Wednesday, April 7, 2010

School district regionalization - historical background

Unlike school districts in many other states, which are often separate government entities with independent taxing authority, school districts in Massachusetts are very much dependent on the cities and towns that they serve. In colonial times, districts were established by any group of families willing to support a school, and at one point there were 2,250 districts in the state. In 1882, the state passed a law that consolidated districts by giving authority only to municipalities to fund and manage school districts. With 351 towns and cities in the state, however, local control has meant that there remain a large number of districts relative to the state's student population, including many very small districts in relatively less populated areas.

Beginning with the post-war period, the 1949 Regional Schools Act authorized the regional district as an independent legal entity to encourage small towns to form consolidated school districts with a single school committee and specified rights and obligations for member towns. Though the state envisioned consolidation, the number of districts actually increased over the next 20 years, from 355 to over 390, as small towns preserved independent elementary districts while creating regional secondary schools. Special commission reports and Board of Education guidelines in the 1960’s promoted the formation of more K–12 districts on the grounds that they would improve educational programs and streamline governance, with little avail.

Real progress toward consolidation did not begin until Chapter 71, the state’s regional school law, was amended in 1974 to expand financial incentives for districts to regionalize. The aid formula was based on enrollment, which provided some incentive for districts to fully regionalize grades K–12. After these reforms the number of school districts declined to the current level of 329, not including charter schools. However, regional school aid was phased out in the early 1990s with the passage of the Massachusetts Education Reform Act, and the amount that existing districts had been receiving up that point was included in the district’s Chapter 70 aid. Since the 1990s only 13 new K–12 districts have been formed, mostly the result of consolidation of regional secondary districts and their members into one K–12 regional district.

from the Education Research Brief - School District Consolidation in Massachusetts: Opportunities and Obstacles

Franklin, MA

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