The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 27, 2009

Rep. Atkins co-sponsors bill on superintendency unions
Allows state-mandated mergers

Carlisle’s State Representative Cory Atkins is co-sponsoring a bill titled “An Act to Improve Educational Services in Small School Districts” that revises the law governing formation of a superintendency union and includes language to grant the state the authority to force consolidation of school districts. The bill would also remove limits on district size and superintendent compensation and allow the state to issue regulations to carry out the law. Rep. Atkins said, “It was a bill that was filed by the chair of the Education Committee. I signed on because it benefited small districts.”

Bill H412 would replace M.G.L. Chapter 71, Section 61 and reads, in part: “The commissioner may require the school committees of two or more towns and/or regional school districts to form a superintendency union when, in his judgement, such action would consolidate administrative functions and serve to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of educational programs.”

The main sponsor of the bill is Patricia Haddad, Representative from Bristol and Second Assistant Majority Leader. Other co-sponsors include four representatives from Worcester, Suffolk and Norfolk. According to Atkins’ office, the bill has been referred to the Joint Committee on Education. A similar bill was filed last year but did not pass.

Atkins was asked to describe how the bill would benefit towns in her district. She spoke in favor of the consolidation of school administrations. Regarding the loss of local autonomy, she asked, “How does having it (autonomy) benefit the schools?”

“The Commonwealth needs as many options as possible,” Atkins said. “It gives the state more authorization to break a deadlock. It could be a benefit financially.”

Atkins is concerned about state finances and said it is becoming increasingly difficult for the state to maintain levels of aid to education. “This is a debate that this financial crisis will bring to the forefront. One reason we have such expensive government is because we have 351 school districts. We’re looking for new paradigms for everything.”

Expanding consolidation efforts

“We’re looking at the government at every level,” Atkins explained. “For example, each town has a superintendent of schools, a fire chief, a police chief…. All of government is very labor intensive. The only way to reduce cost without reducing services is to consolidate administrative services.”

Asked if it would make sense to merge towns, she replied, “Do we need 351 towns? That I can’t answer.” However, regarding consolidation of schools and public safety, she said, “Property taxpayers are maxed out. There just isn’t the revenue to support each of these authority positions, paying for top administrators in all these fields.”

Atkins concluded, “I think that [consolidation] is the paradigm that is going to guide state and local government for at least the next decade.” ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito