Plymouth Public Schools
Dr. Maestas' Report: Plymouth Unfunded/Underfunded Mandates Update 2017
Addendum to Update of Unfunded/Underfunded Mandates 2017
This report was prompted by the increasing demand to quantify the cost of the unfunded/underfunded mandates that are significantly impacting school districts in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and around the country. As we prepare our school budgets, this topic is often brought to the forefront of conversation. My expectation is that this report will provide background as our budget process is deliberated and as schools and communities across the Commonwealth are advocating for changes to the current Chapter 70 funding formula. Many entries in this report are based on actual budgeted costs with the exception of specific areas that are identified as incalculable and would require a daily log of time and resources expended to accomplish identified tasks.
This report was generated with the support of my administrative staff, as they were able to supply pertinent information on their respective programs.
I would be remiss if I didn’t give the Framingham Public Schools credit for sharing their model of analyzing unfunded mandates. Their report was crucial for helping me develop the model presented herein.
Attached as an addendum is the annual Superintendent’s Checklist (modified for our District for School Year 2014-15) from the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education.
ESTIMATED COSTS FOR
PLYMOUTH PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Chapter 70 – Plymouth, like every Massachusetts school district, must provide free and equal (appropriate) education to all students from kindergarten through grade 12. The cost of providing this education is partially funded through Chapter 70 aid. The state has failed to address the adequacy of Chapter 70 aid for Plymouth, which has ranged from 10 percent to 15 percent of actual new school spending over the past 10 years.
In FY07, the state changed the funding formula that was intended to equalize the funding across all Massachusetts districts. That has not been the case in Plymouth. Over the past five years, Chapter 70 aid has risen, but not at a proportionate rate due to weaknesses in the formula that underfunded Plymouth compared to most other Massachusetts communities.
The state recognized this underfunding, but has not closed the gap between what Plymouth should receive and what it actually does receive under Chapter 70. As fixed costs and unfunded mandates are escalating, the formula for determining Chapter 70 funds is not increasing proportionally. The trend of budget escalation and deficiency of Chapter 70 support is causing cities and towns across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to rise and appropriate significant funding to keep pace with increased budgets. We are fortunate in Plymouth that our community has supported these increases, but our taxpayers are weary and the future of this trend cannot be sustained.
Regular Education – While Chapter 70 aid to Plymouth has risen significantly over the past 10 years; the additional requirements placed on the district by the state have grown substantially more. For example:
- Time and Learning standards have been established, lengthening learning time with its associated costs when implemented. Common Core Curriculum Standards (CCCS) frameworks have also been established, requiring new areas of educational preparation and subsequent activity. The cost to implement these new standards and frameworks is an incremental cost for all teachers and building administrators. Approximately $120,000 in curriculum revision and professional development specifically focused on CCCS expended in the last two years.
- Assessment, analysis, data management, remediation adjustments and associated district reporting have been expanded tenfold (10X) beyond what was known to reform planners. The attached file from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), “Superintendent’s Checklist,” identifying reports that a school district is responsible for completing and filing is an example of this progression. Ninety percent of these management and resource activities have been added since 1993, and this list is constantly increasing. The cost of completing all these tasks is easily estimated to be a full-time support staff position with full benefits at $86,000. With increased demands on the staff currently in place, these requirements have caused a backlog of work, creating an atmosphere of an overwhelmed nature within support staff in buildings as well as at the district’s central office.
Special Education – The cost of providing assessments, evaluations and specialized instructional services exceed the funding provided by federal and state sources. In addition, non-instructional services within the review and appeal processes, such as arbitration, mediation, hearings, etc., result in extraordinary costs to the district. The personnel, administrative and technology costs inherent in the delivery of appropriate services are exorbitant. Individual Education Plans dictate where a student must go to school, requiring outplacements and special education transportation. While our district special education administrative staff has done an admirable job of developing programming that promotes the least restrictive environment, the needs of some of the students call for them to be placed out of the district.
Perhaps the most volatile and unpredictable of the unfunded costs for special education is the total cost for out-of-district tuition for students whose needs cannot be met within the district. “Circuit Breaker” funding is intended to supplement the local budget. The threshold for Circuit Breaker eligibility is calculated by the state average per pupil expenditure multiplied by four (foundation budget). Districts are reimbursed a percentage above the foundation amount. Reimbursement rates have fluctuated over the last five years from 40 percent to 75 percent and are determined by the state. Out-of-district costs and reimbursement rates continue to be the most unpredictable cost in special education and, without appropriate oversight and funding, could leave the town vulnerable to catastrophic unforeseen costs. From the period covering FY12-FY15, special education placement costs have totaled between $5.5 Million to $6.1 Million, while state reimbursements have fluctuated from $1.1 Million to $2.3 Million.
Special Education transportation costs have also continued to rise due to maintenance of vehicles and fuel. Transportation is not a service that can be claimed through Circuit Breaker or Medicaid. The district is solely responsible for these costs. The total expenditure for transportation of special education students for FY14 was $2,250,668.