Sen. Hinds announces funds for businesses, rural schools

  • Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, announces grant funding with Greater Shelburne Falls Area Business Association Development Director Whit Sanford and Buckland Selectboard Chair Dena Willmore outside the Arms Library in Shelburne Falls on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • HINDS

  • Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, announces grant funding for businesses, nonprofits, artists and farmers in Shelburne Falls and the hilltowns, with Greater Shelburne Falls Area Business Association Development Director Whit Sanford and Buckland Selectboard Chair Dena Willmore outside the Arms Library in Shelburne Falls on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, announces grant funding for businesses, nonprofits, artists and farmers in Shelburne Falls and the hilltowns, outside the Arms Library in Shelburne Falls on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Mohawk Trail Regional School District Superintendent Sheryl Stanton meets with state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, who announced on Monday that $192,644 in Rural School Aid was awarded to Mohawk Trail Regional School in Buckland. STAFF PHOTO/ZACK DELUCA

Staff Writer
Published: 3/30/2021 2:37:47 PM

SHELBURNE FALLS — State Sen. Adam Hinds made back-to-back stops at the Arms Library and Mohawk Trail Regional School on a blustery Monday afternoon to award $100,000 to the Greater Shelburne Falls Area Business Association and approximately $192,644 to Mohawk Trail Regional School.

Hinds, D-Pittsfield, was joined by BucklandSelectboard Chair Dena Willmore, business association Development Director Whit Sanford and others outside the Arms Library in downtown Shelburne Falls, where he announced the start of a Hilltown Business Support Fund, which will be administered by the Hilltown Community Development Corp. in Chesterfield and the business association.

Approximately $250,000 will launch the program to help small businesses impacted by the pandemic-related economic downturn. Of the $250,000 in funding, $100,000 was made available for the Greater Shelburne Falls Area Business Association to use within its membership area.

Hinds said part of the announcement was about emphasizing “that we feel like we’re getting close to the end of COVID” as vaccination rates continue to rise. Throughout the past year, he said, there has been “really deep concern around our small towns, our small businesses and the impact throughout the region.”

“So what we tried to do is say, ‘Where can we grab a little extra from the budget and make sure that our small businesses and our main streets are able to get to the other side of this?’” Hinds said.

This led to the creation of the Hilltown Business Support Fund, which, along with other resources, will support businesses, nonprofits, artists and farmers in Shelburne Falls and the hilltowns. According to Sanford, applications are being reviewed and ranked to determine allocations of between $2,500 and $15,000. As of Monday, the business association had already received 20 applications, and Sanford encourages those who are hesitant to fill out an application.

“It never hurts to try,” Sanford said. “You might get a small grant, you might get a medium-size grant — who knows? We’re hoping we get a lot of applications. There’s a real need out there.”

The applicant’s business or nonprofit must be located in one of the following towns: Ashfield, Buckland, Charlemont, Colrain, Conway, Hawley, Heath, Monroe, Rowe or Shelburne. Applicants do not have to be members of GSFABA to apply. For more requirements, and to apply, visit: West County Initiative Grant: Application for Businesses, Nonprofits, Artists and Farmers.

The association will begin to review applications, and distribute funding within the next few weeks. Franklin County Community Development Corp. Business Development Director Amy Shapiro said this initiative is a good example of collaboration between local resources.

“We’re known in this part of the state for strong collaborations, and because people have been collaborating, it allowed this project to just come together really quickly, and because we work so closely with the business community, it allowed them to know what was going on,” Shapiro explained. “I think that’s just a strength of our region.”

After announcing the business support funding, Hinds drove to his alma mater, Mohawk Trail Regional School in Buckland, where he announced that $3 million in the Senate budget has been allocated to the Rural School Aid grant program. Hinds was joined at the high school by Heath School Committee representative Barbara Rode, Hawley School Committee representative Susan Crawford, Superintendent Sheryl Stanton and a few others.

Out of this $3 million, more than $1.1 million is going to schools in Franklin County. Mohawk Trail Regional School is receiving $192,644.

Stanton said rural school aid is an essential part of funding area schools. She said the money will be used to continue building upon technology infrastructure and resources, which have been a key component of operating through the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to this funding, Hinds addressed recent progress regarding the “long-awaited” Rural School Commission, required in the Student Opportunity Act and stalled by appointing authorities.

“It’s been an incredibly frustrating process that we’ve had,” Hinds said. “This is a commission that was ready to go last year and the deadline for its work was December 2020, and there was only one appointment made — and that was the Senate president appointing me to be a co-chair.”

While on his way to Buckland, Hinds said he received “breaking news” via text message that Gov. Charlie Baker is planning to announce appointments to the Rural School Commission in the coming weeks. Baker will appoint about seven of the 19 seats on the commission, which leaves another dozen seats to be filled, Hinds said, and a majority of the commission’s members will be residents of the areas served by rural school districts.

Hinds said the commission is a critical step for making Rural School Aid permanent in the education budget. Working with Mohawk Trail Regional School and School Committee members, he said the need to find further support for rural schools became clear, and they contacted the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to conduct a study on the fiscal condition of rural schools.

“To the surprise of absolutely nobody, the department of education confirmed that it is in fact the case that rural schools pay more for things like paraprofessionals and teachers and regional school transportation,” Hinds said.

As a result of this study, Hinds said legislators were able to get a line item in the state budget for additional aid. This year the Rural School Aid allocation is $3 million, but “next year we’re  gonna ask for $5 million and keep nudging it up until we get the commission in place,” Hinds said.

“Your ZIP code shouldn’t determine your access to quality education,” he said, “but unfortunately the study shows that’s the case.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.

 




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