School Funding Probabilities by Maria Kopicki
published in Daily Hampshire Gazette 1/5/17; Amherst Bulletin 1/6/17
One of the main arguments given for accepting the current school reconfiguration and consolidation proposal is that Amherst’s chances of getting back into the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) pipeline is a long shot. We have been told that “there were 156 Statements of Interest last year for an approximate 10% success”, “projects take 5 to 7 years on average to be accepted”, and “we would simply lose this 34 million in state aid with no guarantee of ever seeing this money again”.
While no one can foretell the future, one can look at the data that the MSBA, the state funding agency, releases to assess these statements. This analysis has revealed a very different picture than what has been suggested.
For the past 4 years there have been about 150 to 225 Statements of Interest, essentially applications, each year. Of these, about half are “core” projects, that is whole buildings, either new construction or renovation. The other half are accelerated repair proposals and are not in competition with this group. Furthermore, of the remaining core projects, many applications are for multiple schools in a single district (like Wildwood and Fort River) and many more are for districts that are already engaged in an ongoing core project. But there can only be one core project at a time in a district so the number of projects actually available for acceptance drops to around 50 per year. Since 2009, an average of 35% of these projects have been invited each year.
While a number of factors go into inviting schools into the MSBA pipeline, a major component is the needs survey that ranks projects on building condition and general environment. The more appropriate question, then, is what are the chances of acceptance for schools with a ranking comparable to Wildwood or Fort River. The answer is about 60% and 40%, respectively – not 10%.
In terms of the time from application to invitation into the pipeline, over the past 5 years, about 30% of projects were accepted on their first try, another 30% on their second attempt and another 25% on their third (accounting for actual availability). This is certainly not a guarantee, but over 500 core and repair projects have been invited into the MSBA pipeline since 2008, providing relief to a backlog of schools.
The MSBA also does not penalize a town for having a failed vote, as evidenced by three other towns that had a different Statement of Interest accepted so quickly and a subsequent town-approved project shortly after that.
It is important to understand Amherst’s own history of Statements of Interest. The Amherst school district did not apply for Wildwood and Fort River as core projects every year prior to Wildwood being accepted in 2013. In fact, no Statement of Interest was submitted for either Wildwood or Fort River in 2011. Since Wildwood’s invitation, Amherst did continue to apply for a new building at Fort River but this was a futile exercise as this was not possible as a simultaneous core project.
All this information is readily available on the MSBA website and should have been presented to Amherst residents far earlier in this process.
The proposal before Town Meeting this January 30th is for the same problematic plan as before. Half the town and half of Town Meeting had many and varied reasons to oppose it. People of good will and the best intentions for our students, staff and community can disagree about those reasons, but to commit the Town and the schools to 50 years of those consequences because of an exaggerated fear of the money going away is not sound policy.
When one studies the available data, the outlook is much more optimistic that we, as other towns have before us, can go from a controversial and divisive plan to a successful school building project that accomplishes what a large majority of townspeople support.
- Information on projects that have been accepted into the MSBA pipeline
- Provides links to all SOIs ever submitted to the MSBA (Note: There were no submissions from 2003-2007 as the MSBA was rebooting from its previous incarnation.) http://www.massschoolbuildings.org/building/2017_SOIs
- Information on the Needs Surveys http://www.massschoolbuildings.org/programs/needs_survey