Regional School Districts

The Commonwealth’s 351 cities and towns are served by nearly 300 academic school districts, not including charter schools. In addition, there are 30 vocational-technical-agricultural high school districts throughout the state.  Nearly 60 percent of all academic school districts in the Commonwealth are K–12 districts serving a single city or town.

School districts of all configurations are responding to shifting student enrollment trends, constrained municipal budgets, aging and overcrowded school facilities, and the need for capacity to serve the 21st century students’ academic needs. Regionalization is one way for municipalities to successfully address these issues.

The Commonwealth’s principal program for providing capital funding for school facilities was recently modified to encourage school district mergers. The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), the state entity that reimburses school districts for a portion of their construction and renovation costs, revised its funding evaluation criteria to favor school building proposals that are part of a regionalization plan.

Statutory Requirements

M.G.L. Chapter 71 is the Commonwealth’s law governing public schools and there are more than 90 sections that outline the requirements and duties of school districts. M.G.L. Chapter 71, Section 1 requires every municipality in the Commonwealth to maintain a sufficient number of schools for the instruction of all children who may legally attend a public school therein.

Types of Agreements

Municipalities interested in regionalizing their public schools must do so in accordance with M.G.L. Chapter 71, Section14B, which outlines the process for establishing and amending a regional school district agreement, and 603 CMR 41.00.   M.G.L. Chapter 71, the Commonwealth’s law governing public schools, includes several other sections on the governance of regional schools (M.G.L. Chapter 71, Sections 14-16).

Other Sharing Options

Short of formal regionalization, some municipal school districts have entered into alternative types of collaborative educational initiatives that may be of interest to municipal school districts seeking to build local capacity. These include entering into larger purchasing cooperatives, maintaining a close relationship with neighboring municipalities for professional development, and initiating or continuing a professional network of curriculum directors that exist in the region. For example, nine school districts in the north Quabbin region formed a memorandum of understanding to compile and make available data about youth health for program planning and evaluation. This project is referred to as the “Regional Teen Health Survey.”

Resources

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website The DOE website offers a “toolkit” of resources on how to regionalize your school district.

Analysis of Regional School District StatuteProvided by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue’s Technical Assistance Section.  

Analysis of Superintendency Unions Statute. Provided by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue’s Technical Assistance Section.

Ayer-Shirley Regional School District Analysis.  Web link to the Final Report of the Regional Planning Board Given to Boards of Selectmen.

A New Regional School District: From Concept to Start-Up: Using DLTA to Regionalize.  A PowerPoint presentation by the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, 2012.

Massachusetts Association of Regional Schools website main page.

The Four Basic Massachusetts School District Configurations

  • K–12 districts serving one municipality
    • 177 districts (60%)
    • Districts range in size from 170 to 55,900 students.
  • Regional K–12 districts serving several towns in a unified district.
    • 31 districts (10%)
  • Elementary level districts
    • 72 districts (24%)
  • Regional secondary districts serving several towns.
    • 19 districts (6%)

Examples of Successful Municipal Agreements

Southwick-Tolland-Granville RSD
The Southwick-Tolland Regional School District (RSD) faced increasing costs, overcrowding at the elementary school and costly facility repairs. At the same time, Granville confronted a combination of decreasing revenues and steadily increasing education costs as well as declining enrollments and underutilization of its school building.

After many studies and much discussion, Granville town residents voted to join the Southwick-Tolland RSD in September 2011, and the other two towns approved the new Southwick-Tolland-Granville RSD one month later. This merger allows the RSD to receive an increased level of state aid for school facility repairs and building projects from the MBSA.

View the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission’s report, An Exploration of the Costs and Benefits of the Town of Granville Joining the Southwick-Tolland Regional School District a more complete understanding of this particular initiative.

Ayer-Shirley RSD
In 2007, Shirley invited Lunenburg and Ayer to consider school district regionalization and formed a joint regionalization planning board (RPB) to study a merger. All three districts faced multiple challenges, such as those described in the above example.

The RPB eventually decided not to pursue a three-town district because the short-term and one-time costs of transition from three districts to a region.  However, Ayer and Shirley continued discussions, finding that a two-town RSD could be implemented at a much lower transitional cost. In 2010, voters in separate town meetings endorsed forming a two-town regional school district.  See the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District website  for more information or click here to view a copy of the regional agreement.