Mass., Berkshire County school officials say they're buried by state regs

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PITTSFIELD -- Public school districts are feeling regulatory overload from the state, and on Thursday morning, a number of school principals, superintendents, representatives of teacher and other education groups spoke out on Beacon Hill and proposed a new solution.

During a hearing with the state Joint Committee on Education at the Statehouse in Boston, members and other associates of a statewide coalition of education organizations known as MassPartners for Public Schools pleaded the case that teachers, students and taxpayers deserve a comprehensive analysis of the true costs of excess state regulations and paperwork.

Joint Committee Chairwoman Alice Peisch along with state representatives James Dwyer, Chris Walsh, and former Rep. Martha Walz filed House bills relative to a proposal that an "educational mandate task force" be formed to "review all existing state mandates imposed on public schools and districts in the Commonwealth" operating in the pre-kindergarten through Grade 12 system.

Prior to attending Thursday's hearing, State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield told The Eagle she favors the proposal.

"I think it's an important topic. The proposals ask the Legislature to form a commission that will look at all the things the state asks school districts to do, because they just keep coming, fast and furious," Farley-Bouvier said. "When the state adds regulations on school districts, they never take anything away. It just keeps piling up."

She said the purpose of the commission would be to see what kind of work is being duplicated or could be deemed unnecessary, and how regulations and requirements could be streamlined to lighten the load of paperwork for schools and perhaps effect cost-savings.

"We want the public to understand the true costs of current state regulatory practices and mandates, which are wasting taxpayer dollars and taking resources away from classrooms," said Mary Ann Stewart, chair of the MassPartners Board of Directors.

MassPartners for Public Schools made an example with 2012 expenses of Taunton Public Schools; it is estimated state initiatives cost that district $6.7 million out of a $78 million budget.

The coalition found that between 2009 and today, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) posted 5,382 listings on its website on the topic of regulations or an average of 1,077 each year.

"Working on audits and reports is taking time away from curriculum and instruction, and that's not what we want for our kids," Farley-Bouvier said.

A few weeks ago, she met with members of the Berkshire County Superintendents Roundtable, who all seemed eager to see the proposed bills pass. She said the demands, which typically fall on the watch of superintendents, principals and their administrative teams, seem to be a contributing factor for high school administrator turnover in places like Berkshire County.

"There is such a problem with turnover because this is such a grind on administrators," Farley-Bouvier said.

She said the formation of a commission won't completely address all the issues with regulations, "but you have to start somewhere."

Lenox Public Schools Superintendent Edward Costa and Southern Berkshire Regional School District Superintendent Michael Singleton were among about 80 state superintendents who attended the event.


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