

GEOFFREY BECKWITH: To me, that's just a political game.

Bob Mauceri is chairman of North Reading's Board of Selectmen.

BOB MAUCERI: The bottom line is we got cut in state aid by 216 000 for this year. The way we do our budgets is essentially the money is considered to be revenue, all of it.

Mauceri says the first thing the town does is take out of that money what it calls fixed costs: payments on the debt, contributions to the employee retirement plan, and health insurance. What's left over is divided up between the town and the schools. The town gets 37 percent, the schools 63 percent. That 63 percent is a whole lot more than what the town gets in officially designated school money from the state. So if the governor is cutting what he calls non-school-related money, it still affects the schools.

It's the same story in Rehoboth. The town will lose $300 thousand in state aid next year. Chris Morra, the chairman of the Board of Selectmen, says such a cut will probably have consequences for the schools.

CHRIS MORRA: I think it's going to be difficult to try to continue to lower the class sizes. I know that's been the emphasis recently in the last year. In our k-8, some classes they felt that they wanted to reduce to smaller class sizes, for instance drop it from 28, 29, down to maybe 23 to 24. I think that's going to be difficult to do in this climate, this environment.

Whether the state money is designated for schools or not, cities and towns all put it into a general fund. Sudbury faces a $600 thousand reduction in state aid next year. The town administrator, Maureen Valenti, says she can't cut all of that money out of libraries and police and fire, so she has to cut from the schools as well.

MAUREEN VALENTI: We were already planning staffing reductions. This adds to that. I'd say, probably another 3 to 5 positions at the elementary school system. The same at the high school system.

The towns Northwest of Boston that Senator Jamie Eldridge represents are facing an average cut in state aid of 9 percent this year, and 28 percent next year.

JAMIE ELDRIDGE: One of the towns I represent, the town of Shirley, they've already laid off firefighters and teachers, and they're going to, with this cut, face additional cuts, including, possibly, more teachers, so it's going to have a dramatic effect on the public education in that community.

So even though the governor says he's protecting the schools, local officials say the schools in are not necessarily protected.

This program aired on January 29, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

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