Tarr Honored as Education Leader

Tuesday February 27, 2024

Andrea Wadsworth and Bruce Tarr in front of Thomas Mann portrait.

REGIONAL – At a time when local schools are facing tough challenges with declining enrollment, lower revenues and rising costs, the Massachusetts Assn. of School Committees (MASC) named Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr from Gloucester to be its educator of the year.
Tarr, who represents most of the North Shore school districts, was recognized for his contributions to public education in front of a portrait at the Capitol of Horace Mann, who in 1838, led the Common School Movement, which established public schools throughout the Commonwealth.
“I’m happy to receive this award,” Tarr said last week.
Glenn Koocher, the MASC executive director, said Tarr was selected for this prestigious award because, “For more than 30 years, Senator Tarr has been the personification of hard work, civility and commitment when it comes to talking about public education and our future.”
Tarr was first elected to the state Senate in 1995, after serving four years in the House.
Asked to assess the state of public education in the Commonwealth, Tarr said Massachusetts remains a national leader in academic achievement, but most schools, including the vocational schools like Whittier Regional Vocational High School, face tough challenges, particularly in paying for quality education.
Most school districts are experiencing declining enrollment, which results in lower annual revenues from the state. At the same time, the number and costs of special education programs are rising as is the cost of maintaining their buildings, Tarr said.
“It is becoming a question of sustainability,” Tarr said. “We have a lot of work to do.”
Educating students at the highest level is a foundational principle of state government, Tarr said. “This goal requires ongoing action and leadership, which in turn require building the type of consensus that can deliver positive results. Giving students the best chances for success is a shared enterprise that demands the best leadership that we can provide, and one that I remain committed to.”
A major challenge is how to fund a new building to replace the 50-year-old Whittier high school. He said he is working with Newburyport Mayor Sean Reardon and other local municipal leaders, who felt left out of the process for funding the new building, to create a task force that will determine how to help Whittier.
“It is indisputable that something has to be done at Whittier,” Tarr said.
A proposed $446 million building for Whittier was voted down last month by the residents of the 11 cities and towns that are served by the Whittier district. Tarr and the municipal leaders asked to delay the vote, but were turned down.
Whittier is not alone in facing financial challenges. The rate of reimbursement from the Massachusetts School Building Authority is low for all vocational high schools, he said.
In Tarr’s district, the Triton Regional School District is also seeking state help to rebuild or build a new high school and middle school, Ipswich School District needs help building two elementary schools and Esses Schools are seeking funding for an elementary school.
Andrea Wadsworth, the new CFO for the Commonwealth and former MASC president, said the MASC is honored to present Tarr. It is the 23rd year the award has been given to legislators. “His advocacy for early education and regional transportation funding transcends public education. His support can be seen, heard and felt in all areas including urban, regional and rural.”
Champions of public education like her grandfather Mann, Wadsworth said, “are key to pathways for quality education for every student in Massachusetts.”

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