Special-ed schools’ challenges offer glimpse into state’s funding burden

The editorial“A modest proposal for taxing nonprofits” hinted at a significant problem that should be addressed.

The fact is that municipalities have overcommitted to very generous wages and benefits for their employees that they can’t afford. As the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of 766 Approved Private Schools, a statewide association of approved private special-education schools under Chapter 766, I am acutely aware that our member schools subsidize the cost of educating more than 5,000 public students with severe disabilities. This totals an average of $16 million a year in private funds.

Our members can’t compete with the generous wages and benefits of public schools. Our teachers make, on average, about $23,000 less than public school teachers and work a month longer. When adjusted for the difference in the length of the school year, the salary gap is about $34,000.


Our member schools struggle to provide meager retirement plans for their staff, while municipal employees enjoy unlimited defined benefit pension plans in which participants never have to worry about outliving their retirement savings.

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According to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, municipalities have committed themselves to more than $40 billion in unfunded pension and post-retirement health insurance liabilities. Shouldn’t municipalities be required to manage their own finances before nonprofits are asked to bail them out?

James V. Major