BUCKLAND — State legislators, school administrators and town officials convened at Mohawk Trail Regional School Thursday morning for a Rural Schools Roundtable to discuss funding challenges Pioneer Valley schools are facing as enrollment dwindles.
Superintendents and school committees from the Mohawk Trail, Hampshire, Athol-Royalston, Erving Union 28 and Gill-Montague school districts highlighted the reduction of funding when enrollment drops and the challenges of safely transporting students without too much financial burden. In addition, other area school districts attended remotely.
The roundtable was hosted by state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, who was joined by state Sens. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, and Jason Lewis, D-Winchester; along with Reps. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, and Paul Mark, D-Peru. The state’s Rural Schools Commission also attended the meeting and will use the feedback they received to generate an action report by the end of the year.
Sheryl Stanton, superintendent of the Mohawk Trail and Hawlemont regional school districts, who organized the meeting, said hosting this event was a good start in helping the Rural Schools Commission generate its report.
“It’s an important step,” Stanton said after the roundtable. “It’s important to hear those (experiences) as they shape their report and recommendations.”
The roundtable began with Stanton addressing the group about the inability of the state’s funding formula to accommodate rural schools. She said the formula takes into account schools with between 300 and 600 students, and many of local schools fall below that benchmark.
“It’s feels like it’s a one size fits all and it doesn’t fit our rural districts,” Stanton said. “So we essentially do not have the foundation to fund education. … A school is a school, so despite our enrollment, whether we have a grade level that has 10 students or 21 students, we still need a teacher.”