Submitted by Mendon resident Jay Washburn
I recently read a letter in the Crier which I thought asked a good question. Why would a school district with declining enrollment need an override to stay afloat? Although the writer’s numbers were a tad off, per Massachusetts DOE numbers district enrollment declined by 354 students since FY10, the question itself remains a good one and deserves an answer.
In FY07 the state began increasing the mandated contribution of the towns to the schools while reducing state funding by the same amount making this process revenue neutral to the district. When completed Mendon and Upton combined will have seen an increase of about $6,000,000 in their mandated contributions to the school district since FY06. Mendon’s share of this increase is about $2,700,000. For a small town with a tiny commercial tax base this is a great deal of money.
Mendon has been paying for this increase by allocating half of new growth per year to the schools and using a portion of the $1,100,000 in override money the town already had to pay our mandated minimum to the district. It is using override money to pay for the towns mandated minimum that created this problem.
In a recent letter by the MURSD business assistant he wrote “two town accounts funding the schools are mandated, the third, operational additional, is funding above the mandated minimum”. “Operational additional” is previously voted up override money for the schools. It doesn’t matter if you use school override money to pay the mandated contribution to the district or use it for public safety. Either way you are giving less “additional” funding to the schools and it translates to a loss of funding to the district. The former just sounds better than the latter.
To be fair Mendon has done a fairly good job of finding money to cover the state increases. To date increases in the mandatory minimum to the schools have totaled about $2,200,000 since FY06 and we have used about $550,000 from “operational additional” to help pay for it. So far the town has managed to cover about 75% of the increase in the mandatory minimum without using school override money. Unfortunately we have about $570,000 left to go and only $556,000 remains of the old override money in “operational additional”.
The town also has a problem with the second mandatory account. The perennially underfunded regional transportation account was cut by the state this year an additional $200,000 and shortfalls in this account are expected to continue. The town may need to use money from this override to cover state funding cuts for mandated regional transportation if the state does not increase funding significantly. This override could end up being for both the school department and the town. Without it the town could be forced to cut other town services to cover both state mandates. Imagine the town spending three years and $2,000,000 to convert the church into a new library only to end up with no money to fund the budget required to open it. That is a very real possibility.
Thus far our school district has lost about $1,200,000 due to the towns using money from “operational additional” to pay their mandated minimums. Once the state is done with us the school district will have lost a total of over $2,400,000 in funding. If another override is not passed, in a couple of years the district will be at the lowest funding level allowed by law despite the towns passing four overrides for the schools since 2002. And this on top of already having one of the lowest state calculated foundation budgets in the Commonwealth on a per pupil basis. Even then the town will still need money to fund their state mandated financial obligations and may be forced to cut town services to get it. There you have it folks. I know it’s not pretty but it is what it is.