Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

December 5, 2013

STEAM Studio would cause financial distress

The Andover Townsman

---- — Editor, Townsman:

On Thursday, Nov. 21, I had the opportunity to participate in a Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education public hearing on the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (“STEAM”) Studio Charter School application. At the hearing, the panel spent two hours listening to comments for and against the STEAM Studio Charter School application. Speakers included superintendents, School Committee members, teachers, parents and students.

Andover Superintendent Marinel McGrath spoke about how Andover High School has already integrated STEAM programs in its current strategic plan and that the charter school would merely serve to divert precious public school funds to provide redundant programs. She also stressed that Andover is committed and responsible for providing a high-quality education for ALL students.

As one of the parent representatives of the Andover High School Council, I was there to speak out against the charter school. The day before, the council had voted unanimously to oppose the application due to its overlap with current Andover High School programs and the inequity of the proposed financial model.

While the charter school program redundancy with AHS makes the charter school unnecessary, it is the proposed financial model that will cripple our current Andover school system. Charter school proponents say not to worry about the finances, but that’s because the finances work to their favor. Charter school proponents say to focus on the students and ignore the financial implications but students and the funding are inextricably linked.

Funding the charter school would put Andover High School in particular and the Andover school system in general into financial distress. This financial distress will lead to the decline of the quality and character of our high-achieving schools. All Massachusetts communities, including Andover, receive so-called Chapter 70 funds, which is the state financial aid to local communities for education. Chapter 70 funds are distributed based on the income levels of the community’s residents. Lower-income communities receive a greater percentage of their educational budget from Chapter 70 funds. The remaining educational budget not supported by Chapter 70 funds comes from our local tax dollars.

Andover receives merely 14 percent of its per-pupil funding from Chapter 70 funds. The remaining 86 percent of Andover’s per-pupil funds come from our local tax dollars. Therefore, a charter school in Andover would be funded primarily by Andover local tax dollars.

Since local tax dollars follow the students to the school in which they are enrolled, the establishment of a charter school will force the School Committee to make budget cuts to compensate for the funds lost to the charter school. Keep in mind that while the dollars go the school in which the student is enrolled, charter school students retain access to and will continue to use Andover school services, which the Andover school budget will provide without the benefit of their financial contribution. For example, charter school students will ride the same buses as Andover students, but none of the charter school per-pupil dollars will fund the bus. Extracurricular activities like the arts, clubs and sports similarly will be affected.

If the charter school is established, priority would be given to Andover students. As much as 70 percent of the students could come from Andover. The large amount of tax dollars that would be siphoned out of our school budget could not be absorbed by budget cuts at just the high school, forcing the entire Andover school system to be negatively affected. The only option for the Andover schools would be to operate with fewer teachers and higher class sizes. Andover’s educational tax dollars are best utilized when they are used to provide the highest-quality education for all students equally. As a community, we should be working together to continue to integrate more STEAM programing into our Andover schools.

Mitch and Lucia Krinsky

5 Candlewood Drive