Rowe, Hawlemont plan for new school year

CHARLEMONT — If Rowe Elementary School spends another year at Hawlemont, could it enroll new School Choice students? Could the side-by-side schools reduce costs and redundancies by sharing — instead of duplicating — some services? Also, how will the school building better accommodate more parking for two teaching faculties and more school parents?

The Rowe and Hawlemont school committees began discussing those issues Tuesday as a prelude to devising a new “memorandum of understanding” — a contract for Rowe to keep its student body at Hawlemont one more year, while that town considers a new school building to replace the one that burned down.

The three-district cost-sharing agreement that prompted Rowe selectmen to take the other districts to court last spring has been renewed by all three school committees, and signed by the Mohawk, Rowe and Hawlemont school committee chairpersons on Tuesday.

With that issue out of the way, the Hawlemont and Rowe school boards will hold a subsequent joint-meeting on Dec. 10, to discuss terms for continuing to share the school.

After the August fire destroyed the Rowe School Building, the Rowe School Committee voted not to accept any more school-choice enrollments. But Rowe School Chairwoman Lisa Miller told the Hawlemont School Committee Tuesday that Rowe may want to accept more preschoolers and School Choice children next fall.

“If we don’t take in new preschoolers next year, we would essentially die,” said Miller. She said admitting existing Rowe preschoolers into kindergarten next fall also constitutes an increase in school-choice students, since preschoolers aren’t counted in school-choice data. Since the “sending” schools pay the School Choice recipient school $5,000 per pupil, the Rowe board said it would not seek children from Hawlemont, except for those whose siblings are already enrolled in the Rowe school.

At the beginning of the current school year, 36 of the Rowe School children were town residents and 22 were school-choice children.

Superintendent Michael Buoniconti suggested that the two school boards consider ways to work together to reduce redundancy. For instance, he questioned whether two school nurses are needed for one building.

Also, both school committees are considering how to provide more parking for teachers and school parents, especially after it snows. Many teachers have been parking at the closed Charlemont Inn, walking across Route 2, and walking down the school driveway slope into school. However, parking spaces at the Charlemont Inn won’t be plowed, and the slope leading to the school could be icy in winter.

Charlemont School Chairwoman Beth Bandy said the town’s Parks and Recreation Department has given permission to allow winter parking on the tennis court in front of the school, providing that school boards take responsibility for repairing any damages that result from parking or plowing snow there. She said the selectmen have also given permission for the school to haul plowed snow up to Charlemont Fairgrounds, but added that Charlemont would not pay additional money for hauling the snow, which is usually stored on the unused tennis court.

Miller, from Rowe, said the cost for extra plowing and hauling snow might be eligible for insurance reimbursement, as part of the school’s “relocation costs” under the town’s school insurance policy.

Charlemont Highway Superintendent Gordon Hathaway estimated that hauling costs for snow could be as high as $10,000, depending on how much it snows.

A teacher suggested that teachers could carpool, from either the Shunpike parking lot west of the school, or from the park-and-ride lot in East Charlemont. The teachers were asked to look into carpooling possibilities.

This year, Rowe is paying Hawlemont a $74,032 lease fee for using the building.

School officials agreed to “get the numbers,” and bring cost-estimates to the meeting planned for Dec. 10.

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