Formation of Educational Collaboratives

Development of Collaborative Agreement

Collaboratives are initiated and managed locally. However, to gain approval under Chapter 40, Section 4E, certain managerial and financial issues must be addressed in a collaborative agreement. These requirements are outlined in the attached law and a document developed by the Bureau of School District Reorganization and Collaboration (now incorporated into the Bureau of School Management Services) called “Criteria for Approval.” The agreement developed pursuant to law must then be approved by vote of each member school committee and the Commissioner of Education.

The agreement must also comply with all relevant local policies and procedures. School committees are encouraged to assess the following issues prior to approving a collaborative agreement.

  1. The purpose and direction of the collaborative has been clearly explained.
  2. The purpose of function of the collaborative does not duplicate the efforts of the state or the participating local school districts.
  3. The special education students served by the collaborative will be housed to insure integration in academic and non-academic activities to the maximum extent appropriate.
  4. The collaborative program will be housed in a location that provides for continuity and stability.
  5. The collaborative will increase educational opportunities for students, resolve a shared community problem and/or effect cost savings or efficiencies for its member districts.

Approval of Collaborative Agreement

A “collaborative specialist” is assigned to each Regional Education Center to coordinate collaborative activities at the regional level and to help local school officials develop a new or amend an existing collaborative agreement. The draft agreement is reviewed by appropriate program staff and the collaborative specialist in the Regional Educational Center, prior to local school committee approval. When the agreement satisfies the requirements of Chapter 40, Section 4E, “Criteria for Approval” and all relevant department policies and procedures, the next steps are as follows:

  1. An original and two copies of the proposed collaborative agreement with authorized signatures from each member school committee are submitted to the Director of the appropriate Regional Education Center.
  2. Upon review, the Regional Director attaches his/her written recommendation for further action and forwards the three copies of the proposed agreement with attachments to the Bureau of School Management Services.
  3. The Bureau of School Management Services coordinates the review of the agreement documents among the appropriate staff in the Central Office of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and forwards the three copies of the proposed agreement with a written recommendation for action to the Commissioner of Education.
  4. Subsequent to the Commissioner’s approval, the Bureau of School Management Services retains one copy of the approved agreement and returns the remaining two copies to the Regional Center Director.
  5. The Regional Center Director retains one copy of the approved agreement and forwards the original copy to the appropriate collaborative director or local school official.

Local school officials represented on the collaborative board of directors insure that the policies and procedures outlined in the approved collaborative agreement are strictly followed.

Equity in Space Allocation

As elementary school enrollment increases, many districts are beginning to experience classroom shortages. Consequently, districts are finding it increasingly difficult to allocate classroom space to collaborative programs. The implications of this situation could result in the possible elimination of some collaborative programs and services.

Collaboratives provide educational programs and services to public school students to fulfill a need identified by the participating school districts. School committees and Department staff must insure that collaborative programs be given equal priority when allocating classroom space in operating public school buildings.

Planning for Housing Collaborative Programs

The Board of Education directs the Department to assist school systems in allocating classroom space for collaborative programs in public school buildings by:

  1. encouraging local school districts to develop long range facility plans that provide for the continuity and stability of collaborative classes and programs;
  2. supporting legislation to provide incentive funds to school districts that house collaborative programs in operating school buildings (LEAs housing collaborative special education programs must provide space in operating age-appropriate school buildings which provides for maximum integration; and
  3. requiring school committees to address, in their application for construction grant funds, the classroom needs of any collaborative program in their districts.

Planning for Least Restrictive Environment

Recent surveys indicate that the majority of collaborative programs now are located in operating school buildings. (See Overview of Educational Collaboratives) However, there is insufficient data, at this time, to determine the extent to which these programs are in age appropriate settings, that provide opportunities for mainstreaming. (The reporting instruments mentioned in Section III A. Data Reporting will be refined to collect this data.)

Lack of appropriate classroom space for special needs programs operated by educational collaboratives has serious implications for school districts. Space shortages could require placements of special needs students in more restrictive rather that less restrictive environments, or lead to local decisions to place special needs students in costly private schools or expensive commercial space. Frequent movement of collaborative programs, and resultant parental perceptions of program instability, could encourage parents to seek more costly, more restrictive and less appropriate placements for their children. This would contravene the intent of state and federal special education policy and arguably work against the best interests of the special needs students affected by such decisions.

