Opinion – Your View: Excellence in all schools requires reforms to funding and approach

Posted Jan 22, 2019 at 7:27 PM

In the not too distant future, nearly every kind of work that we do will be affected, in some cases dramatically, by technology and automation. While we will need new ways to think about higher education and workforce training as critical tools to meet this challenge, it actually all begins with the elementary and secondary public education system.

Across the country, those individuals with higher education and skill levels are doing better than ever, and those without are being left further behind. As automation begins to have a greater influence on nearly all of the workplaces of America, it will be far too easy for cities such as New Bedford to fall off the pace. This global change in the world of work can offer great opportunity for our citizens and we must be unflinching in taking full, and perhaps unexpected, advantage.

The recent partnership agreement between the city of New Bedford and the Alma Del Mar Public Charter School is just the kind of bold thinking needed to meet the challenges ahead.

But while such collaborations should be celebrated, alone they will not get us where we need to be. The fact is that the funding of public schools in the commonwealth does not meet the needs of ever-increasing disadvantaged populations, and these populations are notably concentrated in the cities and urban centers.

The Chapter 70 foundation formula was certainly groundbreaking 25 years ago, but the Foundation Budget Review Committee stated in their 2015 report that there have been gradual but ever increasing shortcomings in meeting the true costs of funding English language learners, those with special needs, transportation, health care and professional development for teachers, and the everyday classroom and facility needs of the school buildings where they spend their days. It is now at a point of true crisis, resulting in different schooling types (public, vocational, and charter) fighting each other for scarce dollars while cities struggle with tax increases just to meet the minimum state mandated investment thresholds.

All the while students, their families, and all taxpayers suffer.

The stresses are now too great on too many municipalities. Now is the time to fix the 1993 foundation formula, and there appears to be a tangible willingness of our elected leaders to do just that.

There is sponsored legislation (the Education PROMISE Act) in the State Senate and Governor Baker stated in his second inaugural address just weeks ago that such reforms would be included in his new budget. This is a generational opportunity and will not be easily accomplished.

Let us altogether support our own delegation, the governor, and all of the many stakeholders who will advocate on Beacon Hill in what will be serious debate on how best to achieve reform, while balancing all of the other needs of the commonwealth. And with increased resources, let us support measures that keep accountability at all levels, for all school types, at the highest national standards. Our representatives must have our support in fighting for the full funding of all local and regional district needs for cities such as New Bedford, as well as the full reimbursement of charter school relocations within the current cap set by the commonwealth.

However, our efforts cannot end with the reform of Chapter 70, since additional funding alone will not get us to where we need to be, and recent successes in our public schools remain desperately fragile. We must be champions of excellence and strive for a complete and comprehensive system of schools that can meet the needs of all students, their families, and the employers of the region.

Such a system will provide New Bedford with competitive advantage when parents, employers and developers are looking for communities to invest or locate. All school types (public, vocational, charter, parochial, and private) must be part of this system and all should work in a collaborative and purposeful construct with excellence as the mission for all. Achievements cannot come at the expense of any one of the different school types and we must come together to eliminate the feeling that one is taking from the other in achieving high results in performance.

We are writing with enthusiasm on this topic on behalf of The Regeneration Project of the New Bedford Economic Development Council — a collaborative platform that represents 37 community, institutional, and business leaders who are committed to shaping, advocating for, and tangibly advancing strategies for sustainable and shared growth for the City of New Bedford and the region.

We understand the interrelationship of a successful system of public schools with economic growth and in 2017 published a white paper on this issue, Raising the Bar: Better New Bedford Public Schools Will Lead to a Stronger Economy.

This issue has been at the forefront of our thinking again this past year as a foundational element expressed in our full report, Realizing the Potential, released at the MassINC annual gateway cities gathering held in New Bedford. We are fully committed to the need for significant improvement of all the schools in New Bedford and to the success of the more than 13,000 schoolchildren being educated in our city.

We all want the same successes. We must all be in this together.

Gerry Kavanaugh and Anthony Sapienza are the co-chairs of the Regeneration Project of the New Bedford Economic Development Council. Kavanaugh is president of LStar Investments and LStar Ventures. Sapienza is president of the New Bedford Economic Development Council.


Rick Kidder
President & CEO
SouthCoast Chamber of Commerce

Nicholas Christ
President and CEO
BayCoast Bank

Keith Hovan
President and CEO
SouthCoast Health System

Dr. Laura Douglas
President
Bristol Community College

Maureen Sylvia Armstrong
President, CEO and owner
Sylvia Group Insurance

Patrick Murray
President and CEO
Bristol County Savings Bank

David Slutz
Managing Director
Potentia Holdings

Elizabeth Isherwood
Chairman
Greater New Bedford Industrial Foundation

Helena DaSilva Hughes
Executive Director
Immigrants’ Assistance Center

Christopher Rezendes
Founder and President
INEX Advisors

David Martin
President
Heat Transfer Products

Anne Broholm
CEO
AHEAD, LLC

Quentin Ricciardi
CEO
Acorn Management

Jeff Glassman
President
Darnit! Inc.

David Wechsler
President and CEO
Maritime International

Jennifer Downing
Executive Director
Leadership SouthCoast

Joseph Nauman
Executive Vice President, Corporate and Legal (retired)
Acushnet Company

John Vasconcellos
President
Community Foundation of Southeastern Mass.

Bob Unger
Past Chairman, Leadership SouthCoast
Principal, Unger LeBlanc Strategic Communications

Rosemary Gill
Executive Director
Zeiterion Performing Arts Center

Adam Cove
CEO
Edson International

Scott Dubois
Co-Founder
Pidalia

James O’Brien
Superintendent
GNB Regional Vocational Technical High School

Sarah Athanas
Co-Founder
Groundwork!

Amanda McMullen
President and CEO
New Bedford Whaling Museum

Jim McKeag
Senior Fellow