The School Committee has again voted to endorse a “No” vote on ballot Question 2, as voters head to the polls Tuesday, Nov. 8. The measure asks voters to decide whether 12 new charter schools, or enrollment expansions in current charter schools, should be permitted each year.
The committee has come out against Question 2 in the past, but School Committee Chairman Robert Hayes urged a second commitment as Election Day nears.
“It never hurts to be strong,” he said.
By a 9-1 vote, with Whitman member Kevin Lynam dissenting, the committee joined the long list of state school committees as well as the Massachusetts Association of Regional Schools, in opposing Question 2.
“There’s been quite a large amount of confusion about Question 2,” said Hayes. “When I see the [TV] ads I get nauseated that schools get funded better [with charter schools]. They do not.”
Lynam argued families should retain the right to choose what is best for their children and state funding formulas demand more significant change.
Question 2 proposes that schools would be transitioned off state aid per departing pupil over three years.
“I understand the funding thing,” Lynam said. “I think it’s crazy … there’s no reason they should be touching our local assessment.”
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ruth Gilbert-Whitner reminded committee members that they are allowed to use their official positions to make statements about ballot questions that relate to their position. They are also permitted to take official actions concerning ballot questions.
In fiscal 2013 about 30 students from Whitman and Hanson were enrolled in charter schools, costing the district just over $290,000 in state deductions from per-pupil allocations, according to Business Services Director Christine Suckow. There were 30 in 2015 costing the district $342,000. While the number of students enrolled in charter schools declined to 22, the district’s assessment from the state was $254,000. The district projects there will be 27 students, costing W-H just over $322,000.
The state assesses school districts the prior year’s per-pupil cost multiplied by the number of students. That figure is deducted from per-pupil funding.
“Hear me loud and clear,” Hayes said, addressing cable-access viewers. “What they tell you on the television ads is not true. … Numbers don’t lie.”
Suckow said there is a reimbursement, but it does not come close to recovering what the district loses. In 2014, W-H got a $64,000 reimbursement. For this year, it is expected to receive a $70,000 reimbursement.
“When they say it doesn’t cost, it does cost,” School Committee member Fred Small said. “It hits our budget, and it hits it hard.”
Small pointed out that, if one student out of a class of 26 opts to attend a charter school, the costs of operating that classroom is spread over a lower pool of per-pupil dollars.
“They’re taking the numbers and the facts, and they’re twisting them so far from reality, it’s not funny,” Small said of the pro-Question 2 TV commercials.
The Massachusetts Information for Voters booklet on ballot questions provided by the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office explains the issue and provides arguments on both sides.
“My personal feeling is fully fund our school district, give us all the resources that we need to do our job properly, and once we have those resources hold us accountable,” Small said. “Every child today deserves a good education … I’m afraid there are some kids that aren’t getting that within our district, because we don’t have the resources — and this just further drains it. It hurts and it’s wrong.”
School Committee member Robert Trotta said the question is part of an effort, going on for years, to privatize schools.
“When charter schools came in, they were supposed to be innovative,” Trotta said. “They’re finding that a lot of charter schools function as a public school.”
He said he looks at charters as a way to destroy public schools.
Lynam said a lot of things need to change.
“I think the state is pushing us off the cliff with education,” he said. “I envision that significant reform in education is necessary.”