‘Independent Taxation Authority’ for Regional Schools? Massachusetts Auditor Suggests Ways To Provide More Tax Dollars

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2017/10/23/independent-taxation-authority-for-regional-schools-massachusetts-auditor-suggests-ways-to-provide-more-tax-dollars/

BOSTON — An exhaustive state study exploring the state’s problems meeting regional school district funding needs suggests enacting a pilot program to test whether a uniform tax rate spread out across member towns — in which the regional districts are granted with “independent taxation authority.”

The 68-page report, the product of a study conducted by Massachusetts State Auditor Suzanne Bump, acknowledges the hurdle known as Proposition 2 ½, the state law barring municipalities from raising local property tax levies beyond 2.5 percent plus allowances for new growth. Bump’s office suggests, however, that the Legislature should “empower the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to work with a willing district.”

The resulting pilot program “would result in a single tax rate across all member towns in an RSD,” meaning a regional school district.

The goal for the pilot program, according to the report, would eventually involve enactment statewide at all 58 regional school districts, of which more than 170 Bay State municipalities are members. (Examples in eastern Massachusetts include Lincoln-Sudbury, Acton-Boxborough, Whitman-Hanson, and King Philip (which includes Norfolk, Wrentham, and Plainville).)

The report also calls for more cities and towns to enter into regional school district agreements.

If the measure makes it easier to get Proposition 2 1/2 overrides approved by voters, it may lead to increased local property taxes to pay for school budgets and school capital projects. But the measure as proposed would not dispense with Proposition 2 1/2.

“The pilot would need to account for the Proposition 2½ restrictions by splitting taxation caps between the municipalities and the [regional school district],” the report proposes.

Townwide votes needed to circumvent the caps, known in Massachusetts as overrides, “would potentially need to be district-wide.”

“For example, residents of some member communities would see a property tax reduction and others an increase,” the report states.

Bump’s report also calls for a new “model for the selection of regional school district committee members,” one which mandates that “the body is representative of the diversity in member communities.”

A spokesman for Citizens for Limited Taxation and Government, which often fights tax increases in Massachusetts, said Monday the group is aware of Bump’s proposal but has not yet studied it.

Bump’s report pegs the state’s annual regional school district reimbursement shortfalls at $17 million. The report identifies transportation as one of the biggest deficit drivers, which the state is mandated to reimburse member municipalities for at a clip of 100 percent but in 2016 only reimbursed at 73 percent.

Meanwhile, the report notes that state aid for districts “would need to be altered to treat the district as a whole rather than as a set of individual communities.”

“This will not be an easy challenge but it would help to lessen conflict and allow superintendents and central office staff to spend more time on the core education function and less time on managing differences over community contribution to budgets,” the report acknowledges. “At the same time, it would improve democratic accountability of school districts and their governing bodies, and potentially enhance the role of school committee members.”

In an accompanying press release, Bump called on the state Legislature to meet its mandate of 100 percent transportation reimbursement for regional school districts. She also stated that a rethinking of how regional school districts are funded is long overdue.

“While our state’s educational system is highly regarded throughout the country, our analysis found that the processes governing school regionalization and its funding are antiquated, and have not kept pace with the modern challenges facing communities,” Bump said in her prepared statement.

Read a copy of the report’s executive summary:

DLM Regional Schools Final by Evan on Scribd

Read the full version:

RegionalSchoolDistrictsMunicipalImpactStudy_1 by Evan on Scribd