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Greenfield Public Schools

Greenfield makes a School Choice compromise

Greenfield board keeps Choice, with exception of high school

GREENFIELD — The Greenfield School Department won’t accept any new School Choice students in grades 8-12 next year, but will continue accepting a limited number of grade K-7 students.

All current Greenfield school students, whether they live in town or in another district, will be allowed to continue attending the schools next year. The vote also has no impact on the approximately 330 Greenfield residents who are currently attending a public school in another Massachusetts town.

The Greenfield School Committee’s Choice decision — which the board approved 4-1, with Maryelen Calderwood voting in opposition and Daryl Essensa absent — followed a two-hour public hearing and discussion Tuesday night in the Greenfield Middle School auditorium.

The school board had voted earlier this month to stop participating in Choice altogether next year (with limited exceptions) as a way to take stock of the current situation and evaluate what it costs to best educate Greenfield residents.

School Committee members were concerned about rising class sizes and spending on teachers, even as Superintendent Susan Hollins said that principals only accept new students when there is a space available in the classroom.

The school department receives $5,000 for each student who choices in from another district and pays $5,000 for every Greenfield student who leaves to go elsewhere. Approximately 330 students choiced out of Greenfield this year, with 69 nonresidents choicing in.

The current vote will allow as many as 23 new elementary School Choice-in students (grades K-3) next year and as many as eight students from grades 4-7.

Siblings of current Greenfield students will be allowed to attend, as will children of parents who have any job in Greenfield. Principals will still continue, though, to have the final say of whether there is an available space in a specific grade of a school.

But members of the school board felt that, with next year’s high school transition, it was prudent to freeze Choice in grades 8-12 next year. Students will begin using a portion of the new $66 million high school this year.

Thomas Bevacqua — a high school teacher and president of the Greenfield Education Association, the teachers union — told committee members that he did not understand their decision.

“I don’t understand why,” he said. “You mean to tell me that we can’t take an additional five students in the high school?”

Bevacqua was one of 12 who spoke during the public hearing — a collection that included teachers, administrators, parents and residents. Some speakers were concerned that a vote to end all Choice next year would hurt Greenfield’s reputation and did not understand why the committee would shut off the revenue stream.

With the exception of the high school, Tuesday’s Choice vote likely won’t change much from the status quo. Most people who request to Choice in now would have still been able to do so under the new terms set by the school board.

Calderwood said she voted against Tuesday’s Choice decision because she wanted to see the department end Choice for all new students next year, with the exception of students’ siblings and any children of school employees.

Mayor William Martin stressed that the school board will revisit the issue in spring 2015.

The meeting began in the cafeteria but was quickly moved to the auditorium because of a sound system issue.

You can reach Chris Shores at: cshores@recorder.com, 413-772-0261, ext. 264, or on Twitter @RecorderShores

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