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Virtual School

State will back Greenfield’s virtual school

Conditions will be imposed

GREENFIELD — Greenfield’s quest to secure Massachusetts’ first state-authorized virtual school certificate will have the backing of a recommendation by the state education commissioner, an education official said Monday.

But Commissioner Mitchell Chester’s memo — which will be sent early this week to members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, who have the final say at their June 25 meeting — will “impose a number of conditions on the certificate,” said state spokesman JC Considine.

Those conditions, which won’t be made public until after the memo is sent to the board, will determine how a local team involved with the virtual school proceeds with a plan to change the 3-year-old Massachusetts Virtual Academy into a state-authorized school on July 1.

The public Greenfield cyber school currently uses the Internet to serve 470 students across the state, including about a dozen from Greenfield, who said they would otherwise struggle in brick-and-mortar schools.

Under Greenfield’s new proposal, the school would be run autonomously by an appointed board of trustees and would contract with outside entities for managerial, curriculum and financial services. It could expand to serve as many as 1,750 students in five years.

Ed Berlin — a Greenfield resident and the unofficial leader of the virtual school’s proposed board of trustees — said Monday that although he’s optimistic that the state’s plan will allow the board to effectively run the school, nothing will be known for sure until Greenfield officials see the memo.

Greenfield’s virtual school proposal had, for example, asked for tuition to increase from $4,925 per student to between $7,600 and $8,600. Tuition is paid for by students’ sending districts, similar to the School Choice model, and Greenfield officials have said that the funding needs to increase in order for the school to meet both old and new state standards.

Berlin said that there are a number of services where it is unclear if the virtual school, or the students’ host districts, will be financially responsible. For example, he asked, who will pay to provide free or reduced meals for eligible low-income students?

He said that the school will take on whatever its financial responsibilities are, as long as the tuition is at the amount necessary to cover those costs — a point also made Monday by School Committee Chairman John Lunt.

“Until we know (what’s in the memo), we can’t really make any final decisions,” said Berlin, “and time is running out.”

For the past three years, Greenfield has hosted the state’s first and only virtual school. A new law passed this January gave the state more oversight and forced local school officials to apply for a state certificate in order to continue the school.

If the board votes to grant the certificate, and Greenfield accepts, the “new” cyber school would start July 1. It would be the only virtual school in Massachusetts for at least one year.

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

It appears that one of the financial concerns of some, is the cost of school lunches. Students of the "virtual" school do not eat lunches at public school buildings since they are working from off site internet connections. If the local schools are paying for school lunches, then it is not the fault of the virtual school, but the way the current Free lunch program regulations are written; perhaps this is an issue that school committees should take up with the State as to why the virtual school students are included in the cost of the lunches? This, to me, appears to be a State Budget issue that should be looked into further by local school districts.

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