The Board of Education supports the intent of Chapter 766 and collaboratives’ efforts to meet the mandate of the law. To insure that the integration of special needs students is maximized, the Department staff will continue to:

  1. provide technical assistance to assist collaboratives in developing alternatives for service delivery that will provide member school districts with the resources necessary to serve students in less restrictive prototypes;
  2. monitor the 502.4i regulations and provide technical assistance to insure that students are placed in substantially separate environments only for programmatic reasons, and
  3. provide technical assistance to insure that students in need of special education that are served by an educational collaborative are educated in operating, age appropriate, accessible public school buildings with non-handicapped children in academic and non-academic activities to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of the disabled child.

Pupil, Financial and Program Accountability

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has annually collected information on educational collaboratives from individual school districts through its End of the Year reporting mechanism. Although the department will continue to collect certain pupil, financial and programmatic information relative to collaboratives from school districts, it has become increasingly important to collect certain data directly from collaboratives. This is especially true in light of the growing concern over classroom space shortages, the rising costs of special education and the increase in the direct distribution of state funding to collaboratives. In addition, since 1985 all collaboratives that hire their own faculty and provide educational own faculty and provide educational programs for students are subject to Chapter 188 reporting requirements, including teacher and administrator evaluations, testing and fiscal regulations.

Data Reporting

The Board of Education directs the Department to insure that the pupil, fiscal and programmatic information it collects about collaboratives will meet its planning, grant making, evaluation, monitoring and other functional needs. The Department will refine and revise existing reporting instruments to insure that the information collected is concise and consistent with state mandates.

  1. Collaboratives will continue to submit the following annual reports:
    1. Collaborative Individual School Report, (October 1 enrollment data);
    2. Chapter 188 Collaborative Report (program, staff, facilities, prototypes, services), and
    3. as appropriate, information required from schools and school districts by Chapter 188.
  2. School districts will continue to submit reports which will clarify the following data relative to collaboratives;
    1. enrollment data on students tuitioned-out to collaboratives, and
    2. information on local funds contributed to support collaborative programs and services.

Data collected through these reports establish a collaborative’s eligibility for certain state grants (See Section IV Funding), provide a data base on collaborative programs and services and meet mandates established by the Federal Government.

Monitoring

As public entities supported by public funds, educational collaboratives must comply with state and federal laws and regulations. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will continue to insure compliance with pertinent program and fiscal requirements by:

  1. requiring collaboratives that receive Department of Elementary and Secondary Education-administered grant funds to submit an independent audit of all such funds to the Bureau of School Audit Services, (This audit must be submitted every three years, beginning in FY90 and will cover FY90 and the previous two years.) A collaborative that receives less than $25,000 of Department of Elementary and Secondary Education-administered grant funds over such three year period may request a waiver from this requirement from the Commissioner of Education.
  2. requiring collaboratives to submit an internal financial statement and program report to the Bureau of School Management Services at least every three years; (See Section IV A. 3)
  3. requiring an annual Statement of Assurance from each collaborative that receives state or federal grant funds;
  4. requiring each collaborative to submit its rules and regulations pertaining to the conduct of teachers and students to the Office of Student Services as the Commissioner of Education’s designee (Rules and regulations must include existing alternative education programs; due process; all rules and penalties for violating the rules, including the use of expulsion or suspension; procedures for disciplining students with special needs; and procedures to assure building security and safety.); and\
  5. continuing to conduct compliance reviews, program audits and/or program or grant reviews of educational collaboratives in each region.

Organization Relationships

With School Committees

Current legislation requires that a collaborative board be comprised of a school committee person or a designee of each member school committee. Most school committees have designated their superintendents to represent them. In some instances, special education directors, principals or pupil personnel directors serve as school committee designees. A Department of Elementary and Secondary Education designee also serves on the board as an ex officio, non-voting member. Information collected from educational collaboratives and published in “Overview Of Educational Collaboratives” indicates that nearly 80 per cent of the collaborative boards are comprised of superintendents and school committee members.

The Board of Education encourages local school committees to look to their collaborative to provide a broad range of educational programs and services and to appoint a representative to the board of directors who will represent these interests. School committees may maintain a close relationship with their collaborative by:

  1. continuing to conduct compliance reviews, program audits and/or program or grant reviews of educational collaboratives in each region.
  2. encouraging their representative to the collaborative board to keep them informed of relevant collaborative issues;
  3. requesting an internal financial statement and program report of their collaborative at least annually, and (Every third year a copy of this report should be forwarded to the Bureau of School Management Services. – See Section III. B. 2.)
  4. providing adequate resources to board members and the collaborative director to support the administration of the collaborative programs.

