Rural schools to push for millions more in state aid

  • Mohawk Trail Regional School Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Published: 1/24/2018 5:16:28 PM

BUCKLAND — Hoping to boost state money to rural school districts by about $9.5 million, educators at the Massachusetts Rural Schools Coalition voted unanimously Wednesday to back a proposal for aid in the coming budget.

They also directed Coalition Chairman Michael Buoniconti to work with state Sen. Stan Rosenberg to put the school aid request before the Legislature in the current session.

If the coalition’s draft plan were approved as is, 71 rural school districts would stand to gain between $100- to $300-per-student more state aid, to compensate for the higher cost of doing business with fewer students per grade but with a full complement of teachers meeting state certification requirements.

“They could fix us with such cheap money,” said Quabbin Regional School District Superintendent Maureen Marshall. “$9 million is chump change, when you’re talking $9 million out of a multi-billion dollar (state) budget.”

Buoniconti, the Mohawk Trail Regional School District superintendent, created the criteria under which districts would qualify for different levels of rural aid. For instance, Tier 1 rural schools, with fewer than 10 students per mile, would receive the most aid, of $300 per student. Among the local school districts, those to benefit the most in new rural aid dollars would include: the Franklin County Technical School ($146,400), Frontier  ($183,300), Mohawk Trail  ($289,500), Pioneer Valley ($260,100) and Ralph C. Mahar ($225,600).

Schools districts with 10 to 20 students per mile would receive about $200 per student. These would include: Athol-Royalston ($293,200), Deerfield  ($80,200), Orange  ($125,800) and Quabbin ($449,600).

Districts in Tier 3, with between 20 to 35 students per square mile, would get $100 per student in aid. These include Gill-Montague ($95,100).

Buoniconti’s initial proposal for rural aid totaled about $19 million, he said, but Rosenberg advised him it would have a better chance for approval if he asked for less.

Pointing out that this is the second year of the current legislative session, Stephen R. Hemman, who is assistant executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Regional Schools, warned the measure could end up in a study committee. But, Hemman added, “it might be a good idea to get this on the record, so that people are talking about it. I say, stay with this — even if you don’t get it through.” He said at least the legislators from other parts of the state “will know about this and that it is an issue.”

The group, which met at Mohawk on Wednesday morning, discussed whether there might be federal dollars available to help rural schools here. Buoniconti pointed out that 30 states have some form of rural aid — most of it the result of political pressure from rural areas. There was concern that the rural school systems of western Massachusetts might not have a big enough voice in eastern Massachusetts.

Buoniconti suggested bringing local students to “A Day on the Hill,” so they can share their stories of how schooling in rural Massachusetts is limited by long bus rides, small classes or limited internet access.

Mohawk School Committee member Poppy Doyle suggested meeting with U.S. Congressman Richard Neal’s staff, to see if there are federal options for rural aid.

“I don’t think we’re one of the favored states right now, in Washington, D.C.,” said Marshall. “Perhaps our governor (Charlie Baker) would be a player, a Republican governor in an unfavored state. We need Charlie Baker, if we’re going to go to the feds.”

Gill-Montague Superintendent Michael Sullivan mentioned that Brockton has filed an education equity lawsuit to reform education aid by changing the math for calculating school districts’ poverty rates. “They’re looking for others to join them,” Sullivan said.

Buoniconti also gave coalition members the news that the organization did not receive a state Efficiency and Regionalization grant, one that would have been used to set up a pilot “Massachusetts School Services” website so school districts could consider sharing central office services such as accounting, payroll and other bookkeeping tasks that don’t require an employee to be on school grounds.

“Just because we didn’t get the grant doesn’t mean we stop pushing,” Buoniconti said. “We fight the fight and our legislators are here to help us with this.” Among those attending the meeting were legislative aides from the offices of state Sen. Adam Hinds, and state Reps. Stephen Kulik and Paul Mark.


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