Westborough – Acknowledging that the district's schools will face tough times and tough decisions in the months, and possibly years, ahead because of the nation's and state's current economic recession, State Rep. Karyn E. Polito, R-Shrewsbury, is choosing to look at the good that can come from this difficult period.
Polito unveiled her Education Reform and Relief Bill at the Westborough School Committee's Jan. 21 meeting.
"Balancing the budget, bringing everything back in line, it's not always about more money. As everyone knows, there is no more money this year," Polito said. "What I've tried to do with this bill is find ways to improve the situation that aren't focused on spending, but rather on saving."
Polito's 13-point plan, which is available for viewing online at www.karynpolito. com, highlights ways that the Westborough School District, as well as other school districts across the commonwealth, can reduce costs and experience savings.
In addition, the bill urges the continued fairness in funding distributed by the state through Chapter 70, includes a cap on Special Education costs – both educational and with regard to transportation – for out-ofdistrict placements, and attempts to eliminate some reporting requirements for high-achieving districts such as Westborough.
On Chapter 70 aid, Polito said, she is seeking to continue the five-year plan that will fairly fund communities like Westborough that are receiving significantly less Chapter 70 aid than communities commensurate to it in terms of community wealth, property values and student populations.
Westborough is currently in the second year of the five-year plan that is designed to bring the amount of Chapter 70 aid it receives in line with other communities that is shares similarities with.
Polito's bill would fix the rate the Westborough School District pays for out-of-district Special Education placements and not allow mid-year adjustments by private providers, a practice that currently occurs. In addition, the bill calls for the Special Education Circuit Breakers to be increased 5 percent, to 80 percent, of approved costs that exceed three times (down from four times) the state average per-pupil allowance.
Also receiving an overhaul in the bill would be Special Education transportation costs, first by amending the law to include transportation as a reimbursable fund, then to use, where possible, a regional transportation service.
Other topics included in the reform bill include: the creation of a Special Education working group; charter schools; review and accountability measures; English language learners training for teachers; suspension of the state's annual technology plan; the modernization of purchasing and procurement laws; medical reimbursement; employee related health insurance costs; and an earlier notification to communities (before March 1) of the amount of state aid they will be receiving.
"Of all the positives about this bill, the best thing about it is it's what things can be worked on right away that would begin to bring cost savings to the communities," School Committee member Karen Henderson said. "It's not about waiting to find out how much state aid we will receive and then going from there. Some of these issues are issues that can be confronted and begun now, before state aid is announced."