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Strategies discussed for Malden school budget relief, but no guarantees on horizon

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State delegation pledges to advocate for Malden, but goal of changing Chapter 70 formula may be longshot


By Steve Freker


The many factors involved in assessing and assigning what the City of Malden must pay in municipal funds to educate its public school students has become akin to a porcupine. This is not new news to anyone, including every city official assigned to budgetary matters and all elected officials, at the local and state levels. How to address the financial squeeze that has already been clearly identified and hashed over regularly appears to have no clear resolution.

At the April 9 Malden City Council meeting, the entire Malden state delegation appeared and gave a detailed, complete presentation on the city’s funding flow from the state. State Sen. Jason Lewis and Reps. Steve Ultrino (D-Malden), Paul Donato (D-Malden, Medford) and Kate Lipper-Garabedian (D-Melrose, Malden) also gave a status update on what strategies they are pursuing in an attempt to ease Malden’s school funding crunch. They explained that Malden is in tight financial straits as to school funding for a number of reasons, most of them stemming from what city officials have long described as inequities arising from how the main source of state funding for schools – the Chapter 70 formula – is calculated.

While city officials have openly questioned why seemingly similar communities like next-door Everett receive substantially higher Chapter 70 school funding allocations than Malden, Sen. Lewis and Rep. Ultrino pointedly noted that comparative analysis on straight numbers may not be accurate or valid in these cases. With the formula based largely on property values and resident incomes in these communities. Rep. Ultrino pointed out that Malden is considerably higher in both these categories, thereby ensuring Everett’s Chapter 70 aid funding would be higher.

“Everett is not the [best community to compare] to Malden,” Sen Lewis said, as to Chapter 70 funding disparities. “Everett has a higher number of residents at the federal poverty level, a higher low-income group, a higher percentage of English Learner students.

“Comparing community to community is not accurate. Malden gets more [Chapter 70] aid than Medford… for instance,” Sen. Lewis added. “The [Chapter 70] formula takes the politics out of this. The Department of Education goes just on the data.”

Malden state elected officials at last week’s City Council meeting did identify a number of strategies they have been pursuing that could possibly evolve into long-term or short-term solutions to this city’s money crunch. Lewis and Reps. Ultrino and Donato stressed there will be “no quick-fix” to this situation coming soon or even later. “It has to be a combination of changes and more funding aid at the state level and adjustments at the local level,” Sen. Lewis told the Councillors.

Included in a PowerPoint presentation by the delegation – the most detailed and comprehensive response to the local elected officials’ request ever, several Councillors pointed out – were the following. All of them included “pros” and “cons”:

  • Sen Lewis has filed a Senate bill – “SD.987, An Act Increasing the Commonwealth’s Share of the Education Foundation Budget” – that calls for an increase in the state share of the total Foundation Budget. This could include “delinking” the calculation from the existing 59% local contribution/41% state aid split. The bill, which is supported by the legislature’s Joint Committee on Education (chaired by Sen. Lewis), was referred via a study order to the Senate Rules Committee on February 12, after a hearing.

The “pros” of this potential solution would be it would be relatively easy to implement, with the “cons” being it would require a large increase in overall state funding, and it would not be a targeted solution.

  • Create a new state “pothole account” to provide additional Chapter 70 aid to eligible municipalities.

The “pros” here is that it would be a targeted solution, therefore less costly and could be flexibly designed. “Cons” would be it may be difficult to determine a consensus on eligibility criteria.

  • Pause the “Below Effort” increment in the Chapter 70 formula.

It would be easy to implement and would directly address the problem in the short-term, but on the “cons” side the gap between target and required local contributions would grow wider over time.

  • Make changes in the 82.5% cap (for example, create multiple tiers).

This potential solution would make the Chapter 70 formula better reflect local fiscal capacity, driving more Chapter 70 aid to uncapped municipalities, such as Malden. This potential solution would be politically difficult to implement, due to the fact that the growing number of 82.5% capped municipalities, up to 168 this year, would challenge such proposed changes.

  • Consider other changes to the Chapter 70 formula; for example, how enrollment changes are calculated into the formula.

Such changes could take up to years to even discuss and longer to implement. Sen. Lewis and the other legislators said the best chance of any additional aid for this year’s budget could be the so-called “pothole account” option and that they would be pursuing such potential funds in this year’s FY2025 state budget, which is now in deliberation in real time. Rep. Ultrino said the process includes submitting amendments to the proposed state budget, which he said he and his colleagues would be doing to attempt to secure additional state funding for the Malden Public Schools.

They all agreed that this year’s financial outlook statewide “is daunting” when it comes to school funding and state aid overall. “The surprise, the shock over the numbers for state aid in the conversations here in Malden, the same talk is taking place across the state. The allocations are smaller across the board,” Sen. Lewis said.

Rep. Donato, the longest-serving Malden state official at the meeting – over two decades – said, “There are many ways we can attack this program. We will be continuing to have these discussions.”

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