School Officials Say Low-Income Budget Change Will Likely Result in More Layoffs

February 4, 2016
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By Seth Daniel

Revere School officials are at their wits end this week trying to plan for a multi-million dollar cut outlined in the State Budget.

The basis for the cut lies within a complicated plan to reduce paperwork within the federal government in relation to low-income students. That change, however, has led to hundreds of kids – deemed the “lost kids” by some – to no longer count as poor, a designation which strips the schools of money within their foundation budget.

Ed Mosovitch, founder of the Bay State Reading Initiative and a school budget guru, said he was speaking for Everett schools and Revere schools. He noted that those districts, as well as others, have been devastated by the change.

“There are thousands of kids who were poor under the old definition, but are not poor under the new definition,” he said. “It’s important to note that they are still poor and they are free lunch students and their scores are as low as the other poor kids. They are some of the most disadvantaged districts in the state. There is no reason an administrative change in Washington, D.C., or Boston should deprive these kids of that money going to their district in these cities. The old system worked. It’s like shooting yourself in the foot.”

Supt. Dianne Kelly said the proposed cut in the State Budget would likely mean layoffs.

“This would be devastating to our student achievement,” said Supt. Dianne Kelly. “For the last several years, our enrollment has gone up. As it goes up, our foundation budget increased by a per pupil rate for these kids, and we got extra money for categories such as our low-income students. Our low income number is really 78 percent and where we were getting that money for 78 percent, we’re only getting it for 46 percent now. Because they’re counting it different, they actually gave us a $2 million decrease in our foundation budget. They way we look at it, it’s a net loss of $4.6 million based on the old calculation. We’re looking at a $5 million deficit.”

She said they have already identified ways to save money in the remainder of this year, including overtime budgets, field trips, and discretionary spending at schools.

She said teacher layoffs are certainly possible next year, as well as administrative, staff and custodial positions.

“We have tried to focus on the stuff first because it is people who make a difference in kids’ lives,” she said. “If we don’t get help from the House or Senate, it will be inevitable that people will have to go.”

The issue first surfaced last August, but was dismissed as being something that would be solved by the time the State Budget was filed by Gov. Charlie Baker.

That fix, according to Supt. Kelly, was not nearly enough and has resulted in a $2 million loss to the school’s foundation budget – with an overall school budget increase of $500,000.

Revere went from having 78 percent low-income students, to only 46 percent in the new formula – tabbed ‘economically disadvantaged.’ Previously, that figure was found by having parents self-report their income on a school form for free and reduced lunch. Now, one can only qualify if they are on government programs such as MassHealth, Food Stamps or public housing.

While communities like Boston and Springfield made out big in the new calculation, districts like Revere, Everett, Chelsea and Lynn lost out big.

For Everett, the foundation budget went down by $2.08 million while the total enrollment grew by 59 students.

In Revere, the foundation budget went down by $2 million and the total enrollment grew by 170 students.

Mosovitch said the genesis of the change started when the federal Department of Agriculture gave districts the option of serving free lunch to everyone regardless of income status – and in exchange they wouldn’t have to college free and reduced lunch data any longer.

Some 15 districts took advantage of that, but many like Revere and Everett, did not. And, even if they decided not to exercise that option, the data from free and reduced lunch forms was no longer collected.

Instead, a new system of direct certification began where students who were already on public assistance programs were the only ones to qualify as ‘economically disadvantaged.’

“One doesn’t know why there are so many kids in these districts who are poor and not particularly in Medicaid, Food Stamps or subsidized housing,” he said. “An obvious answer would be they are undocumented, but we don’t know that. We do know there is no data we now collect.”

Kelly said many people in the area do not choose to enroll in public assistance programs out of pride, while others are legal immigrants who don’t qualify.

“In Chelsea, Revere and Everett, where w have a large immigrant population, we have a lot of kids not being counted the new way,” Kelly said. “Even kids that are documented and have a Green Card do not qualify for these programs until five years in the country. As a Gateway City, many of these kids haven’t been here for five years.”

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