Berkshire Delegation Commends Advocacy Of Constituents for Rural School Aid Program

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BOSTON — State Senator Paul Mark, on behalf of the Berkshire Delegation, announced that funding for the Rural School Aid grant program has been raised to $15 million for Fiscal Year 2024, resulting in increases ranging from 30-210 percent for schools in the Berkshire, Hampden, Franklin and Hampshire District. 
 
The program provides financial assistance to the Commonwealth's most rural school districts.
 
"Making sure that students throughout our region can access a high-quality education, equal to their counterparts around the state, is extremely important to me and our regional delegation," said Senator Mark. "Tripling the amount of Rural School Aid that will flow to our local districts this year is going to help our rural communities significantly and represents a major milestone in progress to full funding."
 
The Berkshire legislative delegation worked together this session in coordination with several students and staff from local school districts to continue to build awareness and support for the unique needs of rural schools. That work culminated in an increase in Rural School Aid from $5.5 million in FY23 to $15 million for FY24.
 
The Rural School Aid grant program helps school districts with low population densities and lower-than- average incomes address fiscal challenges and take steps to improve efficiency. Rural School Aid can be used for a wide variety of purposes to support district operations, with priority given to efforts increasing regional collaboration, consolidation, or other strategies to improve long-term operational efficiency and effectiveness.
 
"The significant increase in rural school aid in this year's budget will go a long way in providing high- quality education for all students, regardless of what district they live in," said Rep. John Barrett III. "This investment is an important step in delivering on the recommendations included in the Rural Schools Report."
 
Administered by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), Rural School Aid is a source of funding separate from Chapter 70 aid.
 
According to DESE's 2018 study of rural schools, there was a 12.4 percent  spending gap between rural and nonrural districts for in-district students. The study found that the average in-district expenditures for students enrolled in all non-vocational school districts was $17,293 in FY20, the most recent year for which this data is available. Multiplying this amount by 12.4 percent results in the identification of a per pupil spending gap of $2,144. Applying this amount to the 27,219 students identified as attending rural districts
in the same DESE study, the total spending gap for rural schools equals $58,357,536. The Commission on the Fiscal Health of Rural School Districts recommended at least $60 million be appropriated in annual aid.
 
"This $15 million is a very big step in our collective fight to level the playing field for rural communities. I am proud of the results we are seeing with the Rural School Aid Program, and I am sure this project will continue to be a positive force for education in the Berkshires," said Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, "While this is a great first step, I am eager to see this funding flow continue towards our rural schools down the line."
 
For FY24's Rural School Aid, DESE identified districts eligible based on their student density of not more than 35 students per square mile and their per capita income of less than $58,820 per capita, according to 2020 data from the Department of Revenue.
 
Based on these criteria, there are 68 school districts that are eligible to receive rural school aid in FY2024. Senator Mark represents a largely rural, western Massachusetts district spanning 57 communities in Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden Counties. Those schools to receive funding within his
district are:
 
  • Berkshire Hills Regional School District, FY24 $388,000; FY23 $154,000; 151 percent  increase over FY23
  • Chesterfield-Goshen School District, FY24 $78,000; FY23 $29,000; 168 percent  increase over FY23
  • Central Berkshire Regional School District, FY24 $1,325,000; FY23 $532,000; 149 percent  increase over FY23
  • Clarksburg School District, FY24 $120,000; FY23 $49,000; 144 percent  increase over FY23
  • Conway School District, FY24 $26,000; FY23 $14,000; 85 percent  increase over FY23
  • Florida School District, FY24 $63,000; FY23 $26,000; 142 percent  increase over FY23
  • Gateway Regional School District, FY24 $832,000; FY23 $300,000; 177 percent  increase over FY23
  • Hampshire Regional School District in Westhampton, FY24 $313,000; FY23 $134,000; 133 percent increase over FY23
  • Hancock School District, FY24 $33,000; FY23 $11,000; 200 percent  increase over FY23
  • Hawlemont School District, FY24 $90,000; FY23 $35,000; 157 percent  increase over FY23
  • Hoosac Valley Regional School District, FY24 $228,000; FY23 $93,000; 145 percent  increase over FY23
  • Lee School District, FY24 $32,000; FY23 $12,000; 166 percent  increase over FY23
  • Mohawk Trail School District, FY24 $621,000; FY23 $262,000; 137 percent  increase over FY23
  • Mount Greylock Regional School District, FY24 $286,000; FY23 $92,000; 210 percent  increase over FY23
  • Rowe School District, FY24 $20,000; FY23 $7,000; 185 percent  increase over FY23
  • Savoy School District, FY24 $17,000; FY23 $13,000; 30 percent  increase over FY23
  • Southern Berkshire Regional School District, FY24 $256,000; FY23 $101,000; 153 percent  increase over FY23
  • Southwick-Tolland-Granville Regional School District, FY24 $385,000; FY23 $141,000; 173 percent  increase over FY23
  • Westhampton School District, FY24 $35,000; FY23 $14,000; 150 percent  increase over FY23
  • Whately School District, FY24 $42,000; FY23 $14,000; 200 percent  increase over FY23
  • Williamsburg School District, FY24 $109,000; FY23 $49,000; 122 percent  increase over FY23
  • Worthington School District, FY24 $43,000; FY23 $15,000; 186 percent  increase over FY23
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Pittsfield Historical Commission Plans Wahconah Park Project Support

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Historical Commission will draft a letter in support of revitalization efforts at Wahconah Park.

While the proposed project raises and rebuilds the historical grandstand, commissioners recognize it is necessary due to existing conditions.  One member of the panel has expressed a wish to see more historical materials used on the exterior.

"I think that we should be careful here for two reasons. Number one, because we're going to be supporting tearing down a structure that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and so to me, that means that our letter should be fairly specific about what we're supporting," Matthew Herzberg said.

"And I think I join most of you, and probably all of you, in supporting this project and thinking that this project is a really great thing for the city."

At the last meeting, Herzberg criticized the exterior brick on the $26.3 million design, as it does not match the current aesthetic, and the community "doesn't necessarily have a strong brick-making tradition."

He read aloud historical documentation that describes the circa 1950 Wahconah Park grandstand as a simple structure consisting of mostly steel.  It states that "the spare utilitarian lines mirror its New England heritage, a functional building set in a beautiful set in beautiful surroundings of mountains, lakes, rivers, and wooded expanses, all of which are in scale with the humankind who lives there."

"I think that the issues with the proposed design for me really highlight the kind of contradiction between what is being proposed and what this was," Herzberg said, explaining that the current structure comes out of the tradition of lighter buildings with wood and metal rather than brick and metal.

Chair John Dickson agreed to draft a letter of support for the commission to vote on at a later date.

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