Thursday, March 24, 2016

Rural Mass. schools seeing declines in enrollment, state aid; towns tired of schools asking for money

Rural schools in Massachusetts are facing a continued decline in enrollment and state aid, Diane Broncaccio reports for The Recorder. "Although rural public school districts occupy nearly 70 percent of the entire state land mass, they represent only about 19 percent of the state’s public school districts, and they educate only 9 percent of all the state’s school children." That has led to state education aid either "declining, level or barely increasing between 2006 and 2016," said Michael Buoniconti, superintendent of Mohawk Trail/Hawlemont Regional School Districts in Franklin County. (Massachusetts Living map). He told Broncaccio, "We’re getting less money today than we got 10 years ago. So we’re asking our towns for more and more money, and we’re getting to the point where they’re saying ‘no.’ I don’t anticipate getting a [town-approved] budget this year."

Of the state's 94 rural districts, Buoniconti said 66 "have seen declining enrollment over the past 20 years, with school systems from western Massachusetts losing 39 to 57 percent of their student populations during these decades," Broncaccio writes. "And, compared to the state’s most populous school districts—Boston, which is 48 square miles, or Springfield, 32 square miles—Mohawk, with less than 1,000 students, covers 253 square miles, and the Franklin County Technical School covers 566 square miles."

Buoniconti said rural Massachusetts schools face the familiar problems—higher-than-average per-pupil spending, bigger transportation costs, under-used school building space and the disproportionate effect that charter schools have on rural school budgets," Broncaccio writes. He said the problem is how to explain those problems to state officials who are more familiar with urban schools than rural ones. Buoniconti, who said the state doesn't have a specific definition for rural, told Broncaccio, “When I asked, ‘What is rural?’ I was told, ‘It’s a state of mind.’ ‘Good god,’ I thought, ‘that guy is probably right.’” (Read more)

No comments: