Northborough & Southborough School Districts opt-out of school choice

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Public Schools of Northborough/Southborough logoBy Liz Nolan, Contributing Writer

NORTHBOROUGH/SOUTHBOROUGH – The Northborough-Southborough Regional School Committee unanimously voted to opt-out of the inter-district school choice program at their meeting May 19. 

This decision aligns with the vote of both the Northborough K-8 and Southborough K-8 School Committee. 

Although there are some advantages to school choice, such as a means to generate revenue and allow for flexibility in enrollment declines, Superintendent Greg Martineau cited disadvantages.

He explained the $5,000 in tuition the district would receive for each student would be far less than the district’s per-pupil expenditure of $18,621.13 based on fiscal year (FY)2020.

The fall reopening of schools was also a concern for Martineau.

“There’s no need to add another variable…in terms of what the fall may look like,” he said.

School choice allows a parent or guardian to enroll his or her child in a school district other than the district in which the child resides. Students are also selected by lottery, which can pose the potential for a student to require significant resources. If a student is accepted for school choice in ninth grade, that student can remain in the district through graduation.

Regional School Committee member Chris Covino said relying on school choice money would be a long-term mistake.

“In an ideal world, you get a standard distribution of students,” he said. “Generally speaking, my experience has been that the distribution is not particularly random. Usually, there are reasons why individuals are trying to leave…the descending district.”

“I think the timing is not perfect this year, but one of these years, this is a bridge we need to think…about crossing,” said committee member Paul Butka. 

Although Covino agrees that the tuition paid to the district for an accepted school choice student would be good, he stated that changes to the availability of future school choice seats could have budget ramifications. 

“There becomes a structural deficit based on school choice funds, which becomes difficult to overcome without significant budget increases to the local communities,” he said.

Member Sean O’Shea echoed those concerns.

“If we were to entertain this at a future time, I think it would be helpful to specify where those funds go,” he said. “You can become in that kind of structural deficit; it becomes folded in the operating budget. If you were ever to decrease the number of students or cut it off, you have a large deficit in funding.”