To the editor:
The time has come for cities and towns in Massachusetts to take a strong stance against the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the financially unfunded or underfunded mandates that they are passing on to every city and town in Massachusetts.
These mandates are decimating public education. For example, the state-mandated that all public school teachers must get a master’s degree within five years of obtaining a teaching job. That costs every city and town an extraordinary amount of money in salaries. The state requires professional development to be offered every year for every teacher, resulting in tens of thousands of dollars being added to the budget. Dedicated teachers, of which there are many in Peabody, have always kept abreast of innovative teaching trends; they didn’t need mandates to do it. They did it because they cared about the success of their students.
The state instituted new curriculum areas and testing. Who does the burden of the cost fall to? The cities and towns. The cost of MCAS and the requirement that it must be done on computers even in the elementary schools was passed on to local budgets. The McKinney-Vento Act for transporting homeless children, access to education for students who have been suspended or expelled, are just a few more examples of state-mandated programs. The list goes on and on. The state continuously imposes mandates and places the financial burden of them on every city and town in Massachusetts.
Race to the Top, a federally mandated program, is not fully funded by the federal government. Its cost is passed down the ladder.
It is well known that the Chapter 70 funding formula is not fair and does not fund those cities who need it most. For years, the Legislature has been unable to pass a bill addressing these inequities. Maybe this will be the year?
Maybe it is time for cities and towns to band together and send a strong message to DESE and the state that if you mandate something, you own it! You own it not for just its implementation yer but for as long as it is in existence. There is power in numbers and this may be the only way cities will be able to survive without raising taxes to the point that home ownership is unachievable because of the tax burden.
In Peabody, we are dealing with many budget cuts in the school department. Many of these cuts are unavoidable because of the burden the state puts on all cities. But, I feel, one thing worth noting is that the majority of cuts will have a direct result on students and student outcomes. This is due, in part, to the fact that the majority of cuts are to personnel such as teachers, paras and programs, all of which directly affect students.
Other cuts, such as clerks and custodians, have a negative impact and interfere with the day-to-day functioning of our schools. Parents will absorb more costs for busing, athletics and parking. It appears that nothing is hands off.
The time has come for our cities, towns and elected officials to stand up against these unfunded mandates that are crippling city budgets.
Second vice president
Peabody Federation of Teachers