Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley said for years the state has been providing a 'one size fits all model' for funding and that is now changing with such programs as rural school aid.
DALTON, Mass. — Rural schools will receive additional support this year after state Sen. Adam Hinds successfully secured a $1.5 million budget allocation for additional aid.
The budget line provides districts below certain incomes and density $100 extra per student. The sparsity aid program helps rural schools with funding struggles keep up with larger schools throughout the state.
"In a rural school our fixed costs are the same, they are just as high as anywhere in the state. The problem is our population is low and the resources available are also low. This shot in the arm is a great start in the right direction," said state Rep. Paul Mark said.
Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley made the announcement of the final totals at a press conference at Wahconah High School on Monday. Central Berkshire Regional School District will receive the highest amount of the 33 districts with $246,056 in additional aid.
Mohawk Trail Regional Schools will see $132,932 extra that Superintendent Michael Buoniconti said will go toward upgrading technology the students use.
"For Mohawk, we are spending almost all of this money on buying Chromebooks for our students in Grades 7 through 12, which is a gamechanger for our kids. It is a game changer with how instruction is going to be delivered, for our student's understanding of digital literacy, it is just a profound difference," he said.
The new program stems first from a student headed by DESE to look at the funding issues associated with rural schools.
"In the last budget cycle, we compelled DESE to look at the fiscal condition of rural schools throughout the commonwealth. The surprise of probably nobody, they confirmed it is true. Student enrollment is going down in rural schools in the last 10 years while it has been flat in the commonwealth. It is true that rural schools are spending more per pupil for their teachers and paraprofessionals and are spending 50 percent more on transportation," Hinds said.
That study also coincides with a study looking at the Chapter 70 school funding formula. A foundation formula commission ruled that schools across the state are underfunded.
This year the Legislature upped its Chapter 70 allocation, upped its regional school transportation aid, and created the rural sparsity aid program.
"It is just the beginning. I think it is an important precedent being established here and I think it is going to grow. The hardest thing to do is to establish the reasoning, the justification, for a new legislative initiative and that's already been done," said state Rep. Stephen Kulik.
"Now the work is to increase it, expanding it, make it stronger, to respond to changing dynamics in our school districts."
State Rep. Paul Mark said rural schools have the same overhead costs as others but less in available resources to pay for it.
Discussion about changing the way schools are funded is expected to continue when the next legislative session opens in 2019. Riley said the current model hasn't provided equity across the state.
"For a long time in education, we've doled out resources on a one-size-fits-all model. Massachusetts is very proud of itself for being No. 1 in the country on various test scores and metrics. That's a great thing. But also when we look deeper into the information what we see is we are really No. 1 for some. Kids living in poverty, kids with special needs, second-language learners, and kids living in a rural area aren't being given the same opportunities that kids are in other places," the commission said.
"It is incumbent upon us to fix that. Today the rural aid announcement is one way toward addressing issues."
Hinds had originally pitched more for the program. He wanted $300 per student for districts with 21 students per square mile. But, being a new program, he had to scale his proposal back to get the needed support. The program now gives $100 per student at schools with less than 10 students per square mile.
Hinds hopes the program will both expand in the number of districts to receive funds and increase the amount of funds received.
"We do hope this effort is just the starting point. We do hope it is the starting point also for keeping the foot on the pedal for other funding areas that include school transportation," Hinds said.
The additional funds each of the 33 schools will receive is available below. Riley said the districts will receive the funds within a couple weeks.
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Mac-Haydn Theatre, Shakespeare & Company Take Top Honors at Berkshire Theatre Awards
Tara Franklin accepting the award for Outstanding Solo Performance for 'On the Exhale' at the Chester Theatre Company.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Berkshire Theatre Critics Association presented the Berkshire Theatre Awards on Nov. 11, the fourth year the awards have been presented to honor and celebrate the excellence and diversity of theater in the greater Berkshire region.
The 2019 awards really display the commitment of regional theaters to presenting new and diverse work. Women and minorities were well-represented among the nominees and the winners in all categories. Nominees represented theaters in Massachusetts, New York, Vermont and Connecticut.
Critics J. Peter Bergman and Macey Levin once again hosted the ceremony, which saw top honors for Outstanding Play Production go to the Shakespeare & Company's production of Suzan-Lori Park's "Topdog/Underdog" and "Ragtime" take home the award for Outstanding Musical Production for the Mac-Haydn Theatre.
This year's ceremony featured musical and Shakespearean performances by nominees David Joseph ("Times Stands Still" at Shakespeare & Company) and Greg Boover ("Twelfth Night" at Shakepeare & Company), and musical selections by Monica M. Wemitt, Rachel Rhodes-Devey and Gabe Belyeu from the Mac-Haydn Theatre.