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King Philip School Committee Hears From State Officials

State Sen. Richard Ross and State Rep. Daniel Winslow stop by the King Philip School Committee for a discussion on local aide and Race to the Top.

The King Philip School Committee discussed state budget issues with State Sen. Richard Ross and State Rep. Daniel Winslow on Monday night and how the state fiscal landscape could affect the schools.

The short version? It’s too early to tell.

“We’re just one weekend into session of this two year thing, our legislations not due until Jan, 18 in the house and nobody knows what the budget seems like yet,” said Winslow. “We just need to see what [quarter 1] looks like in 2013 to see how the budget process will shape up.”

Ross said there has not been much support for cutting aide to schools or local aid. He added that instead of cutting, raising taxes and finding new sources of revenue would be a more likely course.

“There hasn’t been in the past any appetite to cut any aide that would be considered local aide,” he said.  “I think the appetite still isn’t there; they’re going to find a way to protect those things. They will try to build new revenue.”

KP schools superintendent Liz Zielinski said their major concern this season is the "Race to the Top Fund" initiatives, which reward schools depending on how they conform to certain educational standards, such as Common Core .

The U.S. Department of Education has, according to their Web site, allocated $3.4 billion in grant awards for this program, with individual awards ranging from $20 million to $700 million.

She said their biggest problem at the moment would be a requirement that states that all teachers and administrators have 40 hours of training for teaching to students who speak English as a second language. It also requires 15 hours of professional development.

“We have an obligation to teach them, but there’s no funding coming down for us to truly begin to train our teachers,” she said. “We have two teachers who have stepped up to the plate to become state trainers because the state doesn’t have enough trainers right now.”

While King Philip’s requirement for the RTT is not yet in effect (until Dec. 2013), Zielinski said that teachers can only be trained during school hours because of lack of funds.

“Our professional development is stretched thin and we don’t have a lot of funding for that,” she said. “The issue becomes we have to train by regulation. Again there is no funding for that and we have to fit it in [during regular school hours]. We do not want to interrupt our students’ education. Any kind of training is expensive. Every time there’s a big price tag coming down the pike it takes away from students’ instruction.”

Ross said he agreed that such action is very generalized and not designed for every school district.

“Every district has their own things that work for them and coming up with something that works for everybody just doesn’t work,” he said.

He added that innovation, both on the state level and district level, will become invaluable to solving these types of problems. He said, for example, that the state writes off $1 billion a year in uncollected revenue (from taxes, fees etc.) and does not event try to collect.

“They never send these revenues off for collection before they write it off,” he said.

He added that he believed that contractors could help the state in collecting that revenue.

“I’d be interested to know that are the barriers to innovation as managers,” he said, addressing the KP school committee.  “You can manage your way out of a budget problem, to a point. The debate [in the statehouse] is basically going to boil down to before we raise taxes, what else can we do?”

School committee chair Patrick Francomano answered that redundant reporting requirements for state evaluations were the most challenging aspect of getting done what needs to get done.

“Not having a uniform way of doing it takes an enormous amount of time,” he said. “Every month, we lose two employees to paperwork.”

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