House delivers small bit of good financial news for local schools

By Jim Hand; April 20, 2018; Attleboro Sun Chronicle
It’s been a year of budget struggles for local schools, but the Massachusetts House is set to deliver a small bit of relief.
The House Ways and Means Committee is proposing a new $40 billion budget that slightly increases education aid over the hike already proposed by Gov. Charlie Baker.
Baker proposed increasing the so-called Chapter 70 aid by $137 million to $4.8 billion. That would mean just over a 2 percent increase statewide and less than 1 percent for some local schools.
The House wants to add another $33.5 million to that figure. That would mean a $30-per-student average increase for school departments rather than the governor’s $20 bump.
State Rep. Jim Hawkins, D-Attleboro, said Attleboro schools would get an extra $267,686 under the House budget.
He said the city needs the aid because it has yet to recover from when it had to let 35 teachers go two years ago because of budget problems. But, he added, it is not nearly enough.
Hawkins, who just took office earlier this month, repeated his support for a surtax on millionaires to raise more money for schools and transportation.
State Rep. Betty Poirier, R-North Attleboro, whose town’s schools have their share of budget problems, also said the schools need the money.
“It’s never enough,” she said. “Our schools do need it to comply with everything they have to comply with.”
She said it is not just the school demanding more money. Her email is full of requests from people seeking more funding for their favorite program, she said.
The long-term solution to the widespread school funding problems, she said, is to rewrite the formula for distributing Chapter 70 aid, but that could cost $1 billion.
In the meantime, she said, the Legislature will only be able to “tweak” the formula a little at a time.
The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center said the House committee did make a small change to the formula to better account for the increase in cost of health insurance for school employees.
State Rep. Jay Barrows, R-Mansfield, said health care costs in the overall budget must be addressed.
He pointed to reports that providing health care for 1.9 million needy residents is costing $16.6 billion and taking up an increasing share of the state budget, with large increases in costs each year.
Barrows said he expects the change in educational funding by Ways and Means will add $25,000 to $50,000 to the school departments in his district.
State Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk, a member of the Ways and Means Committee, said he supports an amendment to add even more to Chapter 70.
He also said he backs a move to fully fund an account that helps schools pay for unexpectedly large increases in special education costs called the “circuit breaker.”
The Legislature was out of session this week and schools were closed for April vacation, so specific numbers could not be obtained.
However, Poirier’s office was able to provide the total school aid amounts in the House budget for the following communities:
North Attleboro: $20,556,671
Attleboro: $37,749,124
Mansfield: $18,846,329
Foxboro: $8,967,870
Norton: $12,754,400
Plainville: $2,906,741
Wrentham: $3,765,913
Norfolk: $3,433,905
Seekonk: $5,454,099

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  • Written by William Rigdon

Local lawmakers have mixed feelings on public record requirements

By Jim Hand; April 11, 2018; The Sun Chronicle
It’s complicated.
That pretty much sums up the reaction from local lawmakers when asked if the Legislature should be subject to the same public record requirements as cities and towns.
Some of the lawmakers said there are legitimate reasons for keeping some records secret.
The comments come after an Associated Press review of state governments found Massachusetts one of the most restrictive in what records it makes public, including complaints of sexual harassment by lawmakers.
State Rep. Betty Poirier, R-North Attleboro, said making legislative records public is not a simple matter.

Lawmakers deal with a lot of highly confidential information from constituents, such as medical problems, she said.
That kind of information has to stay private and is one of the reasons the Legislature is exempt from public record laws, Poirier said.
As for sexual harassment and non-disclosure agreements, Poirier said, she would support allowing victims to decide whether to make that information public. She said she would imagine that many victims would want to keep it confidential.
The Associated Press found that there were 33 non-disclosure agreements by House employees in recent years, but the speaker’s office said none pertained to sexual harassment.
But state Rep. Diana Dizoglias, D-Methuen, said last month that when she was let go from her prior job as a legislative aide, she felt pressured to sign a non-disclosure form in order to get her severance pay. She proposed an amendment to ban non-disclosure agreements, but it was defeated 131-21.
State Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk, said he supported the amendment and believes the records should be public.
State Rep. Steven Howitt, R-Seekonk, said victims may not want the records made public. Even if the victims’ names are redacted, people would be able to figure out who they are, he said.
“Rumors get started and spread like wildfire,” Howitt said.
He said a commission has been created to look into the possibility of making legislative records public. The commission is scheduled to report back on its findings in December.
State Rep. Jay Barrows, R-Mansfield, said he wanted to read the Associated Press report before commenting.
Rep. Jim Hawkins, D-Attleboro, who was just sworn into office earlier in the day, said he would need time to look into the issue.
The issue of sexual harassment has been at the forefront since late last year when allegations of misconduct surfaced against such well known figures as film producer Harvey Weinstein and casino owner Steve Wynn.
That led to the #metoo movement in which women vowed they were no longer going to tolerate harassment.
Then sexual harassment and assault allegations were made against the husband of state Senate President Stanley Rosenberg. Rosenberg has been replaced as president and has separated from his husband.


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Representative Dooley Announces Over $2.5 million In Road And Bridge Funding For District

BOSTON – State Representative Shawn Dooley (R-Norfolk) is pleased to announce that he has secured over $2.5 million in funding assistance for local road and bridge repairs in all six of the towns in his district:

  • Medfield: $394,352
  • Millis: $273,677
  • Norfolk: $391,645
  • Plainville: $291,860
  • Walpole: $778,469
  • Wrentham: $419,097

Representative Dooley ensured that the funds were included in a $200 million bond authorization bill, which was ultimately approved by the House of Representatives on April 5 as a part of the state’s chapter 90 funding program.

“Between the tough winter we have had, general wear and tear, and much needed safety improvements, the towns in my district are definitely in need of some assistance to get their roads into top shape” said Dooley about the bill.  “While I am excited to have been able to secure this funding, I am continuing to work every day to get the taxpayers of my district the full level of support that they deserve from our state government.”

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  • Written by William Rigdon