Measures of school resources
Although we could see improvement when data are available for more recent years, Haverhill has poorly in key measures of school resources relative to similar-income Gateway Cities. Among the DESE measures available in August 2019 are:
- Per-pupil spending fiscal 2017 – Haverhill had the lowest among 7 similar-income Gateway cities
- Student/teacher ratios 2018-2019- Haverhill had the highest among 7 similar-income Gateway Cities
- Average teacher salaries 2016-2017 – Haverhill had the lowest among 7 similar-income Gateway Cities and the lowest among 18 nearby (adjacent and adjoining-adjacent) Massachusetts communities
Spending per pupil
As reported by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), Haverhill school spending per pupil is below the state average, the average of the Gateway cities, and below six of the similar-income Gateway cities.
The six similar-income cities spend from 6 percent to 44 percent more per pupil than Haverhill.
Haverhill per pupil spending fell further below state and Gateway city averages from 2008 to 2016. In three recent years, not yet shown in available DESE data, Haverhill school budgets have been increased more than necessary to keep up with enrollment growth and inflation. So, depending on spending in other communities, we should see the gap getting smaller when data are available for school years 2018, 2019, and 2020.
Haverhill has more students per teacher than any of the similar-income Gateway cities.
Teacher salaries are difficult to compare for several reasons. One is that market wages may vary with local cost of living and so may be higher near Boston. Another is that salaries are only part of teacher compensation, which may include substantial health and pension benefits, which can differ markedly among cities and contracts over time. Salaries also vary with teacher experience, so districts with more-experienced teachers can be expected to have higher average salaries. The DESE measure of teacher salaries is a simple average of salaries across teachers of all types and experience levels and does not attempt to account for benefits.
Because Haverhill must hire teachers in its local market, it can be useful to compare teacher salaries with surrounding communities. If we look at the adjacent Massachusetts communities that border Haverhill and next-to-adjacent that border those communities. Haverhill teacher salaries as reported by DESE are the lowest and would need to be increased by 11% to meet the average of these nearby communities. This measure, which does not adjust for benefits or teacher experience.
Measures of tax burden associated with school spending
Measures of tax burden are similarly imprecise and will vary with the circumstances of the taxpayer — home ownership and value, income, etc. Some sense of the cost of Haverhill schools to local citizens can be gleaned by looking at school spending, less state aid, as a percentage of aggregate household income. This measure, computed from DESE and U.S. Census Bureau data, suggests Haverhill spends about 2.5% of aggregate household income on schools, decidedly less than 5 of the six other similar-income Gateway Cities.
One other way to look at the local effort being made to fund schools is to consider school spending relative to the minimum state requirement. Comparability here, requires looking at the similar income cities. Lower income cities typically receive more state aid and higher income cities receive less and typically contribute a local share above the state-required minimum. Among our similar-income Gateway Cities, only Haverhill and Leominster are very near the state minimum. The others spent anywhere between 10 percent and 34 percent more in fiscal years 2015 and 2016.
Choices for Haverhill School Financing
The benchmarks provided on this website nearly all suggest that, relative to similarly situated Massachusetts communities with similar income and demographics, Haverhill lags behind in both school performance and school spending. Because Haverhill has drifted lower in recent years it may not have accumulated the knowledge and implementation skills in programs and management methods needed to achieve higher performance. If Haverhill is to catch up with its peer group cities it will need to overcome this long accumulating deficit before it can be expected to perform at the level of other cities. This will take time. But setting goals based on benchmarks mean we can learn from those who have gone before and that the burden will be manageable. The methods for achieving school improvement to comparable levels are there to be observed in nearby communities and can be adopted and adapted as they may be relevant to Haverhill.
It will be important to provide the needed resources and ensure they are wisely used. Catching up in spending levels may best be accomplished over a period of years in accordance with a well developed strategic plan. The benchmarks show that Haverhill lags behind it peers in elementary school performance and graduation rates. This highlights the need to address early learning skills and keeping high school students in school. Funding allocation for such efforts should be guided by evidence of effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the particular programs.
Catching up will require sustained investment in schools to see the program through. School leaders will need to rely on a sustained commitment of increasing resources over time. To reach the level of spending of other similar cities will require sequential increases in Haverhill’s school budget above the combined rates of price inflation and enrollment growth. The table below illustrates the budget increases required to match spending level of benchmark cities within five years. Important choices will need to be made. Other goals are possible and they could be pursued over longer periods of time. Haverhill would do well to engage in the public discussion needed to commit the city to a goal that is shared by the large majority of its citizens, so that the needed effort can be sustained over time.
U.S. Census, American Community Survey, 2011-2015 five-year estimates.
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, School and District Profiles 2016 and earlier, reports on Per Pupil Expenditure, Teacher Salaries, Chapter 70 Aid)