Wednesday, May 6, 2015

MERSD Is at a Critical Juncture

Monday evening, the citizens of Essex voted unanimously to support the MERSD Fiscal Year 2016 budget request.  With this vote, Essex is able to fully fund their portion of the MERSD budget.  Earlier this spring, the voters of Manchester also supported the MERSD budget request. However, Manchester requires a portion of our budget be approved on the May ballot through a Proposition 2.5 override.  If you have been following the budget development process, you know that MERSD is at a critical juncture.  As we approach the Manchester Town Election, MERSD would like to address some of the more frequently asked questions and some misinformation communicated through recent letters to the editor regarding our FY16 budget proposal.

Why does this year’s budget exceed our four year average assessment increase?

  • The MERSD FY16 budget proposal seeks to correct the impact of substantial enrollment growth on reserve funds and school choice revenue.­
  • The Manchester Essex resident student population has grown 24% since 2007.
  • This multi-year shift in resident enrollment has increased the cost of our operations and reduced our capacity to accept School Choice students, thus reducing School Choice revenue.  
  • Over the past four years, the District’s annual increase in assessment has not kept pace with the rate of enrollment growth.  

Why does MERSD need increased town funding?

  • While enrollment has increased dramatically, assessment increases have averaged only 2.35%, resulting in per pupil assessment rising just 0.2% per year since 2011.
  • Since 2008, Manchester’s assessment per pupil has actually declined by 0.1%. Essex’s assessment has increased by only 0.6%.  Simply stated, funding per pupil has not only failed to keep pace with enrollment growth, it has not even kept pace with inflation.

What is the size of the override size?

The amount of the Manchester override is $492,792 which represents approximately $150 annual tax increase just 41 cents per day for the median household.  Essex has capacity within the levy limit and will not require an override.

When was the last override?  When will you need another one?

  • There has been no operational override since 2005.   Building projects are separate requests (debt exclusions) which tax payers fund independently of the operating budget.
  • The MERSD budget model projects that we will be able to live within the levy limit for the foreseeable future.

How much of town spending is for the school?

MERSD currently represents:
  • 45.4% of MBTS spending, down from 48.4% in FY-11 
  • 45.9% of Essex spending, stable over same period
Will the towns need to raise taxes to pay for retiree health obligations?

No. Through restructuring its health care offerings, MERSD reduced a $1.8 million unfunded annual obligation to an estimated $235,000, which will be eliminated over time.

What is MERSD doing to manage special education costs?

Through the state Community Innovation Grant MERSD, developed in-house Special Education programs to limit out-of-district placements, with an annual net savings to taxpayers of $685,000.

Does MERSD have a spending problem?
  • No. MERSD has a growth problem.
  • MERSD’s per pupil expenditure ($14,317) is at the state average and the lowest on Cape Ann.
  • MERSD teacher salaries are at state average, ranking 138 out of 313 school districts. (Boston Business Journal)
  • Over past four years, our annual increase in the assessment to the towns has averaged just 2.35% per year.
  • There has been no operational override since 2005.
  • As a result of increased resident enrollment, MERSD absorbed a loss of $475K of annual School Choice revenue.