State Sen. Steve Panagiotakos invited school officials within his 1st Middlesex District to a meeting this week to discuss finances.
Though no one expected the news to be good, bad news is often better than no news at all.
“Forewarned is forearmed,” said the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
The best officials can hope for, he said, is that next year’s local aid will be level-funded. But the likelihood of level-funding is dim.
“We are in for a difficult ride,” he said. An average recession lasts about 10 months but the current recession began 12 months ago, he said. “We may just be entering the most difficult period.”
“Massachusetts was able to withstand what was happening in the national economy until September,” he said. A shortfall in tax collections then caused Gov. Deval Patrick to announce a $1.4 billion budget, with $650 million in budget cuts across all the state’s executive offices, including the Department of Education. Patrick asked the Legislature to approve additional cuts of $429.5 million but the Legislature passed $386 million in cuts instead.
“The revenue picture is still deteriorating,” Panagiotakos said. State sales tax revenues are stagnant and capital gains tax revenues are falling.
For the current fiscal year, education spending has been cut from $6.24 billion to $6.14 billion.
While not yet able to provide firm local aid figures for the next fiscal year, Panagiotakos promised to keep local school districts informed.
The exact outlook for the next fiscal year is unknown. What Panagiotakos called “the moving pieces to this puzzle” are capital gains tax revenues and the nature of any federal stimulus package.
State Lottery revenues have also fallen. The state has made up the gap when funding municipalities, but its ability to continue doing so is doubtful.
To some degree, the most local school committees can do just now is to keep the budget process open and transparent. The North Middlesex Regional School District is doing just that, making good on a promise to keep member towns informed.
When taxpayers head to town meetings next spring to consider what could be very costly budgets, the more informed they are, the better.