The Blog ofJennifer Shenk

Ash/West School Budget Woes, not enough houses for sale, and more!

Hello Ashburnham, Westminster and any other towns with schools that have budget issues (I’d hazard a guess that’s quite a few):

From 2009 – 2012, my husband Jay and I co-wrote an online newsletter primarily about Westminster. We covered town events, local elections, cultural and human interest stories. It was called Community Vine–our readers shortened the name to ‘The Vine’.

In addition to going to Selectmen’s meetings, Jay took one for the team and attended as many of the AWRSD School Committee meetings as he could. If he was traveling, I’d go to the meetings, take lots of notes, and then we’d put together an update on school funding and issues surrounding the school district.

We stopped writing the Vine more than three years ago, and until now, I’ve not been inspired to write about the schools, budget issues, etc. However, we’ve seen so much Facebookinformation ( = torches, pitchforks and misinformation), that we decided to put our Vine hats back on, just temporarily.

Jay and I jointly wrote the explanation below. I encourage you to share it with others. If you know more than I do about school budgets and funding, and it’s fact-based, not just emotional, please let me know if we can explain any of it in a clearer way.

We bought our house in Westminster 19 years ago primarily because of the reputation of the Ashburnham Westminster Regional School District. There have been school budget woes along the way, and a whole bunch have come up in the past several months, and have very recently made their way to Facebook. One thing that really got attention was when they started talking about cutting sports. It stinks to cut any kind of sport in high school, and sports fees are an abomination that were introduced to us personally back in 1999, and as parents of six children, have been the bane of our existence since then. In AWRSD sports fees are already high. However, many of the people posting on Facebook are missing the main reason for the current school budget issues.

The Ashburnham Westminster Regional School District is a high performing regional school district, much like the Wachusett Regional School District, and that is, perversely, a big source of the funding issues. In Massachusetts, funding for the schools comes from two main sources–local property taxes and Chapter 70 funds. It’s those Chapter 70 funds, and how they are distributed to school systems, that are the source of the funding issues at many high performing regional school districts.

This is particularly true for Ashburnham and Westminster—the towns are at or near their levy limit (Proposition 2 1/2), property taxes are already high, the towns already fund the schools above the state requirement (the foundation budget), plus they are saddled with the Aggregate Wealth Model, another hairbrained scheme (Jay’s wording) from the state that causes a lot of ill will between towns. An override passing in this environment isn’t realistic.

The state has a formula to calculate Chapter 70 funds, but as might be expected, they don’t actually fund it according to that formula. In the case of Ash/West, we get about 50% of what we’re supposed to get, because since there is an overall educational funding shortfall, bureaucrats at the State Department of Education decide how to disperse what money is available.

And how is that shrunken pool of money divided up? Simple: The worse performing the school, the more money it gets. It’s worse than “everyone gets a trophy”. In this case it’s “the worse you do, the higher percent of your Chapter 70 funds you get as a reward”……show little or no test score improvement, or do poorly on AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress), and you get MORE money. Some school districts get 80-90 % of their recommended Chapter 70 funds, if they perform badly enough.

Ash/West, which is high-performing despite the continual cuts to the school budget, is funded in the bottom 20% statewide, as the percent of educational funding they get compared to what they are supposed to get. This budget year Ash/West state funding was short $1.4 million. The total budget shortfall for the district is $1.27 million. I’m no mathematician but it sounds like there might be a surplus at the schools if the state just funded to the level they themselves recommend.

This is made worse by two other factors—regional school districts were promised 100% reimbursement for transportation costs, but they never get it—this year it’s 72%, which is up slightly from last year ($40K). Then, despite not coughing up the money, the state continues to exert control over what the schools must do—the old “unfunded mandates”. Local control would go a long way towards solving problems like this.

The first mandate in the Massachusetts constitution, from 1787, is that Massachusetts will fund public education. They ought to go back to the constitution and do it, in front of all the other stuff they’re blowing money on. There’s no more important mission for a state than educating its youth.

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My name is Jen Shenk. I help buyers and sellers navigate through real estate transactions in North Central Massachusetts. I’m psyched to be recognized by the North Central Massachusetts Association of Realtors as a 2015 Platinum Top Producer, in the top 5% of agents in the NCMAR. I sold 36 houses, not including my own, in 2015. But what really excites me are my client testimonials—they are narratives of what it’s like to work with me…from buyers, sellers, investors, first time buyers, fourth times buyers, it’s runs the gamut. You can read my unedited client testimonials here.

If you are reading this, and got it forwarded from a friend, let me know if you’d like to be included in my future newsletters. I never use canned content, it’s pretty much made from scratch.

One last thing…There’s a shortage of homes for sale: There are so many ready buyers, in many price ranges, who *will* buy a house when the right one comes on the market. Inventory of existing homes for sale is so low. When a house is priced right, it will sell quickly. What are you waiting for?

Do you have a house that might be a match for any of these ACTUAL buyers I’m working with are looking for?
Leominster: Northwwest school area, 3 bedrooms, under $200,000
Westminster: 2+ bedrooms (one bdrm on 1st floor Nichols/Ellis area, up to $300,000
Ash/West: 3 bedrooms, ‘not looking for a project’, up to $225,000
Templeton/Winchendon: 2+ bedrooms, yard for dogs to roam around, up to $175,000
Lunenburg/Townsend: 4 bedroom, newer construction, up to $400,000
Templeton/Hubbardston: 2+ bedroom, single level, barn a plus, up to $200,000
Westminster: Single level ranch with 2 car garage, up to $225,000

Call, text, email or Facebook message me when you have questions or want to brainstorm! As always, I am so grateful that so many of you share my contact info with your friends and family. And because due to the excitement for Spring, or optimism for this year’s Red Sox lineup (I don’t know which!), I ran out of 2016 Red Sox schedule magnets, so I just ordered more and they just arrived, before Opening Day! Be in touch if you’d like one, or if you have questions about buying or selling a home.

It’s my experience that my clients, friends, family and co-workers enjoy getting these updates from me. If you know someone you think would enjoy these stories and experiences, please drop me a note, email or call; I will be happy to add them to my list.

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Jennifer Shenk
Keller Williams Realty North Central
680 Mechanic Street, #250, Leominster
jennifershenk@kw.com
978-870-9260