June 5, 2007



School Committee examines alternate financing methods

By Nick Pinto, Staff Writer
Daily News of Newburyport


NEWBURYPORT - Two weeks after a failed $1.58 million Proposition 2-1/2 tax override, school officials are considering alternative modes of educational financing.

At last night's School Committee meeting, member Dana Hooper proposed launching a private effort to raise money for some of the items that would have been funded if the override had been successful. And Superintendent Kevin Lyons is considering asking the Newburyport Educational Foundation, a private group that has conributes heavily to school capital projects, to fund a literacy program that would have been paid for by the override.

"I just wonder if there's a way to capitalize on the fact that we just lost an override," Hooper said. "I'm imagining a pool of parents eager to contribute after the override vote. There have been a lot of e-mails going around out there."

Hooper showed the rest of the committee a mock Web site that could be used to process donations, beginning with funds to restore the three "team-teacher" positions at the Nock Middle School that are slated for elimination next year.

Lyons said that private contributions can be a useful source of school revenue, but it is best if they come in the form of an endowment or from an institution with substantial assets. Relying on ongoing drives for individual contributions can be problematic, he said.

Glenn Koocher, the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, made a similar point earlier yesterday.

"Many districts do fundraising of one kind or another," Koocher said. "But districts that take on funding teachers' positions with fundraising drives are taking on a lot. Depending on who's in town and who's able to support you, it can create a lot of instability. You may be able to raise the money this year, but can you raise it again the next year?"

Hooper suggested that sustaining the funds for teachers' salaries might not be a problem if another override can be proposed and passed at the regular November election.

The district already relies heavily on private contributions, especially from parent groups and the Newburyport Education Foundation. The foundation's contributions, which amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, have so far been restricted to capital projects like last summer's renovation of the Nock Middle School science labs. Lyons said he is in discussions with the foundation about possibly funding a new literacy program for Newburyport elementary students, another initiative that would have been funded by the override.

Mayor John Moak, who also serves as the chairman of the School Committee, steered the conversation toward the need for greater focus on the long-term finances of the district.

"We should be having an extra meeting each month to talk strictly about finances," Moak said. "Whether it's an override or fundraising or something else, we need to talk about this early. It has to be open to people who are supportive of us and people who are skeptical."

School Committee member Gordy Bechtel supported Moak's proposal.

"Many of the city councilors I spoke with around the issue of the override were interested in having a stronger role in talking about school financing," Bechtel said.

The committee agreed that the School Committee's Subcommittee on Finance should draft a list of people to take part in such a conversation and a slate of topics to be discussed. The full School Committee will review the proposal at their next meeting on June 18.


(This article replicated online with permission of the Newburyport Daily News, an Eagle Tribune Newspaper.)

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