Students to ask state for more education funds

  • Pioneer Superintendent Jon Scagel with seniors Jack Loud, Nate Mousseau and Avery Johnson are among the students and educators going to the State House. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Pioneer seniors Jack Loud, Avery Johnson and Nate Mousseau.  STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Pioneer Superintendent Jon Scagel STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Pioneer Superintendent Jon Scagel talks with seniors Jack Loud, Nate Mousseau and Avery Johnson. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Published: 2/11/2019 11:26:46 PM

Students and educators from seven Pioneer Valley school districts are going to Boston on Feb. 28 to ask state lawmakers to increase funding for rural schools.

The students were supposed to go this week, but the trip was postponed due to inclement weather. The group has one main request: that legislators add a “rurality factor” to the state’s school funding formula, which hasn’t been revised in almost 25 years.

The current formula disadvantages rural schools, says the Hampshire and Franklin County Rural Schools Coalition, because it links funding to enrollment. In many of the school districts of the Pioneer Valley region, enrollment has declined in the last two decades, leading to less state aid. Yet fixed costs, like transportation, building maintenance and salaries, remain, resulting in a high “per-pupil cost” quotient.

“Our numbers, because we’re spread out, are declining,” said Pioneer Valley Regional School District Superintendent Jon Scagel. “We’re just bringing attention to this and saying, ‘As you move forward with new legislation, consider us out in Western Mass.’”

A program in Wisconsin could be used as a model for what the Rural Schools Coalition is proposing, Scagel said. In Wisconsin’s model, a school district that qualifies for a “sparsity” factor receives an extra $400 per student in state aid, Scagel said.

If that were applied here, Scagel said, it would bring about $250,000 just to Pioneer — enough to definitely keep open at least one of the elementary schools (Warwick Community School and Pearl Rhodes Elementary School in Leyden) that the Pioneer School Committee is considering closing this year.

The students and educators will start arriving at the State House around 10 a.m. on Feb. 28, said Mohawk Trail and Hawlemont Regional School Districts Superintendent Michael Buoniconti, who also chairs the Rural Schools Coalition. They’ll meet with local state representatives, including Paul Mark, D-Peru, Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, Susannah Whipps, I-Athol, and State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton.

“It’s kind of divide-and-conquer,” Buoniconti said.

“It shows the legislators that we’re real,” said Pioneer senior Avery Johnson. “I think it’s important for us to go, too, because we’re seeing the other side of it. Usually, students don’t see the financial side, but it’s good to be open and honest with everybody about what’s going on. Maybe that will decrease the anger within the school over what’s happening.”

Regional schools received some additional funding last year, when State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, led efforts to add $1.5 million for rural schools to the Fiscal Year 2019 state budget. Hinds hopes to increase that amount to $9 million in Fiscal Year 2020. However, Hinds said, this funding is only a temporary solution. Adding a rurality factor would ensure rural schools have a permanent source of funding, he said.

Mohawk Trail High School used its share of the additional rural funding to give a chromebook to every student last year, Communications Specialist Carla Potts said Wednesday. Six Mohawk High students also plan to go to the State House on Feb. 28.

“Most of the time, the schools are kind of left to come up with the funding on their own,” Freshman Lizzy Lynch said. “Local businesses donate money ... but they only have so much.”

Freshman Katie Martin said money seems to be a consistent problem for Mohawk.

“We always need help to do things,” Martin said. “We always have to do fundraising if we want to go anywhere.”

Freshman Riley Hay cited transportation as a barrier to her education. The Mohawk Trail Regional School District covers a vast expanse of 250 square miles, even as it has only 60 students per grade. This means, Mohawk requires more transportation funding than many other schools across the state. Hay, who lives in Cummington, said she wakes up each day at 5 a.m., and is at the bus stop by 6 a.m., spending about 45 minutes on the bus, both ways.

Lynch said school buses are sometimes rerouted if bridges and roads become damaged, which can add time to the trip. 

“We spend a lot of time on the bus,” Lynch said.


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