School funding formula tweaks could bring millions of dollars to neighboring Woonsocket

School funding formula tweaks could bring millions of dollars to neighboring Woonsocket

While Cumberland and Lincoln would see little benefit

WOONSOCKET - One of the consultants who helped devise the 2010 school aid funding formula is saying now that some changes - long advocated by Woonsocket City Council President John Ward - might be in order to make the distribution of school funding more fair to urban areas, including Pawtucket.

Jason Becker, who provided the complicated mathematical computations for the formula, suggested several new factors to consider in his blog post last week: greater reimbursement of contributions to teacher pensions; consideration for the cost of educating English language learners; a higher reimbursement for housing aid; and a little help for districts paying charter school tuitions.

Ward says he's been raising most of these issues since the formula was first debated.

He says in a message to Woonsocket representatives and senators, "He has consistently told me that the problem was not with the formula, but with Woonsocket. Now, he has apparently had a change of heart and posted this."

Read Becker's full post: http://bit.ly/152GkBE

Ward is urging Woonsocket General Assembly members, "Mr. Becker has a very credible foundation on which to make his arguments and should be given serious consideration."

Meanwhile, Cumberland's Mayor Daniel McKee, who had an early hand in the creation of the formula, is agreeing that "a conversation" might be helpful, but he's warning that any changes should be made on a "global" basis rather than to benefit a specific community.

Suggests McKee, "The funding formula that was passed in 2010 with broad based support from mayors was and is good policy. Even good policies can always be improved and I am in favor of smart, fair improvements."

He also argues that Ward's depiction of "rich suburban communities" is inaccurate and one-sided.

For Ward, there's some satisfaction in Becker's blogged comments of Aug. 22 because they begin to concede points Ward says he has been raising for five years.

For parents and taxpayers, the points raised have the potential of altering a community's share of the state's school funding aid.

Becker does say that overall he's proud of the "relatively simple" formula that's been implemented successfully according to a phase-in schedule.

But he raises these points:

* Teacher pensions

Currently local districts pay 60 percent of teachers' pension contributions and the state pays 40 percent.

Ward, and now Becker, argue the flat split for all communities ignores communities' relative wealth and therefore ability to pay.

Ward wants the contributions rolled into the aid formula so the expense is reimbursed according to the formula.

For Woonsocket, that would mean an added $3.3 million a year and for Pawtucket $4.2 million, says Ward.

"Mr. Becker seems to have seen the light. I fought hard with the RIDE (Rhode Island Department of Education) staff to have this made a part of the formula package before it was even introduced, but was handed my hat and told to deal with it myself, they weren't interested," said the Woonsocket City Council president.

* Housing aid

Ward and McKee both want to rethink the state's share of funds for building and maintenance of school buildings.

Becker advocates removing the minimum and instead reimbursing according to the formula. Currently the minimum reimbursement is 40 percent for suburban schools, a number Ward calls "a massive subsidy for suburban schools" that "deprive(s) urban districts of funds they desperately need for their own infrastructure needs."

By his figures, if reimbursement were based instead on the formula, Cumberland and Lincoln would get about the same share, he says, but Barrington and Narragansett would lose, while urban districts would get more.

McKee, meanwhile, labels the current plan for state investment in local schools "the most glaring omission from the current policy" but unlike Ward wants more for suburbs in "a system for equitable and efficient distribution of state aid for school construction."

He said, "That is where my focus will be as I discuss policy with my fellow mayors and state leadership."

* English language learners

At the time the formula was adopted, the expressed philosophy was that districts would receive extra funds to cover lower income students and the ELL students were generally the same subgroup.

Ward disagreed and now Becker is conceding that "extra supports" are needed by the children who come from non-English speaking homes.

Pawtucket and Woonsocket are currently appealing a lawsuit based on funding for ELL students that the districts lost in the lower court, but Ward says the arguments are currently centered only on constitutional issues.

* Charter school payments

Becker is also suggesting that districts should retain 5 percent of the funding they now turn over as charter school tuition to help offset some fixed costs that aren't recoverable when charter school kids leave the system.

Comments

Please don't try to use the school funding formula to solve your problems. The formula was worked out long ago...where were you? Being fooled by your school committee and super.

From reading this article, one might think that is PAYS to be undisciplined and careless with the taxpayers money. It also sounds as if the towns that have been responsible and prudent are now being penalized for their smart business decisions. WHY TRY if everyone is going to be rewarded, no matter what?

SitV, can you explain what constitutes "undisciplined and careless" vs. "responsible and prudent" as you call it? Not junk rhetoric, but specific spending and unit costs that comparatively meet your defiition. I'll look forward to your in depth analysis of spending among the various school districts to support your argument.

Mr. Ward; You sound like a true politician, trying to cloud your dismal results with BS and mockery. My explanation is a moot point. Where I live, my elected officials would be held responsible for your analysis. They are the ones supposedly making the decisions based on that analysis. I am only concerned with the final results. If your town can’t make it work, then elect new officials. Why should we all have to suffer for your town’s inaptitude? As far as I know, the state of Rhode Island has not become a socialistic state yet. I don’t even DRIVE through Woonsocket anymore!