Sparsity Aid for rural schools? Mohawk mulls rural school assoc.

Superintendent mulls rural schools association


Recorder Staff
Published: 3/2/2016 5:20:28 PM

BUCKLAND — Leaders of school districts with fewer than 1,000 students, or which serve towns with fewer than 10 students per square mile, have been invited to the Mohawk Trail Regional School on March 23 to discuss forming a Massachusetts Rural Schools Association.

The association is to address issues that school systems in densely populated regions don’t face. 

Superintendent Michael Buoniconti invited 45 school superintendents of 65 rural school districts to this meeting — and all have small school populations in large rural areas.

“Some (superintendents) are in charge of three, even four, small districts,” said Buoniconti, who heads the Mohawk and Hawlemont regional school districts. “We’re all dealing with flat state aid and small class sizes. Mohawk is not unique in this — and in finding ways to survive.”

He said the purpose of this new educational group is to “represent interests peculiar to rural districts” that are not represented by either the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents or the Massachusetts Association of Regional Schools.

“Divided, we have very little influence,” he added.

Among issues Buoniconti wants to discuss with the other superintendents is the charter school tuition formula that penalizes low-enrollment school systems by charging them more per student than they charge districts with lower-per-pupil costs. For instance, a school with only 10 students per classroom still has to heat, light and operate its building and have the required teachers for each grade, so the cost-per-pupil is higher than a school with an average of 18 students per class.

If more students leave a rural district for charter schools, the district’s per-pupil costs rise and so does its tuition to the charter school.

“What I’m trying to do is establish Sparsity Aid in rural school districts that meet certain thresholds,” said Buoniconti. “There is still time for us to lobby the Senate, and perhaps the House, to insert such funding in the FY 17 budget.”

Buoniconti said the concept of sparsity aid has been pioneered in Wisconsin, to keep school districts going that lack the economies of scale of a larger school has. But even overseas, in Ireland, small rural schools receive sparsity revenue to remain open, he said.

Last year, Wisconsin allocated $300 per student in sparcity aid to 137 school districts. 

“If (Mohawk) got $300 per student, that would be $300,000,” he said. “As we develop our long-range sustainability plans, we’ll see if we can get support from our state to keep our community alive.”

Among those invited are superintendents from the Gill-Montague, Mahar, and Frontier regional school districts and the Franklin County Technical School, as well as some from small towns and school districts on Cape Cod, and others from western Massachusetts school systems in Lee, Monson, Williamstown, Hatfield and Granby.


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