We have heard a lot about the school budget, with many more conversations likely as we approach Town Meeting. The schools receive a significant portion of our town budget, and the growth of our school budget continues to outpace that of our town budget. Probing questions on the topic are necessary and, in some cases, long overdue. The fact is that our schools remain terribly underfunded — yes, underfunded. Hopkinton spends 20 percent less per student than the average school in this state, and 30 percent (!) less than other schools within the top 20. (Per student spend data per Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, top 20 as determined by Niche.com.) This significant gap is simply unsustainable — it WILL affect the quality of the schools if allowed to persist.
For most houses being built in town, the property tax for that house will not cover the cost of educating the students likely to move in there. This structural deficit must be resolved through determined and focused leadership. Instead of directing your critique toward the School Committee, instead consider asking the Select Board, Planning Board or town manager the difficult questions:
— Why have we not seen any push toward building out the commercial tax base — the only true solution to this problem — beyond campaign promises? Leadership and action — not simply photo ops — are desperately needed on the part of the Select Board.
— Why have we not sought out a residential growth strategy, or even considered attempting to moderate housing growth? The rate of growth in the number of students has reached (or exceeded) the breaking point as displayed during this year’s budget conversation and reinforced by the significant space constraints within all of our school buildings.
— Why does the Planning Board continue to push for higher-density residential housing, despite the town’s inability to financially support it at this time?
— Where is any mid- or long-term financial planning on the part of the town manager or other town leadership? Why do we seem shocked by the budget every single year?
Much has changed in the 18 years that I have lived in Hopkinton, but through it all, the schools have maintained their excellence and are a source of pride for the community. Only committed, decisive action now on the part of town leadership will keep them there.
— Jared Pray, Hopkinton
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Thank you for these valuable questions and considerations, Jared.
There is long range planning – it has been presented multiple times. It is chock full of all the projects, totaling hundreds of millions of dollars that the schools are proposing. There is no room in the budget because the schools keep coming forward with ridiculous requests. Schools are NOT the only thing that matters in a town.