By Seth Daniel
The cityâ€™s liberal residential zoning decisions over the past few decades has finally come home to roost, said Superintendent of School Paul Dakin, as the school population has surged and the poverty level in the city has risen much higher than it was 10 years ago.
Dakin said he has been monitoring the overall school population and the number of students whose families are under the poverty level because those two numbers directly influence how much money the state and city must provide the schools for educational funding.
This year, Dakin said the total school population jumped over 6,000 students (6,033) for the first time in a generation or more, and that nearly 70 percent of the students in the district live under the poverty line (67.1 percent).
As a comparison, in 1999 – 10 years ago – the school population was 5,723 students, and the percentage of students living under the poverty line was 43.7 percent.
In that time, students under the poverty line have increased by 24 percent, while the enrollment has increased simultaneously by nearly 6 percent.
Dakin said those statistics in the school most likely mirror whatâ€™s happening in the community.
â€œWhatâ€™s driving the [funding] gap now is more kids and significantly higher poverty,â€ said Dakin. â€œWeâ€™re almost at 70 percent poverty in the district now. Itâ€™s the migration of Boston and Chelsea into Revere properties. We see it. We probably see a better reflection of changes in the real estate market than any other organization in the city.â€
The problem with that, for Dakin at least, is not that poorer families are moving into the city – itâ€™s more that the more students that are in the district and the poorer they are, the more the state requires to be spent on education. That is all part of a very complex funding formula laid out in 1993 as part of the landmark state education reform package.
And in that package, the city is responsible for about half of the school budget, so if the school budget increases by $6 million, then the city is responsible for about half of that, Dakin said.
The city saw its first large example of that this year, when officials logged the fourth largest funding gap in the state – behind larger districts like Springfield, Worcester and Brockton. That gap was fueled by a more than 2 percent jump in enrollment and an increase in the poverty level.
â€œIf enrollment keeps going up as it has, that will mean we have to build new schoolhouses, and that will mean we have to come up with $5 million or $6 million more each year to educate the kids and the city will be on the hook for half of that amount every year.â€
He added he doesnâ€™t mind the influx of children and the change in economic makeup, as long as the city gives him the facilities and the tools to educate those kids. That, though, is something he isnâ€™t sure the city will be able to handle in such large numbers.
So what is driving a return to higher enrollments and lower-income families moving into Revere?
Dakin said he believes it is a direct result of zoning changes and the liberal granting of variances that has allowed more apartment buildings and multi-family dwellings.
That type of housing, he said, is a magnet for more schoolchildren, specifically more from low-income families.
â€œOur enrollment is up for one reason – two-family homes are now four-family homes, and four-family homes are now eight-family homes,â€ he said. â€œAdd it up. People are pouring into the city. If the city doesnâ€™t deal with that now, I wouldnâ€™t be surprised if weâ€™re at 7,000 students in another 10 years…The number of kids coming out of multi-family housing units is what is driving all this.â€
He said that variance by variance, zoning change by zoning change, and apartment by apartment, the city has totally changed its character and demographic.
He added he believes Roselandâ€™s giant development in North Revere would be the undoing of the cityâ€™s schools in the future.
â€œWe know whoâ€™s moving in,â€ he said. â€œThe nail in the coffin is going to be Roseland. I hope Iâ€™m proven wrong in the future. Iâ€™ll eat crow in 10 years if I have to, but I donâ€™t think I will have to.â€