<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=915327909015523&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1" target="_blank"> Skip to main content
You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.

We need more money for rural schools, say Berkshire legislators to state Senate President Karen Spilka during a recent visit to North Adams

Karen Spilka @ MASS MoCA

Senate President Karen Spilka stands next to state Sen. Paul Mark as they take in a guided tour at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art on Friday.

On her visit Friday to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, state Senate President Karen Spilka probably heard the phrase “not enough” more than once.

Spilka, a Democrat who represents the 2nd Middlesex & Norfolk district, talked to local lawmakers about state aid to both rural schools and for local transportation projects, among other topics. And, as no doubt is true wherever she travels in the state, she heard the lament that more state money is needed.

In addition to talking politics and policies with local lawmakers and reporters, Spilka visited with her sister, Gerri Spilka, a Mass MoCA artist-in-residence who works with textiles.

Spilka said the Senate will be considering increasing the amount of money going toward rural schools.

“I know how important rural school aid is. Since I’ve been in the Legislature, I’ve been a strong proponent of regional equity and looking at how each subject impacts our regions differently, so we will take a good look at that,” Spilka said in the Mass MoCA lobby. “I know former Sen. Adam Hinds and current Sen. Paul Mark have already had several discussions with me on this topic, and have been strong advocates for this.”

Mark, D-Becket, and state Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams, were on hand for Spilka’s visit, which included a tour of Mass MoCA.

Spilka @ MASS MoCA

Senate President Karen Spilka speaks to her sister, Gerri Spilka, while state Rep. John Barrett converses with state Sen. Paul Mark in front of a Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art exhibit on Friday. 

While Democratic Gov. Maura Healey increased rural school aid by $2 million in her 2024 budget proposal, the $7.5 million Healey allocated for rural school assistance grants is significantly short of a special commission’s recommendation of $60 million annually.

“The Student Opportunity Act, which was passed with great fanfare in 2019, didn’t help a lot of school districts, especially the rural ones,” Barrett said while waiting for Spilka to arrive on Friday. “For instance, North Adams’ annual increase in local aid went up $45,000. Adams was up $37,000, and that just doesn’t cut the mustard. At the same time, over the next five years, the city of Pittsfield was going to get a $5 million increase.”

“The $7.5 million is not enough,” Barrett added. “This is a serious problem that has to be dealt with.”

Mark said that he’d love for rural school aid funding to be bumped up. Still, he said, “$7.5 million in the budget is amazing. Five years ago, this fund didn’t exist.”

Mark said he’d like to see the number increased from $7.5 million to at least $10 million.

“As a delegation, it’s important we [Berkshire legislators] all continue to advocate and try to get to that number,” he said.


State Sen. Paul Mark and Senate President Karen Spilka walk and talk along a Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art exhibit.

When the topic surfaced of increasing Chapter 90 money, which is local aid for transportation, Spilka said that on Thursday, the House passed a $350 million road and bridge maintenance bill, which includes $200 million for Chapter 90.

“We did last year do a supplement for Chapter 90 so that all of our communities, all of our cities and towns, got additional money,” Spilka said. “We will take a look at that as well. We recognize particularly on the heels of winter our roads need some work, so we will certainly be looking at that.”

The additional $150 million in bonds aims to help municipalities tackle transportation issues, as officials throughout the state have said the Chapter 90 money for road maintenance is not enough.

Much of state aid is handed out according to formulas, and, as local officials often tell The Eagle, those formulas hurt towns with small populations.

Gov. Maura Healey’s creation of a rural affairs director is a welcome development for western Massachusetts, officials say

Spilka also said she supports the East-West rail project, which would extend passenger rail service to Pittsfield and connect the eastern and western regions of the state.

“I’ve been a supporter of that from the get-go,” she said. “It would be a big boon not only to Western Massachusetts but the entire state,” she said.

Spilka also commented on the state program that uses empty state-owned buildings as shelters for unhoused people, saying she generally supports it. A vacant dormitory on the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts campus may become a shelter for homeless families, The Eagle reported on Thursday.

“I think we need to find locations for folks that are homeless and be creative and innovative,” Spilka said. “We need to work with communities as well to ensure that whatever we do works best for them, and support them with the necessary resources and programs that may come along with that.”

Sten Spinella can be reached at sspinella@berkshireeagle.com.

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.