In his 2010 campaign, state Rep. Ted Speliotis, D-Danvers, trumpeted his seniority and insider status as a good thing for the district. It won him re-election, and last week it paid off again in the form of an $11.3 million line item in the House version of the fiscal 2013 state budget to help his town and other communities pay the cost of transporting children in homeless families to school.
Not that there isn't plenty of justification for the expenditure. At the same time they approved Proposition 21/2 in 1980, Massachusetts voters decreed that any costs mandated by the Legislature on cities and towns should be paid by the state.
But as often happens, the commonwealth fell short on that promise, and it's now costing Danvers more than $150,000 a year to transport the children of the 150 families being housed in local hotels to schools in their former communities.
That's the law, only it was the taxpayers of Danvers who are paying for it.
Speliotis, a member of House leadership, was in the forefront of the effort to win state reimbursement for these costs, and had powerful allies in the persons of Speaker Robert DeLeo and state Auditor Suzanne Bump.
In a statement on the House budget last Tuesday, Bump applauded the Ways & Means Committee for adding the $11.3 million in transportation money, noting, "The costs incurred (by cities and towns hosting homeless families) are largely unpredictable and have the potential of forcing schools to cut teachers and enlarge class sizes in tight budget conditions."
This does not mean Danvers, whose school system is facing a deficit of more than $300,000 for the current fiscal year, is out of the woods yet. The Senate has yet to release its version of the FY2013 budget, which then must be reconciled with those put forth by the Senate and Gov. Patrick, and the $11.3 million is only for costs incurred beginning July 1, leaving open the question of whether the town will get reimbursed for money spent this school year.
But Speliotis has succeeded in getting everyone to focus on the issue of homelessness and its implications both for the families being housed in highway motels and communities like Danvers where that temporary housing is located.