State Auditor Visits Yarmouth to Discuss Regional School District Issues

State Auditor Suzanne Bump and Director of Divison of Local Mandates Ben Tafoya discuss a report on regional school districts at Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School Wednesday.

YARMOUTH – State Auditor Suzanne Bump was at Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School Wednesday to discuss her recently completed report on updating the structure and financing of regional school districts.

Many of the regional school districts in the state are struggling due to changing demographics and changes in the amount and sources of funding received.

“Regional Schools do have unique challenges,” Bump said. “There are more costs that they incur and less state support than regular school districts.”

The state currently has 58 academic regional school districts that enroll about 107,000 students from more than 170 communities.

Over the last 10 years the enrollment in regional districts declined by over 10 percent, compared to under 3 percent in municipal districts.

The enrollment in vocational technical schools increased by more than 7 percent with a 70 percent increase in charter students.

“The costs that (regional districts) are incurring in areas like transportation and educating students who are temporarily here because they are experiencing family homelessness or they might be foster children are uniquely weighing on these school districts,” Bump said.

Transportation is considered either the no. 1 or no. 2 issue for regional districts interviewed for the report.

Currently the state reimburses regional districts 73 percent of the costs for transportation, but not including extra-curricular or special education transportation.

Bump said increasing the state reimbursement to 100 percent and covering special education costs is a short term solution that could quickly provide relief for districts.

The statewide cost for full reimbursement would be $14 million across the 58 districts. If vocational technical districts were included the cost would be $20 million.

Another possible solution to lower transportation costs would be to change a 1970s law which would allow regional transportation authorities to service regional school districts.

Another recommendation would be for the state to increase incentives to encourage communities to regionalize. Current incentives do not provide towns enough enticement to give up local control.

“Methods of trying to more fairly apportion the costs among member districts needs to be examined,” Bump said.

The reports recommends the Legislature allow the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to work with a willing district to develop a pilot program that would include a single tax rate across all member towns in the region. Similar systems are used in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio.

“There are other models to get a fairer way of portioning out the costs,” Bump said.

Another recommendations to the challenge of declining populations include providing grants to examine combining existing regional districts into larger groups.

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