Thursday, April 16, 2015

Spending Our Way Out Of Level IV

Ken O’Brien

Today’s Worcester Telegram contains an articles by Brian Lee titled “Southbridge schools seek big budget hike”.

In that article Acting Superintendent of Schools Sheryl Stanton makes the observation, “Southbridge is a Level 4 underperforming district with 2,262 students. It projects an enrollment increase of 88 students in 2015-16, Ms. Stanton said.
Its per-pupil spending is $13,366. But similar districts that are working to shed their underperforming status, such as Salem, Holyoke and Randolph, spend $14,873, $16,151 and $15,587, respectively.”

She doesn’t mention other school districts that are also Level IV such as Athol-Royalston, Fall River and New Bedford that spend $13,378, !3,534 and $12,802 per pupil respectively.

In 2012 the estimated per capita incomes for Salem, Randolph and Holyoke were respectively $31,193, $27,951 and $20,278. For Athol, Fall River and New Bedford the corresponding levels of per capita income were $19,452, $19,869 and $20,450. For Southbridge the estimated per capita income was $22,722. Therefore, Southbridge’s per capita income was much closer to that for the second group and higher only than Holyoke in Ms. Stanton’s examples.

Southbridge is further distinguished by that fact that, as we reported earlier, it has the highest rate of unemployment in all of Worcester County.

Conversely, Holyoke is making great strides in improving its economic condition. In recent years there have been successful efforts to attract high-tech jobs to Holyoke and diversify its economic base. For example, a coalition of universities and tech companies are building the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center, an energy-efficient, high-performance computing center, in Holyoke. These companies and institutions include Cisco Systems, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT,) the University of Massachusetts, Boston University, EMC Corporation, and Accenture PLC. The data center has been built in Holyoke in part due to hydropower accessibility.

The retail sector has been a major employer since the construction of the Holyoke Mall, one of the largest shopping malls in New England, in 1979. Retail has provided the city with a large and steady tax base, contributing over $7 million in taxes annually.

Southbridge has had none of these economic developments and has essentially squandered the revenues that it has derived from its landfill. 

Ms. Stanton needs to realize that she cannot cherry-pick districts to compare to Southbridge that are not, in fact, comparable. Further, it is not constructive to use such dissimilar examples to subsequently imply that Southbridge’s failure to adopt her proposed budget indicates an unwillingness “to shed their underperforming status”.


  1. Stay With Manager's BudgetApril 16, 2015 at 4:24 PM

    Any councilor that votes for $1.00 more than the Manager's recommended budget should be recalled.
    This school committee has no understanding of the budget needs. Their own boy, Buzz, stated the problems were not budget issues. "We are funded enough.". So why are they looking for a 12% budget increase? Because they gave the ranch away to the teachets' union?

  2. The reason we are getting this now is that the NEASC is coming in and one of the major indicators they us is community support $$$$. When the School Department does not get what they want and the NEASC pulls their accreditation the BobbleHeads will make much ado about funding being the reason. This is to deflect the real reason that the schools are failing -- the school committee and the administration.

  3. But Men, You Loved McLoughlin and DonovanApril 16, 2015 at 8:23 PM

    NEASC took SHS off probation in the summer of 2012, eight years after the 2004 visit. SHS was a Level 1 high school then. So they fired Bishop and now we are a Level 3 high school and will most certainly fail full NEASC accreditation next year.

  4. When I was on the school committee, I voted to approve spending on a $1M technology upograde for the school system. We were told how this was going to enable a new era of education in Southbridge. I don't believe that $1M had any affect on student performance.

    I also supporting building the new middle/high school when I was on the town council. That building was certainly needed but, again, we were told the new school would have a positive effect on the district. That certainly has not been the case.

    What we need more than money is leadership. Without that, we might as well be burying our tax dollars in the landfill.

  5. Rich,

    You are correct in what you have noted. The school committee and the community worked hard to improve the system and it was done with much thought and debate. We, as a committee developed a long range plan for the system while attempting to balance all of the needs of the town. The new school would have been a success had the school committee three years ago stuck with the plan to have two separate schools sharing space on the same footprint. The middle high school was developed to have two building principals and had this been implemented instead of the current configuration, it is my belief that a lot of these issues could have been avoided. Instead, true to form it was who can kill how because of who you know.

    The school committee that took control three years ago should have sat down and studied the school and configuration and asked questions as to why we developed the school in that manner. Instead, they rewarded the sitting superintendent with an extended contract and fired the principal. A principal that I may not have agreed with 100% of the time and certainly had debates with, but one that had cured the deficiencies of the NEASC report, had brought the school to the Level 1 and had instituted discipline and accountability to the students. Of course we will be chastised by some because of some decisions on personnel...but there is always more to the story! You know the truth as you sat there with me for many years!!

    1. O'Brien for PrincipalApril 21, 2015 at 10:18 AM

      Mr. Jovan,
      Is that principal you spoke of the same one that Mr. O'Brien consistently bashed? Interesting, it appears that Mr. O'Brien can't make up his mind. Perhaps he should be the principal. Of course, his record of quitting may not be what the school needs right now.


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