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Allocating the cost of vocational education.

Byline: Thomas J. Kane


There are many changes in the educational landscape that have an impact on local school districts. The advent of charter schools, the increase in districts participating in school choice programs and the changing nature of vocational/technical schools have all had an impact on enrollment and budgets for many school districts. In the past few years, the increase in students attending vocational/technical schools has had a dramatic impact here in West Boylston.

Most communities in the state belong to a regional vocational/technical school district. A few larger communities still offer their own vocational programs, but the specialized nature and requirements of the Vocational Technical Education Law, Chapter 74, makes it too expensive for most communities to offer their own vocational/technical programs.

Some communities, including West Boylston, neither offer their own vocational program nor belong to a regional vocational/ technical school district. Chapter 74 requires these towns to pay the tuition for all students who are accepted by an approved vocational school.

Although vocational education is provided to West Boylston students in school districts that have no connection with West Boylston Public Schools, the town includes the cost of vocational education tuitions in the School Department budget. This practice may have made sense when the cost of vocational tuitions was a stable and predictable cost. However, with the cost of vocational education to the town more than tripling over the past five years due to increased enrollment and increased tuition rates, this accounting practice has to change.

West Boylston needs to separate the cost of vocational/technical education from the cost of educating students in our own West Boylston Schools. The current practice means that every additional dollar that is spent on vocational education reduces funds for programs for students attending our West Boylston Schools.

For example, last week the town administrator presented his budget for Fiscal Year 2011 and highlighted a $200,000 increase in the School Department budget. He credited the professional staff for agreeing to benefit concessions that helped to make this possible. However, the education budget that I presented at the Public Hearing two weeks ago separated the School Department budget and the vocational tuition expense.

The School Department budget, which funds the educational programs at Major Edwards and the middle/high school, called for an increase of $350,000, a 4.4 percent increase.

The vocational tuition expense requires an increase of $250,000, a 28 percent increase. This is due to an anticipated 10 additional students and a tuition increase of 10 percent.

Since the vocational tuition must be paid, the reality of the town administrator's budget is that all of the "increase" will be used for vocational tuitions and the School Department budget will be cut by about $50,000. This means the School Department budget will be $400,000 less than what is needed to maintain current programs.

To allocate limited funds for the town budget, the town administrator has used a formula that first subtracts "fixed costs," currently debt service and employee benefits, from the total of the available revenues and then divides the rest of the budget between the schools and the other town departments on a two-thirds/one-third basis. I am proposing that the vocational tuition expense be included as a "fixed cost" to the town.

This is an expense over which the town has no control and is "fixed" by decisions and processes in which the town has no participation.

Making this change isn't going to solve the town's revenue problems or create more funding for anyone. What it will do is more fairly identify vocational tuition expenses as a specific educational cost for which the town is responsible and, to the extent that this is an inflationary cost, spread the impact of increased vocational tuition expenses among all town services, not solely on the backs of students attending our own West Boylston schools.

Thomas J. Kane is the superintendent of the West Boylston school district.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 25, 2010
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