Rep Turner organizes Regional School Caucus to address funding inequities
By Walter Brooks
id-Cape State Representative Cleon H. Turner (D-Dennis), held the first meeting Wednesday of a new Regional School Caucus within the state legislature. The caucus is an ad-hoc group of legislators, regional school superintendents and school committee members who seek to unify the voices demanding change for regional schools by identifying problems universally facing regional schools and targeting legislative solutions.
Mr. Turner said, â??during my campaign for state office and my time on the Dennis Board of Selectmen, I constantly heard that regional schools were being shortchanged â?? both in terms of Chapter 70 Education Funding and transportation reimbursement. Iâ??ve made it a priority to address these and other Regional School Issues".
"The governor wants to give every child in the commonwealth a laptop, but he wants to pay for it the same old way"
During the Fiscal Year 2006 budget process, Mr. Turner co-sponsored an amendment to increase transportation reimbursement to regional schools which was successful. In the process he came to meet other like-minded representatives who indicated their interest in the idea of this caucus.
Since the Education Reform Act of 1993, Cape Cod residents have been demanding redress. The education formula that came out of it, Chapter 70 (of Massachusetts General Laws) uses property values as the primary determining factor when distributing education funds. Since of the drafters of Chapter 70 focused on municipal schools, regional schools still feel they are left out. Since incentives to regionalization were reduced by the Education Reform Act and further reduced in recent budget years, regional school districts are feeling the pinch.
Seeks to address problem faced by D-Y and Nauset
Mr. Turner added, â??in order to effectively address the inequity that regional schools like Dennis-Yarmouth and Nauset face, you have to build a coalition. When you give other politicians the opportunity give their input from the get go, theyâ??re far more likely to help you lobby to pass the bill.â?
According to Mr. Turner the first caucus had a tremendous response, with more people attending than there were seats for the over one hundred ten school committee members, superintendents, and municipal employees who attended the meeting.
The top issues that emerged from the first meeting were regional school transportation reimbursement; apportionment agreements between towns; and reform of the education funding formula to include basic costs that regional schools face that arenâ??t recognized by the Department of Education. Rep. Turner said the concern is growing, â??Iâ??m afraid many towns that participate in regional school districts are considering pulling out, and some already have. When you encourage regionalization through incentives you canâ??t remove the incentives without creating serious problems. Add in disputes over how costs should be divided between member towns and added fuel costs to shuttle students over a larger geographic area, and youâ??re going to have a lot of angry people asking â??why are we in a regional school district?â??â?
Among the legislators involved in the caucus were Senator Stanley Rosenberg (Senate President Pro Tempore) and Representative Stephen Kulik plus thirty other legislators with others sending their staff members.
Reacting to Governor Mitt Romneyâ??s Education Reform Bill, released Thursday, Rep. Turner said, â??While Iâ??m still reviewing the bill... I donâ??t see any initiative to change the funding formula, which is the chief complaint of not just regional schools, but municipal schools on the Cape. The governor wants to give every child in the commonwealth a laptop, but he wants to pay for it the same old way. Just because he wants to appropriate $600 million over the next few years for all these new initiatives, doesnâ??t mean that schools on the Cape are going to see their fair share. It seems like the money would be distributed by the same formula, which means that many towns would have to come up with 80% of the costs. Heâ??s (the governor) throwing money at the problem without any equitable disbursement formula.â?
â??Whatâ??s good about the governorâ??s proposal is that it means he sees that the cost of quality public education is higher than what the state is paying nowâ?, he continued. â??Right now I think thereâ??s a climate for change. The legislature is finally beginning to recognize that there is indeed inequity in the formula, and so does the Department of Education. We have to strike while the iron is hotâ?.