State Aid Based on Misleading School Enrollment Figures to ‘Shortchange’ Haverhill $2 Million

Haverhill School Committee member Richard J. Rosa. (WHAV News file photograph.)

A formula the state uses to determine how much money public schools should receive in aid next year leaves Haverhill shortchanged by more than $2 million.

The Haverhill School Committee agreed last week to ask Gov. Charlie Baker to adjust the formula after member Richard J. Rosa noted it is based on the number of students enrolled the previous year. He explained that measurement is flawed because it is artificially low due to the coronavirus.

“Essentially what’s happening is we’re going to be asked at some point—the School Committee—to pass a budget that we know isn’t going to be enough to account for the couple hundred or more students that are going to come back into the district in September,” he explained.

Typically, the student population statewide fluctuates by about 1%. This past year, statewide public school enrollment decreased by approximately 3.3%—a drop of more than 30,000 students, but most students are expected to return next year.

In Haverhill, enrollment dropped by 264 students this year with kindergarteners making up more than a third of that decline. Rosa says a more realistic number would be realized by using the student enrollment figures from 2019.

“A district like Haverhill really needs this money and we’re getting shortchanged by using those October 1, 2020 numbers. I just think it’s important that people know that if we use those numbers, we’re going to lose $2 million,” he said.

Rosa pointed out the state’s budget plan also uses those same deflated enrollment figures to calculate additional Student Opportunity Act funds and urban districts like Haverhill need that money to close achievement gaps. He said even fully funded, schools will have additional budget problems next year due to the toll the pandemic has taken on students, families and educators.

Mayor James J. Fiorentini said the revelation answers a question he asked about.

“I’ve been wondering how the state was going to greatly increase expenses by funding the Student Opportunity Act while their revenues were taking a big hit. Now we know. It’s all a sleight of hand. They’re using different numbers,” said the mayor.

Rosa presented a letter he planned to send to Governor Charlie Baker asking him to use the enrollment figures from Oct. 1, 2019 to determine next year’s Chapter 70 state aid. He told the Committee he would also send copies to State Education Secretary James A. Peyser, Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley, Senate President Karen E. Spilka and Haverhill’s state legislative delegation.

The full letter appears below.

Dear Governor Baker,

I am writing to express my concern regarding how your fiscal year 2022 (FY22) budget allocates Chapter 70 money using October 1, 2020, public school enrollment and to urge you and the Massachusetts Legislature to fund Chapter 70 based on student populations on October 1, 2019, for school districts that experienced a decline in students during the pandemic.

Massachusetts public school enrollment decreased by more than 30,000 students – approximately 3.3 percent – in 2020, according to an analysis by the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents (MASS). Typically, the student population statewide fluctuates by about 1 percent, plus or minus, MASS reports. Massachusetts superintendents believe most of these 30,000-plus students will return to public schools next year.

In Haverhill, where enrollment has grown by about 1,000 from the 2012-2013 school year through the 2019-2020 school year, enrollment dropped by 264 students in 2020-2021 for Chapter 70 purposes. Kindergartners made up more than a third of the student decline in Haverhill.

Based on a preliminary Haverhill Public Schools (HPS) financial analysis, HPS stands to lose more than $2 million in Chapter 70 funds if the FY22 budget uses the artificially low 2020-2021 enrollment figures. Your budget uses the same deflated enrollment figures to calculate Student Opportunity Act (SOA) funds. Urban districts like Haverhill, which need the funding the most to close achievement gaps, will be unfairly short-changed by using the October 1, 2020, enrollment figures.

Because Chapter 70 funding does not account for the expected increase in enrollment, HPS (and superintendents and school committees across the Commonwealth) must, unfortunately, create an FY22 budget we know will not serve the additional hundreds of students who will return to our schools.

The pandemic has taken a toll on students, families, educators, and school staff. Superintendents and school committees understandably are concerned with a long list of anticipated challenges next year, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Kindergarteners will enter first grade behind students in pre-pandemic years, making the early literacy gap even more difficult to close.
  • Many students will require a full range of social-emotional, mental health, and tailored supports to recover from the disruption in their academic and personal lives.
  • English language learners will likely experience delays in acquiring language.
  • Special education students will need services to counter regression of learning skills and knowledge and may require compensatory services.
  • Educators will need support and training to recognize students’ needs and refer students to the appropriate support systems put in place by school districts.
  • Districts will have to invest more in family engagement, interpreters, and translators.

School districts need appropriate funding for smaller class sizes, interventionists, academic programming, adjustment counselors, specialists, nurses, and other personnel. Learning loss – especially among our most vulnerable student populations – is severe, and the return and recovery funding for public education must accurately reflect the statewide needs. We absolutely cannot undercount the number of students in our schools.

Again, I urge you and the Massachusetts Legislature to fund Chapter 70 (and the SOA) based on October 1, 2019, enrollment. To do otherwise will have a lasting detrimental effect on Haverhill’s children and children across the Commonwealth.

Mayor James J. Fiorentini, my School Committee colleagues, and Superintendent Dr. Margaret Marotta have added their names (listed below) in support of this letter. Thank you, Governor, for your consideration and your dedicated service to the residents of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Sincerely yours,

Richard J. Rosa, Esq.
Member, Haverhill School Committee

Mayor James J. Fiorentini
Chairman, Haverhill School Committee

Scott Wood, Jr.
Vice-Chairman, Haverhill School Committee

Paul A. Maggliocchetti, Esq.
Member, Haverhill School Committee

Maura Ryan-Ciardiello
Member, Haverhill School Committee

Gail Sullivan
Member, Haverhill School Committee

Toni Sapienza-Donais
Member, Haverhill School Committee

Dr. Margaret Marotta
Superintendent, Haverhill Public Schools

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