Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

April 4, 2013

Letter: Town must be willing to pay for high quality schools

The Andover Townsman

---- — Editor, Townsman:

We are embarking on another challenging municipal budget year for Andover. While the intent of budgeting for fiscal year 2014 has been to provide level services for all departments, it seems that our public schools are coming up short. This is not the first time that our schools have felt the pinch. Painful cuts have been the hallmark for several prior school budget years.

I believe that it is fair to say that the strains of trying to provide high quality education for Andover students with fewer and fewer resources are clearly evident. Unfunded and underfunded government mandates are a significant part of the current deficit identified in the proposed school budget for 2014. In my view, the town is obligated to find the resources necessary to cover all the costs for mandates imposed on our schools.

The time is way overdue for the town come to grips with its need to dedicate sufficient resources in our public schools to level fund our schools. To that end, our leaders must aggressively seek out the funds needed to help our schools begin to dig out of a cumulative resource deficit that gets bigger and bigger with each passing year.

Here are some ways in which the town can pursue this recovery effort.

Our town leaders need to meet with our Congressional delegation and find ways to fully fund the federal IDEA law that mandates a good education for all of our special needs students. At present, the federal government provides about 20 percent of the resources needed to meet requirements specified under federal law. As a community, we need to do better than that.

When state and federal funds dedicated to our public schools are received, the town must dedicate 100 percent of those funds to our schools. The town has traditionally redirected some of those resources to non-school purposes. It is time for that practice to stop. The town has an obligation to see that our schools receive all the resources that funding agencies have allocated to public education in Andover.

The town is obligated to educate students whose parents are teachers and residents at Phillips Academy. While there is a continuing agreement that the town maintains with the academy, the financial resources received vastly underfund the value of the services rendered. The town should amend the existing agreement to require Phillips Academy to finance the full cost of educating Phillips based students in the Andover Public Schools. In addition, there should be a negotiated settlement regarding the value of other municipal services provided to the academy.

We all seek to showcase our schools as some of the best in Massachusetts. That prestige comes with a cost. If Andover wishes to continue to tout its hard earned reputation for high quality schools, then it is high time that Andover be willing to pay for it.

John F. Zipeto

14 Canterbury St.