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Time running out to write virtual school proposal

Board may appeal to state for aid

GREENFIELD — Greenfield school administrators and members of the School Committee’s innovation subcommittee are briskly working on creating a plan for a new state-authorized cyber school — but they are running out of time.

The proposal includes a full outline of the new virtual school, which will succeed the department’s three-year-old Massachusetts Virtual Academy. The full School Committee needs to review and approve it next week and then the department will have four days to send it to the state before an April 22 deadline.

But Chairman John Lunt expressed concern during an innovation subcommittee meeting Tuesday that Superintendent Susan Hollins and her staff do not currently have enough support to carry out a successful transition. Lunt and Mayor William Martin suggested asking for financial help from both the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and for-profit curriculum company K12.

Legislation is forcing the current virtual innovation school to close on June 30 and the new state-authorized virtual school to open one day later. Hollins had said the lack of any transition time places incredible burden on the school department’s central office staff.

“I think we should go to them both, K12 and the state, and say, ‘We have time problems. They are not of our own making. You need to help us with this,’” said Lunt.

“We need to have assistants for Susan who come in on a contracted part-time basis to help her work through the mountains of little tiny details that she is quite rightly very concerned about,” he said.

The subcommittee — made up of Lunt, Martin and Doris Doyle — is proposing that when the new school opens on July 1, it will have its own built-in administrative structure. Among other things, it needs to have a superintendent, a director of student services, a treasurer, a business manager and data managers.

Lunt said that the conversation should be less about who will serve in those positions on July 1 — many roles will likely continue to be filled by those in the Greenfield School Department, but under a contracted arrangement — and more about what positions the school needs to have built into its budget.

The innovation subcommittee will review the school’s five-year budget plan at a meeting next Wednesday. The new school can ask for a higher tuition — it is currently $5,000 per student, paid from sending districts via the School Choice model — and will factor into its budget any contractual arrangments it plans to have with the Greenfield School Department and with curriculum company K12.

The subcommittee will also begin to talk about who will serve as the first five members on the new board of trustees — the entity that will assume full authority over the virtual school on July 1.

Citing the low numbers of Greenfield residents running for city positions in the upcoming election, the subcommittee will propose that the trustees be paid $200 per monthly meeting plus travel.

And the subcommittee members agreed that despite a strong interest in helping out low-income families, the new virtual school would not be able to provide free-and-reduced meals to its children. It would not be feasible to send meals across the state each day, the subcommittee said.

Greenfield resident Jeff Comenitz attended the meeting as a public observer.

The subcommittee will meet next Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. at the Davis Street administrative offices. The full School Committee will meet the following day at 6:30 p.m. at the Greenfield High School. Both meetings are open to the public.

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

Related

Officials: Virtual school has cost town nothing

Thursday, February 20, 2014

GREENFIELD — The Massachusetts Virtual Academy, the district’s 3-year-old cyber school, “hasn’t cost Greenfield a penny,” according to School Committee Chairman John Lunt. Every expense — the salaries of the school’s teachers, computers sent to students, curriculum run by for-profit company K12 and hours logged by Greenfield school administrators to manage and oversee operations — was paid out of a … 0

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