September 29, 2009
Contact Jamie Gass at 617-723-2277 ext. 210, or email@example.com
Barnstable’s Example of Leadership Can Drive Change for Students
BOSTON – School-Based Management: A Practical Path to School District Reform
(http://www.pioneerinstitute.org/pdf/090929_pb_barnstable.pdf), a new Pioneer Institute
policy brief authored by Cara Stillings Candal, details the rare experience of the Town of
Barnstable, the only community in the Commonwealth to fully implement the concept of
school-based management into its education reforms. School based management is one of
the key concepts of the 1993 Education Reform Act (MERA), together with state
funding, high academic standards, high stakes testing, accountability, and charter schools.
Today, all school principals in Barnstable – traditional public schools included – control
roughly 80 percent of their operating budget and have the autonomy to make and
implement leadership and instructional decisions that can mean real change for students.
Barnstable spends nearly 80 cents of every education dollar they receive at the school
level, which is significantly more than any other Massachusetts school district.
―The first principle of school innovation needs to be that 80-90 cents of every state and
local dollar should make it to the school level, rather than being lost in school
departments’ central office bureaucracies,‖ said Jim Stergios, Pioneer’s Executive
Director. ―This how-to manual helps mayors, municipals, and school officials implement
the school-based management ideals of school autonomy and accountability. We know
from charter and pilot school models that these school-based management reforms work.‖
One key element in reform was to consolidate the school’s financial function with that of
the municipality. In virtually all other school districts, these are entities that do not
communicate transparently with each other. Barnstable-style consolidation of the school
and municipal offices in the current economic climate simply make sense. To increase the
autonomy of individual principals and teachers, and to create incentives for better
academic performance, districts should devolve decision-making from their central
offices to the schools themselves, and with those decisions, full budgetary authority.
Districts that implement school-based management are more efficient financially and
more responsive to the needs of students and parents.
―[T]he Barnstable consolidation team had to engage in the painstaking task of developing
a detailed budget for every school site,‖ said Cara Stillings Candal, the brief’s author and
Boston University School of Education researcher and lecturer. ―All costs associated with
running each school, from utility bills to payroll, had to be accounted for and included.‖
―Not only has Barnstable fully honored the school-based management intent of the 1993
Ed Reform law,‖ stated Jamie Gass, Director of Pioneer’s Center for School Reform, ―but
it serves as a model for how local officials can take control over their destinies and use
school innovation, administrative efficiencies, and data to drive student achievement.
They should be a reform model for school districts across the Commonwealth.‖
Barnstable’s experience with this education innovation dates back six years prior to the
consolidation. In 1999, the Town secured its first Horace Mann Charter, which allowed a
former district school principal, Tom McDonald, to convert a district middle school to
Horace Mann charter status and dramatically change the way the school was governed,
led, and funded. That was the first step in making Barnstable the only school district in
the state to implement the school-based management provisions set down by the
Commonwealth’s landmark Education Reform Act.
Tom McDonald, like most public schools principals at the time, controlled little of his
school’s nearly $3 million budget. McDonald estimates that he was able to spend only
about $50,000 every year to impact instruction and other matters as he saw fit. The
Horace Mann charter allowed McDonald to act as the CEO of his school, enabling him,
as he describes it, to ―put in place programs and protocols that made sense and enhanced
the education of students.‖
In recent years, Barnstable has received state and national recognition for its commitment
to financial accountability and responsibility. This commitment has enabled Barnstable to
make important and sweeping changes in the way its schools are financed and
managed—changes that many in the Commonwealth have come to recognize as worthy
Pioneer's policy brief covers the Barnstable story and outlines the steps that other schools
can take to transform itself into a self-managed, sustainable entity. Such steps include:
Step 1: Gauge the Political Will
Step 2: Know the Goal and Assess the Capacity for Change
Step 3: Draft a Clear Plan on which All Parties Agree
Step 4: Implementation
Step 5: Constant Evaluation and External Input
Cities and towns can benefit by remembering important recommendations given by those
who saw Barnstable’s consolidation efforts through from beginning to end, such as
carefully assessing the pros and cons of consolidation in your locality and having a clear
goal before beginning the consolidation process, and also realizing that cost savings are
likely a perk of but not a reason for consolidation. The major outcome for which
proponents of consolidation were aiming for in Barnstable was an efficient and
transparent system of budgeting and school management that allowed the town to
devolve as much money as possible to each school.
Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that
seeks to change the intellectual climate in the Commonwealth by supporting scholarship that
challenges the ―conventional wisdom‖ on Massachusetts public policy issues.