Last night I went before the Westborough School Committee, to discuss the intricacies of school funding for the Westborough Public Schools. As I joined the meeting, a group of parents were testifying, urging the School Committee against possible cuts to the school system, due to cuts in local aid to Westborough.
Over the past few months, this has not been an unusual circumstance, as every Massachusetts community is going through this. Due to the massive loss of state revenue, Governor Patrick has already cut local aid to every city and town, not to mention hundreds of millions of dollars for services for special needs children, fire and police, public health, and the mentally ill. What’s even more frustrating is that no one yet knows if the fiscal crisis is nearing its end. I couldn’t tell the School Committee, administrators, and concerned parents what local aid will end up being in the Senate budget, due next week.
A few thoughts raced through my head last night, both during and after the school committee meeting. First of all, given these cuts to public education, the Massachusetts Legislature must look at changing state regulations to reduce some costs to our public schools. If these changes cannot happen this session, I don’t know when they will. Accepting the status quo is a disservice to people of the Commonwealth, who, like these Westborough residents last night, are working into the night to figure out how to take care of their children given the financial circumstances.
Second, the Massachusetts must take a hard look at how it raises revenue. We are one of the richest states in the country, yet we are faced not only with this year’s fiscal crisis, but an increasing likelihood that structural deficits will last years if not decades. The federal government, on areas as diverse as paying for special education costs to universal health care to investing in public transportation, needs to do more. But Massachusetts must also take a hard look at how we fund the core essential services that the public deserves.