With School Leaders

“Effective Schools” research demonstrates that educational programs benefit from strong leadership at the school building level. Also, special education and other separate classes are most successful when students and their teachers are valued as members of the overall educational environment, when they have equal access to all programs and resources, and when all teachers and administrators in the building feel a sense of responsibility toward all students being educated in that building. Therefore, principals of buildings housing collaborative classrooms should:

  1. actively create opportunities for special needs students in collaborative classrooms to participate in all building activities with non-handicapped children;
  2. provide all building resources, as appropriate, (e.g. library, computer time, art/music specialists) to students in collaborative operated classrooms to the same degree that such programs and services are provided to all other students, and
  3. invite parents of collaborative students to participate in appropriate activities of the school.

With Parents/Students

Collaboratives provide a broad range of programs and services to over 6000 students across the Commonwealth. Educational collaboratives, as well as school committees, must insure that the programs and services represent the best interests of the students and parents they serve. The Board of Education, therefore, encourages collaboratives to:

  1. form school improvement councils or advisory groups, as appropriate;
  2. make every effort to involve representatives from the student membership and/or parents of member students in important collaborative issues;
  3. encourage visits or schedule open houses as an opportunity for parents and other interested parties to learn about collaborative programs; and
  4. encourage local school committees to include parents of disabled children attending collaboratives on their special education parent advisory councils (PAC) and parent/teacher organizations (PTA/PTO).

With the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

Department staff and collaborative leaders have the potential to plan jointly how to best help one another and local school systems to improve the quality and equity of public education across the Commonwealth. This potential was increased by the enactment of Chapters 188 and 727, which provide opportunities for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to work with educational collaboratives to resolve many issues currently facing public schools.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will coordinate its functions with respect to educational collaboratives and insure a close relationship among all areas of the Department and the collaborative leadership, as follows:

The Bureau of School Management Services within the Division of School Services will take a lead role in coordinating the Department’s involvement with education collaboratives. To this end, the Bureau will:

  1. develop an action plan to implement the Board’s policy on collaboratives, and oversee implementation of the plan;
  2. coordinate data collection from collaboratives;
  3. develop and disseminate information about collaboratives to Department staff and the public;
  4. oversee the collaborative approval process;
  5. coordinate responses to legal, legislative and policy issues raised by, or relative to, educational collaboratives;
  6. facilitate inter-divisional and inter-regional communication about collaboratives within the department, and
  7. work with collaborative specialist in Regional Education Centers to ensure consistent interpretations of the law and this policy.

The Regional Education Centers will implement Board Policy on Educational Collaboratives by:

  1. reviewing new and amended collaborative agreements and making recommendations concerning them to the Bureau of School Management Services;
  2. designating staff to serve in an advisory capacity on collaborative boards;
  3. providing technical assistance to collaboratives;
  4. reviewing grant proposals from collaboratives and recommending funding;
  5. involving collaboratives when convening groups that address regional educational issues; (i.e. Regional Education Councils)
  6. conducting at least one annual meeting with the collaborative directors and other appropriate collaborative staff to discuss regional concerns and to plan and coordinate certain services to local school systems;
  7. reviewing Local Educational Agency Annual Program Plans for Special Education with respect to students served by collaborative programs;
  8. reviewing construction grant applications to insure that school committees have planned for least restrictive environments for special education students served by collaborative programs, and
  9. reviewing compliance monitoring reports.

The collaborative specialist should participate in the above activities to maximize coordination between and among program areas.

With the Massachusetts Organization of Educational Collaboratives (MOEC)

MOEC has worked closely and cooperatively with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for the past thirteen (13) years to increase awareness of educational collaborative issues and to identify and resolve common problems. The Board of Education supports MOEC in its objectives to provide technical assistance to existing and emerging collaboratives, to develop a clearinghouse for acquiring and disseminating relevant information on collaborative organizations and programming and to assist its members and the Department in planning for future collaborative growth. The Department will continue to consult with MOEC on issues involving educational collaboratives.

