By Scott O’Connell
Telegram & Gazette Staff
March 17, 2017
Already faced with state and local level financial challenges, attendees at the Worcester School Committee’s legislative breakfast meeting Friday morning expressed anxiety over the prospect of even more troubles being heaped on them by a stingy White House budget.
President Donald Trump’s first spending plan, unveiled this past week, makes heavy cuts to a range of domestic programs, including ones that support education. While some members of Worcester’s legislative delegation said it was too early to know on Friday morning how the proposed budget would impact Massachusetts and Worcester, there seemed to be an agreement by many at the meeting that it would not help matters.
“I really don’t see any good news coming out of the federal government, unless you have stock in a defense contractor,” said state Rep. John J. Mahoney, D-Worcester, alluding to the White House’s proposed significant investment in the country’s defense budget. “It’s going to come back to the states – we’re going to be stuck with a lot of bills.”
Worcester School Committee member Donna Colorio said she has already noticed seemingly fewer federal resources available for public schools lately.
“We have seen some little grants fade away,” she said. “But those little grants add up.”
She and other school officials also worried how the Trump administration’s preference for voucher programs could affect Massachusetts public schools. Opponents of the controversial concept, in which public education funding goes directly to families to help them pay to attend a school of their choice, say it will bankrupt public schools, and disadvantage special needs students.
Even aside from the specter of the White House budget, Worcester’s schools already are facing another tough budget year; earlier this winter, the school department revealed a potential $21 million gap for fiscal 2018 between what the district needs to spend and what it will likely be able to afford. Lack of funding to strengthen the schools – not just keep them operating – “is killing us,” said Worcester’s Chief Academic Officer, Marco Rodrigues. “We’re using the bare minimum of funding.”
“Every year, we’re going further out of balance,” said School Committee member Jack Foley, referring to the increasing numbers of high needs students coming into Worcester, and the inadequate funding the district receives from the state to cover their higher expenses. “We’re bringing in less than what the costs are. And we’re making very difficult choices.
As has now become ritual at their legislative breakfast meetings, School Committee members on Friday reminded lawmakers the state needs to finally revamp a state school funding formula they say significantly underfunds Worcester and other school systems across Massachusetts.
Legislators, also following a trend from past meetings, didn’t make any promises. Some alluded to the state’s own tough budget choices this year. “The revenues aren’t meeting expenses,” state Sen. Michael O. Moore, D-Millbury, said. Lawmakers said there are towns and departments across the state making the same pleas for funding
“Everyone’s looking out for their own best interests at home,” Mr. Mahoney said, adding lawmakers are securing funding for important local projects amid criticism they’re not doing enough. “We’re not in it to get credit. But we’re doing the best we can.”
This article originally appeared in the Telegram and Gazette on March 17, 2017