State Senate OKs study on rural school aid

  • Hills rises behind the Mohawk Trail Regional High School in Buckland.

  • Mohawk School District Superintendent Michael Buoniconti. Recorder/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Published: 5/26/2017 11:23:21 PM

A provision to study how rural schools might get more state aid has been included in the Senate budget that was adopted this week. That’s good news for Franklin County’s struggling, small school districts.

The so-called “sparsity aid” formula is aimed at providing additional financial aid to rural districts like those in Franklin County.

The idea, proposed by Mohawk Trail Regional School Superintendent Michael Buoniconti as part of an effort to deal with systemic inequities suffered by rural districts, was adopted unanimously as an outside budget amendment presented by Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield.

The provision, requiring the Department of Early and Secondary Education to study feasibility and implementation of a new aid formula, needs to be approved by a House-Senate budget conference committee when it convenes next month.

Buoniconti has presented the concept to a new Massachusetts Rural Schools Coalition, which he chairs, as well as to legislators and to state education officials.

“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 says 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. But even overseas, in Ireland, small rural schools receive sparsity revenue to remain open, he said.

Last year, Wisconsin allocated $300 per student in sparsity 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.”

Another local legislator, Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, who is co-chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said, “I think it’s well worth taking a look at to address the needs that rural school districts have.”

Together with Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, he said, “I’ve been supportive of Michael’s efforts to get support for rural schools.”

The sparsity aid formula being studied would include such criteria as total student enrollment, enrollment per square mile, per capita income of the communities and other factors pertaining to rural school district funding.

The study results would be reported to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education, the House and Senate Ways and Means Committee and the state’s new Rural Policy Commission by the end of this year.

Buoniconti said there are about 80 rural school districts in the state that are in “financial distress,” in part because they lack the economies of scale that exist in more densely populated districts.

“There are 32 states that already provide some form of rural school aid, through a variety of mechanisms, either through their regular education formula or grant allocations at the state level. Over half of the states realize that their rural schools are different from their urban and suburban schools, and need some additional aid.”


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