Funding

Financial Structure

All monies contributed to support a collaborative by member municipalities, state governments, charitable foundations, private corporations or any other source are paid to the board of directors of the educational collaborative and deposited in a separate trust fund. A treasurer is appointed by the collaborative board and authorized to receive and disburse all monies of the trust fund without further appropriation. The treasurer is bonded annually under provisions of Chapter 40, Section 4E and the trust fund is managed in accordance with law, the collaborative agreement and/or by-laws.

Sources of Funding

Collaboratives obtain funds from a number of sources to meet their administrative and program costs. The primary source of funds, however, to support collaborative programming continues to come from local budgets. The delivery of locally generated programs, as well as implementation of state-mandated programs, often results in increased financial and personnel demands on local school systems. Collaboratives have a great potential to not only increase or maintain the level of educational offerings to member districts but to provide these services in a cost-effective manner. The Board of Education encourages school districts to investigate the potential of collaborative programming, where appropriate.

Distribution of State-Administered Funds

To support the best distribution of limited funds, the Board of Education encourages a collaborative approach to meeting common educational needs by:

  1. developing grant application and approval procedures that are appropriate for collaboratives;
  2. developing grant programs that utilize the unique characteristics of collaboratives;
  3. giving consideration, wherever possible, to grant proposals that set forth innovative collaborative approaches to solving educational problems;
  4. distributing state-administered grants in an equitable manner to meet the greatest educational needs;
  5. avoiding any unnecessary duplication of effort between collaboratives and Regional Education Centers;
  6. urging collaboratives and their member towns to coordinate their requests for proposals for state-administered grants to insure that unnecessary competition is minimized, and
  7. reviewing new legislative initiatives to insure that collaboratives are considered in new programming and funding initiatives.

Participants in State-Administered Grant Programs

Educational collaboratives established under provisions of Chapter 40, Section 4E are eligible for many discretionary state and federal grants administered by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Each discretionary grant program has its own eligibility requirements. Collaborative directors should discuss specific grant requirements with appropriate Department staff.

Educational collaboratives are also eligible for Chapter 188 and Chapter 727 programs with the exception of the Equal Educational Opportunity and REACH Awards. It is the Department’s position that individual superintendents, school committees and collaborative boards and directors should decide which programs and services can best be provided by school districts and which by collaboratives. To clarify how an educational collaborative might participate in state-administered grant programs, the Board of Education adopts the following guidelines:

  1. Only educational collaboratives that are in compliance with Chapter 40, Section 4E, as identified in an annual report published by the Bureau of School Management Services, will be eligible for state and federal funds.
  2. Collaboratives eligible for discretionary state and/or federal funds must include, with the grant application, a record of an affirmative vote of the collaborative board as attested to by the chairperson of the board and the collaborative director.
  3. Eligibility for School Improvement Funds under Chapter 188 and Chapter 727 and entitlement grants based on a formula involving a student count applies only to collaboratives that have their own students—students who meet the state attendance law through enrollment in collaborative programs and who are not counted as attending any other school in the Individual School Report (October 1)—and their own faculty, as reported in the School System Summary Report.
  4. Collaboratives seeking to be eligible for Minimum Teacher Salary Grants must meet the requirements of Chapter 345 of the Acts of 1986 by providing the following: (pending legislation would allow collaboratives to apply for this grant through a majority vote of a majority of the member school committees)
    • an official record of a favorable majority vote of the collaborative board,
    • official records of favorable majority votes of the majority of the appropriating authorities of the collaborative’s member cities or towns, and
    • signatures of the chairperson of the collaborative board and the collaborative director.
  5. Collaboratives may access entitlement funds from member school districts; through a sub-contract with a school district, and through a consolidated application submitted on behalf of their member districts. This application must include the signatures of the superintendents and school committee chairpersons of the participating districts. Funds are sent directly to the educational collaborative trust fund.

Review of Policy and Implementation Plan

Because of the evolving nature of educational collaboratives, at least every five (5) years the Commissioner of Education will cause this Policy to be reviewed to reflect improvements, areas that need strengthening or changes in legislation. Each Division, Region and program area will participate in this review to assure that the final document accurately reflects the Board of Education’s current position with respect to educational collaboratives. This review will be coordinated with representatives of the MA Organization of Education Collaboratives (MOEC).

In addition, the Bureau of School Management Services will coordinate the development of an implementation plan that will provide direction and specific instructions to implement this Policy. The development of this implementation plan will be coordinated with representatives of program area staff within each division of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Regional Education Center with representatives of MOEC and with representatives of affected state and local agencies.