School districts facing steep cuts, layoffs after MA state budget takes hit from COVID-19 closures

School districts facing steep cuts, layoffs after MA state budget takes hit from COVID-19 closures

BOSTON — Massachusetts public schools could see layoffs at a rate that has not happened in decades, as school budgets across the state are slashed.

The steep cuts are in part due to the lower tax revenues the state collected following mandate store and business coronavirus closures. It is predicted that the state’s tax revenue will drop by $6 billion dollars this year.

Now, the dollars districts had anticipated for the upcoming school year are no longer readily available and that means schools must do more with less, according to Glenn Koocher of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.

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“Many of our districts are looking at 10 percent cuts in their budgets for the following year. And that’s going to be significant," said Koocher. “Because the other thing that’s added to that, at the last minute, is a possible million and a half dollars for the average district to secure COVID supplies."

School districts are primarily funded through a combination of state and local tax dollars. In April, during the height of the pandemic, when everyone was home instead of shopping at stores, staying at hotels and dining out, state tax revenue dropped by more than 50 percent.

Last week, the Pembroke school committee eliminated some 15 positions, including 10 teachers, due to changes in enrollment and a $1.8 million budget shortfall. Among the laid off teachers was Kat Krampf, a music teacher at Bryantville Elementary School, who had been in the job for less than three years. In an emotional farewell video posted on Facebook, Krampf broke the news to students and parents.

“I will not be your music teacher in the coming school year,” she announced. “Goodbye staff, fabulous parents and, of course, goodbye to you, my students.”

Her video has gotten more than 6,000 views and received hundreds of comments from parents, many concerned about the cuts.

“Usually those budget cuts happen not at their level but in the background, and it was really hard to see them affected,” said Sandra Beaton, who has four kids in Pembroke Public Schools and is a member of the Bryantville Parent Teacher Organization. “Piper was sad when she watched the video,” referring to her fourth grade daughter who attended Krampf’s music class.

“This is an urgent moment, and we have doable solutions,” Merrie Najimy, the president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the union that represents more than 100,000 teachers statewide, told 25 Investigates’ Ted Daniel.

More than 50 school districts have already announced teacher layoffs, said Najimy, adding that those jobs can be saved with new taxes.

“What the state legislators can do is balance the budget on the backs of the billionaires. We’re looking at taxing wealthy corporations and wealthy individuals,” she said. “The everyday person is in support of taxing the wealthy and not having it come out of their own pocketbooks.”

Districts where pink slips have already been issued, include: Franklin, Pittsfield, Randolph, Brookline and Fairhaven.

Additional federal stimulus funds could also help with the budget crisis, but that money would be divided across the 50 states.

“I just feel like the state has to do better for our kids to get us aid and stimulus in a timely manner with not a lot of barriers to access,” said Beaton, the Bryantville Elementary mother and PTO member.

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