Greenfield school board wants to end Choice
Public hearing set for next Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.
GREENFIELD — Greenfield School Committee members said last week that they wanted to stop accepting new School Choice students next year and focus solely on teaching Greenfield residents.
The board’s 4-1 vote to freeze School Choice will need to be re-taken at a public hearing later this month. School attorney Peter Smith told Mayor William Martin that the committee’s vote last week was invalid because it failed to hold a required public hearing on the issue.
A hearing has now been scheduled for next Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in Greenfield Middle School cafeteria.
The decision, if it’s upheld when the board votes again, won’t impact any students who are currently enrolled in the Greenfield schools or younger siblings of those students.
It would also have no effect on the approximately 330 students who live in Greenfield but Choice out to other neighboring school districts like Frontier or Pioneer Valley regional school districts.
The state’s School Choice program allows parents to send their children to schools outside the district they live in. The Greenfield School Department pays $5,000 for every student who chooses to study at another public school and receives $5,000 for each of the 69 students who come to Greenfield.
Member Margaret Betts said that she wanted to see the department freeze School Choice for at least one year to focus on improving the education of Greenfield students. Member Maryelen Calderwood agreed, saying that she would like the schools to the improve the quality of education rather than increase the quantity of students.
Superintendent Susan Hollins told the school board that Choice decisions aren’t made lightly, and that principals will only accept a student if there is a seat available in an already established classroom.
The department has needed to add teachers to account for the growing number of Greenfield residents who are attending the schools, said Hollins. Some of the $345,000 in School Choice revenue has been used to pay for new faculty members and for other programs in the schools.
Four of the six School Committee members voted to freeze School Choice next year, with Donna Gleason casting the lone dissenting vote. Daryl Essensa was absent and the board has not yet filled a vacancy left by former member John Lunt’s resignation.
Six of the 69 Choice students are graduating next year, which means that the department will lose out on at least $30,000 in revenue next year.
Hollins told the board that two new faculty members joining Greenfield next year had wanted to have their children Choice into the Greenfield schools, which would have been an additional $10,000 in revenue.
Some committee members said the revenue wasn’t significant enough to offset additional costs associated with teaching more students. If the vote to freeze School Choice is affirmed later this month, the board will reassess the issue at this time next year.
Martin said he’ll look for Hollins to provide more information on the program before the next meeting. The Ways and Means Committee of the Town Council requested an explanation for the decision, he said.
School Choice students make up about 4 percent of the department’s students.
Exactly one-third of the 69 students attend Greenfield High School, including six enrolled in the 8th Grade Academy. The Greenfield Middle School has nine students from School Choice and the Math and Science Academy has seven.
The town’s three elementary schools have a combined 30 Choice-in students: the Discovery School at Four Corners has 14, Newton School has 12 and Federal Street School has four.
Any districts that want to freeze School Choice need to tell the state by June 1.
As of May 9, 63 districts across the state voted for the freeze and another 34 districts had indicated specific grades in which they would accept new students, according to state data.
The Franklin County Technical School District voted again this year to not take any students who live outside its member towns.
In addition to the Tech School, Erving and Shutesbury are the only districts in the county that did not accept Choice students this year.
Gill-Montague, Pioneer Valley, Ralph C. Mahar, Mohawk Trail and Hawlemont regional school districts, along with Rowe, all took votes to continue accepting new School Choice students next year.
You can reach Chris Shores at: email@example.com, 413-772-0261, ext. 264, or on Twitter @RecorderShores