State study shows challenges faced by rural schools

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A statewide study of rural school district finances — including all school districts in Berkshire County — suggests that Massachusetts needs to reformulate school funding and transportation allotments, and provide incentives for districts to combine services to provide rural districts with a more equitable share of funds.

The "Fiscal Conditions in Rural School Districts," by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, was produced after Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, successfully sponsored a mandate for the research. The feasibility study on creating a new school funding formula for rural schools came out in January and was a key topic in Monday night's rural schools forum in Shelburne Falls.

The main findings of the informational report are:

There are 54 rural school districts in Massachusetts — and 25 superintendents among them.

Over the last 10 years, enrollment declined in rural districts by 14 percent. In the rest of Massachusetts' districts, the decline was 2.7 percent.

Rural districts employ more teachers and paraprofessionals per 100 students than other districts.

While total spending grew at a faster rate in non-rural districts, average per-pupil costs grew more quickly in rural districts due to declining enrollment and rising costs. Rural districts spend $18,600 per in-district student compared to $16,700 in non-rural schools.

Rural districts spend 50 percent more per pupil on transportation costs than districts across the rest of the state.

As enrollment declines, some rural districts are relying more on school choice as a revenue source to support operating expenditures.

Kristin Palpini can be reached at kpalpini@berkshireeagle.com, @kristinpalpini on Twitter, and (413) 629-4621.


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