Local schools to form rural association

Group will address issues faced by districts with sparse enrollment

Recorder Staff
Published: 4/12/2016 10:05:44 AM

DEEFIELD — About 16 western Massachusetts school superintendents and others agreed Monday morning to start a “Massachusetts Association of Rural Schools” to address common issues faced by sprawling rural school districts with sparse student enrollment.

Michael Buoniconti, superintendent of the Mohawk Trail and Hawlemont regional school districts, was voted in as chairman of the new organization, which doesn’t yet have an official name.

Rural school districts are those with fewer than 1,000 students, or which serve towns with fewer than 10 students per square mile.

Last month, Buoniconti invited several school officials to Mohawk Trail Regional School to discuss forming a group to “represent interests peculiar to rural districts” that are not represented by either state school associations.

Monday’s meeting was held at Frontier Regional School, and the 16 superintendents attending represented 31 rural school districts, according to Buoniconti.

This year, the group hopes to lobby for the following causes:

Creation of “sparsity aid” for rural school districts, which have higher per-pupil costs than schools with more students. Wisconsin, for instance, is giving struggling rural schools sparsity aid of $300 per student this year.

Exemption from a state School Building Authority rule that requires districts to return state money used to renovate school buildings if those under-used buildings are later repurposed.

Protection from charter school expansion into rural school district regions.

Another issue to research is how to work with towns that have large, untaxed expanses of conservation land or wetlands.

“We agreed to establish regular communications with town selectboards and finance committees, to identify areas of common interest and possible lobbying initiatives,” Buoniconti said.

Other Franklin County superintendents who attended the meeting included Ruth Miller of Pioneer, Marti Barrett of Frontier, Tari Thomas of Mahar, Jennifer Haggerty of Union 28, and Maureen Marshall of Quabbin Regional and Jonathan Lev of the Northern Berkshire School Union. Also attending were school officials from Narrangansett, Palmer, North Brookfield Gateway Regional, Granby, Hatfield, and Hampshire Regional.

The next meeting of the group takes place on May 9 at 10 a.m. at the Collaborative for Educational Services in Northampton.




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