Anyone at Town Meeting Monday night should have been alarmed at Scott Carpenter’s presentation about L-S. With one child attending L-S and two on the way, I was alarmed. The picture of the car with the wheel falling off was especially poignant. L-S is a great school, the courses are wonderful, the faculty exceptional. So how do we fix the funding for the school? How do we fix SPS funding for that matter?
If we think that we can do this by more overrides, I would argue the Sudbury taxpayers are fatigued and unlikely to support many more. Waiting for state aid is another tactic that doesn’t provide much hope. A solution is to reopen the L-S Regional Agreement and get Lincoln to pay a more equitable share of the school’s costs. Other regional systems, like Manchester-Essex, have adopted better funding models for their schools that we should examine.
To explain this, we have to look no further than two other votes from Monday night’s town meeting.
Monday, we voted to replace the AC unit at the Fairbanks Pool. Why? The pool is a town asset. As citizens of the town, we have access to this asset hence we all pay to maintain it. There are also user fees charged to those who swim that support the operating costs. Since you and I all benefit from access to this facility, however, we all pay to maintain the physical facility. We get a return on this investment in our property values. When your house goes up for sale, the realtor will drive by Fairbanks showing perspective buyers "this is the town pool you can use." Those who use the pool, however, also pay usage fees.
Now on to Minuteman Tech, and the second vote of the night. The selectman recommended against funding a stabilization fund. Why? Because the member towns of Minuteman pay the facility costs plus the per student operating costs for Minuteman. The problem is that “out of district” students, those not coming from the member towns, only pay per student operating costs and make no contribution to the facility costs for Minuteman. So the selectmen, rightfully so, rejected Minuteman’s request for a stabilization fund until a more equitable funding model is established that shares both facility costs and student costs between the towns that use the asset.
Now back to L-S. The L-S Regional Agreement funding model is based purely on student attendance. Hence, we pay about 85% of the annual bill including non-instructional, capital and instructional costs, while Lincoln pays 15%. From an attendance standpoint, this makes sense. But this is not how you apportion a town or regional asset as we saw with the Fairbanks Roof and Minuteman Stabilization Fund. The assets of L-S – the buildings - belong to both towns. Both towns need to pay for the assets and their maintenance (non-instructional operating costs) in proportion to their household asset valuation, just like you and I did Monday night when we voted to fix the Fairbanks roof. Fairbanks costs were apportioned by household valuation, not distance, location, or some arbitrary measure like a town boundary or precinct. All of us have access so all of us pay based on household assessment. All of us gain in our property values.
Remember the realtor selling your house and showing off Fairbanks? That same realtor will also drive by L-S with a prospective buyer and say “and your kid can attend L-S.” But if this same realtor is selling a home in Lincoln, they show off L-S and say “you will pay 1/3 the cost of a Sudbury resident to send your kid to L-S if you buy in Lincoln.”
Now what about the instructional costs at L-S? These are the only costs you divide up by school attendance. This is similar to the model that Manchester-Essex uses.
Changing our regional agreement to share the cost more equitably is in line with other regional agreements. For the citizens of Lincoln, it is the right thing to do to support L-S. Fixing the regional agreement will also allow us to move a portion of the savings to SPS where it is badly needed. It is time to reopen the regional agreement.