An exploratory project looking into collaboration strategies between six school districts will continue as planned despite the elimination of state funding.
Six school districts in South Berkshire, Massachusetts, are participating in an exploratory project aimed at identifying opportunities for collaboration between the districts and regional teamwork. The project originally called for a $300,000 state grant to fund logistical costs, but the funding was cut off when Massachusetts reported a $329 million budget shortfall at the end of 2014, Berkshire Eagle reported.
Despite the lack of funding, the six school districts plan to move forward with the exploratory project while simultaneously seeking funding from the new governor and secretary of education. Because many of the ideas laid out in the exploratory project’s outline do not require significant funding to complete, the school districts feel comfortable continuing as planned, Berkshire Eagle reported.
The overall goal of the exploratory project is to increase educational efficiency throughout the six school districts through shared services and consolidation agreements. There have already been conversations regarding the sharing of curriculum directors, special education programs, food services and grant writing responsibilities, Berkshire Eagle reported.
Currently, leaders of the six school districts feel the financial models in place are unsustainable. Rather than waiting for the state government to allocate funds to jumpstart changes, local decision makers are experimenting with cost-saving initiatives that also streamline processes and improve services to residents.
One such project calls for sharing superintendents across the school districts to implement budgets and long-term strategies. At the individual school level, principals would then be empowered to handle educational initiatives in-house, Berkshire Eagle reported.
When Consolidation Isn’t Enough
A recent study from the Penn State College of Education’s Center on Rural Education and Communities analyzed school consolidation strategies in the Vermont educational system. The state has proposed legislative reforms to address the rising cost of education in Vermont through consolidation of services and infrastructure.
The research revealed no evidence to suggest the consolidation strategies would generate savings for the school district or lower the cost of education on a per-pupil basis. In fact, the study argued the state’s proposal to eliminate its Small Schools Grant program would “undermine the economic and social stability of the state’s numerous small towns.”
The researchers, instead, recommend Vermont revise its current funding system to find opportunities for savings, as well as reconfigure its support for smaller communities’ education systems. Overall the researchers believe Vermont’s reforms should focus on:
- Local control
- Fiscal responsibility
- Effective, proven educational improvement
More specifically, the researchers suggest Vermont reform its funding structures to include parameters for school budget items funded by the state. The funding structures should also have lower excess spending thresholds and exemptions in place to ensure equity for both large and small schools.
Furthermore, the researchers recommend reforming the Vermont Small Schools Grant into a competitive application process. This will incentivize schools to work with families, businesses and community organizations to acquire more funding through collaborative efforts and innovation.