Editorial: Pleasant surprise on fuel reimbursement
State lawmakers were able to pass a spending plan for this new fiscal year just under the deadline. That last-minute rush to get a budget passed before July 1 obviously didn’t leave everyone with enough time to carefully examine the 500 pages that detailed the $36.5 billion the state wants to spend on services, programs, etc.
That’s a shame, as the budget often contains surprises, and if it’s considered a good surprise, you want to be able to take advantage of it when it comes to publicity.
With this budget, count us among those happy to see the Legislature take more seriously its promise when it comes to money for reimbursing regional school districts with busing money. When the state was pushing for a more regional approach to providing public education years ago, it offered as an enticement the promise of paying for the district’s bill when it came to busing for students who lived more than 11/2 miles from the school.
To all the districts’ dismay, that 100 percent reimbursement has never materialized. In fact, at times, the state hasn’t been even close to providing the money promised. Consider that last year, Pioneer Valley Regional School District received $384,399 for transportation in Chapter 71 money. Unfortunately, that was just 59 percent of the $644,976 the district had to spend. Or take a look at Mohawk Trail Regional School District, which before this state budget proposal was passed was projecting at getting $450,000 in reimbursement toward a $1.09 million transportation budget.
Anyway you look at it, the state’s failure to keep this promise for busing money put regional rural districts in a bind, especially as fuel costs began pushing higher.
Thus this year could really make a difference as the budget calls for the state to reimburse districts for 90 percent of the cost, which, according to state Rep. Stephen Kulik, is the highest in four decades.
Kulik, who has fought for higher reimbursements for years said, “We are finally making a serious dent in this expense — because school districts will be able to put more money into classroom programs.”
Having the reimbursement be at 90 percent would truly ease that burden for school districts that have had to reduce or cut other line items in the overall budget to feed the transportation line.
Now it’s up to the governor to look the budget over and decide what he wants to do. While we would understand if he found some places that need cutting — after all this budget calls for an additional $2 billion in overall state spending — we would like to think that Gov. Patrick will leave the money in place for school transportation reimbursement and allow the state to come much closer to keeping a long-overdue promise.