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Legislative Priorities: More Money for Special Education

The town's administration submitted its list of priorities for the legislature for fiscal 2014.

Restore the Circuit-Breaker funding. That's tops in Northborough's annual "State Legislative Issues" list for FY2014.

In a letter sent to Gov. Deval Patrick and local legislative representatives and senators, this top priority mirrors Northborough's top concern last year, which is to restore this program that reimburses school districts that are mandated to provide high-cost programs for special education students.

As it states in the letter, cuts to this program in the last three fiscal years left reimbursement rates ranging from 40 to 60 percent. In FY2010, these cuts translated into a loss of about $475,000, and in 2011, this loss exceeded $500,000.

"This is a significant amount of money for the K-8 schools," said Town Administrator John Coderre.

Although the reimbursement rate is higher than recent years, Coderre writes that "this amount still does not adequately reimburse districts for mandated servies. The high tuition costs for out-of-district placements adversely affect the school budget."

The legislative priorities list is a process started in Northborough several years ago that outlines, after much debate and research, the town's top concerns.

FY2014's list includes two "top priorities," and a list of other concerns the town hopes will be addressed.

Reauthorization of the Chapter 90 funds is second on the list. The Chapter 90 program provides critical funds to towns for the repair and  maintenance of roads and bridges. Last year, Chapter 90 was level-funded at $200 million, which meant $475,000 for Northborough. 

"We're looking for something comparable, or an increase," said Coderre.

Other concerns include supporting a proposed by by the MMA that would eliminate the annual approval requirement for revolving funds and replace it with a one-time authorization by the local appropriating authority.

The town also asks legislators to look at the process of claiming insurance proceeds from public safety IOD claims and insurance from property claims. As it stands, the process is such that insurance claims will sometimes go to the client who used the service (i.e. an ambulance) rather than reimbursement to the town, which paid for the service (such as the ambulance).

"Oldie but goodies," on the list are to modernize procurement and public construction laws, revisit the process of mitigation fees, and increase funding for police training.

Selectman Jeff Amberson, who has been fiercely adamant that legislators be more accountable and follow-up on these requested priorities, said, "What I would like to see is a report card on this that shows what they asked and what they did well and what they didn't do. Some things here are fan favorites and have been on the list since we started doing this."

Each year, legislators are invited to a board meeting to discuss the priorities. Last year, Amberson voiced his clear displeasure with what he sees to be a lack of focus or follow-through.

"Yes, we got a letter [last year]," said Amberson, referring to a letter from Sen. Jamie Eldridge regarding one of the issues, "but we didn't get any action. Anyone can write a letter."

"We did see progress on changes in health insurance," said Coderre. "Pension reform ... the legislature did take that up. And we did last year see some support for Chapter 90 funding."

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