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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Update on Educational Collaboratives

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
June 14, 2013


This is an update on our activities to implement Chapter 43 of the Acts of 2011, An Act Relative to Improving Accountability and Oversight of Education Collaboratives, which significantly amended M.G.L. Chapter 40, § 4E. The law, which became effective in March 2012, made sweeping changes in the operation and accountability of educational collaboratives and increased oversight by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE), as well as member school committees.

The activities undertaken by DESE in response to the new law include the development of new regulations and a new model collaborative agreement; the provision of training to members of collaborative boards; participation in the Legislature's special commission to study the role of educational collaboratives; and close collaboration with the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative in order to separate its operations from the non-profit Merrimack Education Center.

In September 2012, the Board initially reviewed and voted to solicit public comment on the proposed collaborative regulations, with the expectation that we would bring them back for final adoption in December. Because of the large number of comments from the public and the importance of these reforms, it was important to take additional time to review the comments, make appropriate changes to the proposed regulations, and provide feedback to our stakeholder groups on the status of their suggestions. As a result, the final regulations (603 CMR 50.00) were presented to the Board and approved at the January 29, 2013 Board meeting.

This added review time improved the final regulations, and also created some delay in our releasing the model agreement and implementing the new training activities, as required by the amended statute and regulations. Under the statute, all educational collaboratives were required to amend their current agreements by March 4, 2013, to bring them into compliance with the new requirements. After the January Board meeting, we posted the model agreement, a checklist for ensuring agreements' compliance with legal and regulatory requirements, and the new regulations, on our new collaborative website.

All educational collaboratives submitted amendments to their collaborative agreements by the March deadline. Most of the agreements required substantial revisions before they could be approved by their boards of directors or member school committees. Over the last four months, DESE staff have reviewed all the agreements and revisions, met with collaborative directors individually and at meetings of the Massachusetts Organization of Educational Collaboratives, and provided feedback with required changes. Despite the availability of the model agreement, each collaborative agreement includes language unique to its own organization and requires individual staff and legal review. With each iteration of each agreement, collaborative directors must go back and present the agreements to their own boards of directors for consultation and approval. The final agreements must then be approved by all the member school committees before final state approval. While this new and extensive review and approval process is taking longer than expected, the result should be a lasting improvement in collaborative governance and accountability.

DESE staff developed and issued an online training module for approximately 300 collaborative board members to comply with the legislative and regulatory requirements for training that includes the review of the open meeting law, public records law, conflict of interest law, special education law, the budgetary process, procurement, fraud prevention and awareness, and the fiduciary and management oversight responsibilities of collaborative board members. This is our first wide-scale use of online technology for this type of training. Although the creation of this comprehensive training, using a new software product, was challenging and time consuming, it has received positive feedback and we are considering creating similar courses for charter school boards and school committees.

DESE staff also developed and issued an application to solicit volunteers to serve as the Commissioner's appointee to each collaborative board, as required by the new law. Due to a limited response and questions about potential conflicts of interest, we have issued a Request for Response to allow for volunteers to receive a small stipend for attending required meetings on behalf of the Commissioner and to require applicants to sign assurances of compliance with state ethics requirements. We are also working with the State Ethics Commission to address any questions about a potential conflict if DESE staff serve as voting members of educational collaborative boards.

Additional steps we have taken to implement the new provisions of Ch. 40 § 4E, include the following:

  • Collected, reviewed and provided follow-up on FY12 audits and annual reports submitted by all educational collaboratives by the required January 1 legislative deadline;
  • Worked with staff at the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to develop a reporting instrument that will be used to determine Medicaid eligible costs in collaborative tuitions and fees charged to districts, so that districts will be able to apply for Medicaid reimbursement for tuition or fees paid to an educational collaborative;
  • Developed a process to publish MCAS results for students in educational collaboratives and to collect student course schedule information from educational collaboratives.
  • Developed and administered a survey of educational collaboratives to establish baseline data concerning collaborative boards, services offered by collaboratives, membership in collaboratives, and other information;
  • Approved the dissolution of two educational collaboratives; currently working with two other collaboratives to finalize the dissolution process;
  • Continued collaboration within DESE to revise the financial segment of the Coordinated Program Review process to include a determination of the collaborative's compliance with the written collaborative agreement, within the requirements of the collaborative statute and regulations; and
  • Provided directory administration trainings (one webinar, one in-person) to collaborative staff, so that they could independently update and maintain user and contact information using the Directory Administration (DA) tool through the DESE Security Portal.

I want to recognize Christine Lynch, Director of School Governance, and Jay Sullivan, Executive Director of School Finance and District Support, for managing this complicated transition to a new governance and accountability structure for educational collaboratives. I will report to the Board periodically on our progress.

Last Updated: June 17, 2013
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