Local school leaders discuss rural school funding

  • Beth Bandy of Rural Commonwealth began the discussion about school funding at the Small Town Summit in Gill on Thursday. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau

Staff Writer
Published: 1/10/2019 10:10:19 PM

GILL — Rural town financing, or lack thereof, was the topic of discussion at the Small Town Summit in the Gill Town Hall Thursday night.

School Committee, Selectboard members, town administrators and other interested stakeholders attended and discussed their priorities related to financing schools in the region.

Representatives from Rep. Natalie Blais’ and Sen. Adam Hinds’ offices were present to discuss legislation and take comments. Jon Gould, a representative from Hinds’ office, said there were two things on Hinds’ school agenda.

“Senator Hinds was a sponsor of the rural school aid, which was a new line item in the school budget in the 2019 fiscal year,” Gould said. “And, $1.5 million was put in toward rural school aid, and that money was divided between 34 school districts.”

He said Hinds met with other representatives in rural parts of the state, and this year, they are going to ask for $9 million. Hinds also cosigned the Promise Act, which Gould said has the potential to bring $1 billion to public schools across the state.

Gill Selectboard Chairman Greg Snedeker said he had concerns that adding more to an overall budget is not the way to help. Toby Gould of Rural Commonwealth agreed.

“My two granddaughters live in Wayland. This is not a town that needs support,” Gould said. “Why just give Wayland more money? They already have two crew teams.”

Mike Naughton of the Montague Finance Committee said one of the issues he sees is some towns in the state have more than enough capability to pay for the school’s budget. 

“Some towns only pay 82 percent,” Naughton said. “It does effect the poorer towns, they may pay a smaller percent of their budget, but they’re paying it out of a bigger percentage of their local wealth.”

Snedeker said he believes there is a number of ways to shift the burden away from towns that are less affluent. 

“The point is, you have two revenue sources you have property tax and you have state income. State income is progressive and property tax is regressive,” Snedeker said. “You have to shift that burden in some way meaningfully, either through the basic mechanism of Chapter 70 funding — reduce the split to 50/50.”

Conway Selectboard member Phil Kantor said he believes the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education needs to aid in gathering data.

“The first thing we need is data that shows every school, kindergarten through 12th grade – what the educational outcomes are — and we define that by how much money the kids make,” Kantor said. “We need to compel the state to follow the constitution that all kids have to have the same opportunity in life.”

Superintendent of the Gill-Montague School District Michael Sullivan said there is an organization called Mass Budget that puts out an explanation of what funding the foundation budget recommendations would look like, as well as the ways school districts in the state would be effected by four possibilities being floated.

“If you want to know how this is looking for your district, it’s readily available at Massbudget.org,” Sullivan said. “The second thing you could do is ask your superintendent to replicate the impact of not doing the Foundation Budget Review Commission recommendations — they costed it out, for example, how much of a gap is there right now in employee benefits. The data allows you to make a case for their recommendations.”

Montague Town Administrator Steve Ellis said the discussion was not simply an educational inequity conversation.

“The slow ride to poverty works the way it works,” Ellis said. “It could be caused by a lack of income or a lack of population, but this is also an economic issue. The workforce isn’t attracted to the region because the schools don’t offer the programs — that means then that the economy suffers… What you end up with is something that’s happened across America. You get these rural ghetto places, where the critical mass isn’t there to support healthy communities.”


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