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State Senate OKs rural school aid for county districts

  • HINDS



Recorder Staff
Thursday, May 24, 2018

After years of state, school and town officials beating the drum for rural school aid, rural districts, including Mohawk, Frontier, Pioneer Valley, and the 19 member-town Franklin County Technical School District, could see $100 per student in rural school aid from the state.

Sen. Adam G. Hinds, D-Pittsfield, said Wednesday that the state Senate adopted his Fiscal Year 2019 amendment to establish Rural School Aid, adding $1.5 million in aid to rural schools.

“Rural schools face significant and unique fiscal challenges due to population decline, density and ability to pay,” said Hinds. “This proposal is a direct response to local and regional officials throughout my district, who confront those difficulties. If we do not do something to help these school districts financially, Massachusetts is at risk of providing unequal education opportunities for children who live in rural areas. That cannot be allowed to happen.”

The next step, according to Hinds’s office, is for the House and Senate to appoint a six-member committee to negotiate a final fiscal year budget for approval by both legislative branches.

When reached for comment, state Rep. Stephen Kulik said there is not a similar bill in the House of Representatives, but the Senate bill will be subject to negotiations in conference committee.

The plan, as adopted by the Senate this week, would enable school districts with fewer than 10 students per mile to receive an extra $100 per student in the budget year that begins in July. Hinds says 40 school districts would be eligible to receive this aid, including: Conway, the Tech School, Frontier Regional, Hawlemont, Mohawk Trail Regional School District, Pioneer Valley, Ralph C. Mahar, Rowe and others.

Hinds hopes to expand the rural aid program in future years. If the state budgets $3 million in rural aid next year, for instance, another 22 additional school districts, with between 10 to 20 students per square mile, could be eligible for $75 per student in rural school aid.

Last year, Hinds called for a state report on “The Fiscal Conditions in Rural School Districts,” and held a forum at Mohawk to report on the findings. The study found:

Rural districts employ more teachers per 100 students than other districts.

Rural districts spend more than 50 percent more per pupil than districts across the state.

As enrollment declines, some rural schools are relying more on School Choice as a revenue source to support operating budgets.

The study, dated January 2018, found that rural school districts spend up to $18,678 per student, compared to an average expense of $16,692 per student in nonrural districts.

“The Rural School Aid bill will provide some assistance to our schools where our revenues are stagnant and operating costs continue to rise,” said Tari Thomas, superintendent of schools for the Ralph C. Mahar, Orange and Petersham schools.

If the Senate bill passes as is, says Mohawk/Hawlemont Superintendent Michael Buoniconti, Mohawk would receive about $100,000 more in additional state aid, while Hawlemont would receive about $15,000 more. “The establishment of rural school aid … would mark a major achievement for the rural public school districts, he said. “It has been a grueling endeavor simply to be recognized.” He said many districts have been struggling to survive for the past decade. Buoniconti added that the Massachusetts Rural Schools Coalition is grateful to Hinds and his colleagues “for their leadership in helping us make this important collective step in the right direction for our rural students.”