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Connolly proposes tit for tat: If non-profits help renovate Boston schools, he'd fast track their own projects

City Councilor and mayoral candidate John Connolly says Boston could end a $1.6-billion backlog in public-school renovation by working out deals with local non-profit institutions with expansion plans: Faster approval of their plans if they agree to help the city out with school projects.

The City Council today considers Connolly's request for a hearing on his proposal, which would go beyond the payments-in-lieu-of-taxes plan already in place, under which non-profit institutions make annual payments to the city that range from nominal to several million dollars.

Connolly says the city last year approved $3.4 billion in new projects at local colleges and research facilities.

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This is an interesting idea but very discouraging in how limited it really is in terms of action. It reminds me of the kinds of things we did in student government: draw up some clever resolution that purports to solve a problem, get it passed...and then what? What I see going in in the schools is that if you want to get capital improvements, you just need to wait until you have the worst test scores and your school can be designated a "turnaround school." Then the money will flow and you will get fancy new facilities for the kids to destroy.

John Connolly's heart and mind are in the right place, but it is terribly discouraging to see that for all his efforts, we have 1) thrown away some old frozen food and 2) implemented a minimal, non-consequential "reform" of the school assignment process.

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Why is there this emphasis here on taxing one group of nonprofits (local colleges, research facilities) to give a minimal boost to the another group of nonprofits (public schools)?

Meanwhile Massachusetts continues to hand out tax breaks to insurance companies, software developers and defense contractors. One recent example:
http://www.boston.com/businessupdates/2013/03/26/massachusetts-approves-tax-breaks-for-companies-expand/P5ox5VBmgbfGWwtOUDV32M/story.html

There's a reason that we give tax breaks to nonprofits--because we believe their work provides special social value to our communities. If we don't believe they deserve those breaks anymore maybe it's time to rewrite the nonprofit laws rather than jury rigging some new add on. Maybe begin with rewriting chapter V section II of the Massachusetts constitution, which says it's the duty of the state to support what we might today call nonprofits because it helps foster a healthy democracy:

"Wisdom, and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties; and as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in the various parts of the country, and among the different orders of the people, it shall be the duty of legislatures and magistrates, in all future periods of this commonwealth, to cherish the interests of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them; especially the university at Cambridge, public schools and grammar schools in the towns; to encourage private societies and public institutions, rewards and immunities, for the promotion of agriculture, arts, sciences, commerce, trades, manufactures, and a natural history of the country; to countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and frugality, honesty and punctuality in their dealings; sincerity, good humor, and all social affections, and generous sentiments among the people."
https://malegislature.gov/Laws/Constitution

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And this is what's wrong with city politics. If something's a good idea, it should get approved. None of this, "do what I want you to do and you'll get special treatment." That's the old way of doing politics, but in the age of the internet (in this town, thanks largely to adamg) we can escape from that.

If we need more money for schools, we should raise taxes. We shouldn't be extorting it from charities.

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In those immortal words, it is what it is - extortion.

As for needing more money for schools - please - if BPS can't get the job done for $22k per student - they can't get it done no matter how much you give them.

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Perhaps you have more recent figures, but in 2011, BPS spent $16,902 per pupil. I would be surprised if it is now $22,000 butyou may have better information. The data for 2011 can be found here: http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/state_report/ppx.aspx. Notably, $16K is less than approximatelty two dozen other school districts in the state (the highest coming in at over $31,000 per pupil) and only a few hundred dollars more than Brookline. Considering the different socioeconomic challenges faced by the student bodies in Brookline and BPS, one would think that BPS should spend considerably more than Brookline in order to achieve similar results. By comparison, Cambridge - a more similar demographic mix to Boston than Brookline and larger - spent $26,305 per pupil in 2011.

I agree that there are certainly large efficiencies that BPS could (and must) implement in addition to raising funding, but we do not need to spend less on BPS, we need to spend far more.

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Doesn't include teacher pensions, retiree health or external funds. Add those in and it comes to about $22k. Neither number includes real estate because bps pays no rent for facilities.

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From the link on that very page:

"Per Pupil Expenditures

Calculated by dividing all of district's operating expenditures by its average pupil membership. All of a district's expenditures from all funding sources are included, with one exception--capital costs such as purchase of buildings are not counted."

(emphasis added)

A check of the BPS 2013 budget page confirms that employee benefits (retirement, health, et al) are included in the reported number.

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1) It definitely does NOT include teacher pensions (which are no longer even included in the city's budget) and retiree health (which is in the CFO's budget based on past information I've received - if you know differently, please advise - while active employee benefits are in the budget I have never seen a line item that indicates that retirees are included in these numbers - retired employees go into the general insurance pool to the best of my knowledge)

2) There is an "accounting" issue with the number of students in this report. BPS had 55,114 students based on digging deeper into that link, however, in this report they are accounting for over 65,000 students. Not sure if that counts charter students and payments to the state for those students or what - but it vastly overstates the number of kids in BPS and understates the cost per pupil - sometimes hard to get apples to apples on these things.

If you take the city's operating budget, add in the external funds, add in the pensions and an estimate for retiree health you get a number in the range of $1.2 billion - or roughly $22k per student. And again - as you point out - that does not include anything for real estate other than maintenance.

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Are you referring to Harvard and Beth Isreal Deconess Medical Center as "charities"? Perhaps it has been some time since you visited either of those institutions. I encourage you to spin by the Deaconess, the harpist that they have playing live music in the lobby is quite relaxing. These entities are not charities, they arenon-profits. This simply means that they do not turn a profit at the end of the year and are chartered to provide some form of public good. The comment above that we may want to reconsider whether these institutions are deserving of non-profit status (considering the size of their assets) has some merit, but both the non-profits and the government have decided it would be better not to go down that path and, rather, have the non-profits make a payment in lieu of taxes - i.e. real estate taxes. When these non-profits want to acquire and then develop more land (thus taking it out of the tax base) there is the inevitable debate over what the payment will be in lieu of taxes. Connolly is simply proposing to direct those funds specifically to public schools going forward. This isn't extortion. The non-profits have fully bought into - and indeed came up with - payments in lieu of taxes.

As for your comment that we should raise taxes, I completely agree. In fact, I advocate raising taxes to the levels paid in Brookline and Newton. Then we would have sufficient funds to run our schools. However, I have spoken with a few people who dissagree with me that doubling our tax rates is a good idea.

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Well, then, what rise in taxes is enough?

In the words of Andrew Tobias, author of "Money Angles," "Enough is never enough."

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Waste! Why is it always raise taxes from the progressives, do you honestly believe this city is being run at absolute efficiency. $14k per student per year, $100 hr for a cop to do a detail on a side-street. Why can't we talk about an environment that brings new tax payers into the city instead a pushing those already contributing away. It we can increase home ownership in the city by allowing more development we would increase the city's tax revenues, and creat more jobs.

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