Saturday, 2:15 PM
Report outlines cost-savings, no new revenues for education
By James Vaznis, Globe Staff
The governor's ambitious overhaul of public education -- from universal preschool to free community college -- appears likely to be placed on hold, as the state grapples with a massive budget deficit that could lead to funding cuts for local school districts.
An education finance committee that was appointed by the governor last summer said today that the economic downturn is preventing it from recommending any immediate measures to raise revenue to pay for the governor's plan. Instead, the committee recommended modest cost-saving measures that could yield $550 million.
"The commission recognized that the state is facing completely different fiscal realities than were contemplated this past summer," according to a report released today by the commission. "The most recent estimates for the fiscal year 2010 budget predict a deficit of between $2 and $3 billion dollars. ... The commission's deliberations, therefore, concentrated on the urgent need to find opportunities for cost savings and to maintain support for our education system in a time of inadequate resources."
The cost-saving measures focus heavily on encouraging local school districts to pool together resources to increase their ability to negotiate better purchase prices for things such as health insurance, energy contracts, and classroom supplies as well as share some administrative jobs.
The report also recommends reducing costs by moving retired teachers into Medicare, and imploring more school districts to file the necessary, albeit labor intensive, paperwork to receive Medicaid reimbursement for some special education costs.
The commission stressed it remains committed to the governor's ambitious education goals, saying that the economic downturn makes it even more imperative for sweeping changes.
"Though a few members expressed concern about raising revenues during a recession and felt that the state should require implementation of cost-savings measures before looking to new revenues, commission members strongly believed that the critical role of the education sector warrants support for new, incremental investments, even in this down economy," the report said.
One of the more promising revenue generating options, the commission said, could be increasing the state's 5 percent sales tax by 1 percentage point, which could raise about $720 million. But the commission was hesitant to increase the tax burden on residents at this time.
The governor instructed the commission last summer not to consider any revenue options that would call for increasing local property taxes.