By James Vaznis, Globe Staff
Financially strapped communities from Cape Cod to the Berkshires will receive state grants to study the possibility of regionalizing their school districts, which state education leaders say could lead to greater cost efficiencies.
At a press conference this morning at the public high school in Greenfield, state Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell Chester announced that Greenfield's schools, along with other districts across the state, would receive the first batch of grants from a new state program that is urging regionalization. Each grant ranges between $15,000 and $25,000.
"This funding is meant to jumpstart a movement across the state to find ways for our smaller communities to work together, learn from one another and share expenses in a manner that makes sense fiscally and educationally," Chester said in a statement. "I am pleased that in a year when money is so tight we have [been] able to maintain this effort as a priority."
Greenfield, located in the western part of the state, is looking to merge its 1,500 students and eight schools with the neighboring Gill-Montague Regional School District, which has 1,000 students and five schools. Both districts have fallen upon tough financial times.
Merging the state's smallest school districts into larger entities is one of the many initiatives Governor Deval Patrick laid out in his sweeping state education overhaul effort known as the Readiness Project. The proposal calls for "dramatically reducing the number of school districts in the state" so less money is spent on administrative services and more can be spent in classrooms. All but 41 of the state's nearly 400 school districts serve fewer than 5,000 students.
Districts do not need to fully consolidate with a neighbor to yield savings. Districts could maintain independence while forming partnerships to run school buses, lunch programs, or special education services. The districts could even share superintendents and other central administrators, while keeping their districts as separate entities.
"In light of the current fiscal climate, this type of a collaborative effort is a key step towards finding a more manageable way of funding our public education system, and achieving the goal of providing all students quality education in the classroom," said state Senator Benjamin Downing.
In addition to Greenfield, districts receiving grants include: Ayer, Berkshire Hills Regional, Frontier Regional, Hadley, Harwich, Holland, Mahar Regional, Mohawk Regional, Nauset Regional, Westfield, and Boxford.