Opinion: It’s Time To Fully Fund Our Schools

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January 31, 2020

Submitted by Peter Howell

I recently attended a meeting of the Hingham Select Board to join other parents expressing their support for increasing school funding based on our School Committee’s recommendation.

I was motivated to attend the meeting after learning that Hingham spends the least per-in-district-pupil out of any of our 20 benchmark towns.  To put it in context, in 2018, Wellesley spent $19,101 per pupil, Concord spent $18,790, Hull spent $20,530, Lexington spent $17,760, Cohasset spent $16,000, Weymouth spent $15,262 and Braintree spent $14,045.

Hingham spent a mere $13,216.

Hingham trails not only our benchmark towns in per pupil spending, but also the state average. In 2017, the average per pupil spending for the entire state of Massachusetts was $16,197.  In 2012, the Massachusetts state average was $14,142—still higher than what Hingham spent in 2018!  These numbers are even more surprising when you consider that the median household income in Hingham was over 37% higher than the median household income across Massachusetts in 2017.

We have bright students in Hingham and are fortunate that, by and large, they still are doing reasonably well. That is certainly a credit to the hard work of our teachers and school administrators.  It is also a credit to our dedicated PTOs who do their best to fundraise to help fill in the gaps and to the many parents who volunteer their time at our schools.  It is also a fact, however, that many families in Hingham get private help for struggling students when the support they receive in school is not enough.  Similarly, many parents look elsewhere for enrichment programs for advanced students when the standard curriculum is not engaging their children.

Just look at the Hingham Pinboard to see how often this is happening. We have taken our kids to Sylvan Learning, Kumon, Lindamood-Bell, Mathnasium, Fluency Factory, Russian School of Mathematics, South Shore Conservatory and ABC Reading. We have hired math tutors, reading tutors, science tutors, tutors certified in Orton Gillingham, speech therapists, music instructors, occupational therapists, and executive function coaches. We are fortunate to have these terrific resources here on the South Shore, but when we are assessing how well our students are doing, we must recognize that many are only getting by thanks to the extra help they get outside of school and at the expense of having free time to be a kid and pursue extra curriculars. And, even in Hingham, many families cannot afford to supplement their children’s education in this same way.  Shouldn’t we expect more from our town than funding our schools at a level that is less than what the average was in Massachusetts back in 2012?

The Select Board did seem to acknowledge the need to better fund our schools, but there was significant concern about the fairness of increasing taxes on the fraction of the population that does not have children in our public schools. We can all agree that seniors on tight fixed incomes cannot afford to pay more and it was noted at the meeting that Hingham has already applied to provide them with 100% tax relief if they meet the means tests. Having addressed our vulnerable seniors with this measure, we should galvanize support behind increasing our school funding.

Being part of a community means that you are going to pay taxes for services that you may not use, but you will benefit from others contributing to the services you do use. We all pay for roads on which we may never drive.  We pay for parks that we may never visit.  And we continue to pay for our schools long after our kids have graduated.  We do this because we care for one another and because we understand that it is critical to the welfare of our community.

It bears noting that our property tax rates are much lower than the state average. In 2019, the median tax rate in Massachusetts was $15.27 per $1,000 in assessed value. In Hingham, it was only $11.53 per $1,000 in assessed value, down $0.28 since 2018.  If we can’t fully fund our schools, why are we lowering the tax rate?

The Hingham residents I know, even empty nesters, take great pride in our schools and enjoy the town being a desirable home for young families. I don’t believe for a minute that residents would oppose properly funding our schools so that we can afford to complete repairs to aged buildings, improve our special education program, and hire more adjustment counselors, math aides and a sorely needed Director of Fine Arts.

We have gotten away with underfunding our schools for too long.  That needs to change. The people we elected to represent us on the School Committee have spent a lot of time preparing a budget to address the specific needs of our schools and we should heed their recommendations in order to improve student outcomes.

Now is the time to encourage the Board to make those recommendations happen. If you are a parent who feels similarly, I hope you will reach out to the Select Board to let them know.

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