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Hawlemont, Rowe likely to share school  1 more year

Recorder file photo
Hawlemont Regional School is looking at adding a farming-based curriculum to the school. It’s a proposal that is seeing growing support.

Recorder file photo Hawlemont Regional School is looking at adding a farming-based curriculum to the school. It’s a proposal that is seeing growing support.

CHARLEMONT — If Rowe school stays another year in the Hawlemont Regional School building, it can add a few more School Choice children, but will have to share the $5,000-per-child School Choice revenues with Hawlemont.

That was the compromise hammered out Tuesday night between the Hawlemont and Rowe school committees, after a long discussion on School Choice students, which has been the only hurdle to a contract for Rowe to educate its residential and School Choice children for another year at Hawlemont, due to the fire that destroyed the Rowe school in August.

Since the 1990s, Rowe has counted on the enrollment of children who don’t live in Rowe to fill its small classes and to bring in revenue from “sending school systems.”

But nearby Hawlemont is Rowe’s largest “sending” school district, with 10 Charlemont and Hawley children already enrolled in the Rowe schools. Those 10 cost the cash-strapped Hawlemont district $50,000 per year — and now they are being educated by Rowe in the Hawlemont school building.

Rowe also educates 10 School Choice children from Buckland, Colrain, Heath, North Adams and Monroe, according to enrollment figures.

This year’s Hawlemont-Rowe agreement stipulated that Rowe couldn’t take on additional school choice students.

Rowe currently has 58 children in its preschool and kindergarten-Grade 6 programs, but enrollment is expected to drop to 52 children next year, unless more students are enrolled through the School Choice option. Without adding more students, Rowe’s enrollment is expected to drop to 46 children in the school year that begins in 2014, and Rowe board members fear they will be unable to attract future School Choice students if their enrollment numbers are too low for too long.

Hawlemont school board Chairwoman Beth Bandy expressed concern that Hawlemont’s more convenient location, on Route 2, would draw more prospective School Choice families to Rowe than would have come to the former school in Rowe center. She said Hawlemont is also seeking more School Choice students.

When Rowe Chairwoman Lisa Miller said she feels Rowe is “being punished” and has to “lose a part of its school” in order to stay at Hawlemont, Bandy replied: “We need to survive and not be ‘punished’ ourselves for hosting a school that has more resources.”

Hawlemont board member Ivy Palmer of Charlemont said finances were the “bottom line” for Hawlemont, and that, if Rowe was willing to share its School Choice revenues with Hawlemont, for any new School Choice students added next year, she was willing to consider it.

Rowe had offered not to accept any additional children from the Hawlemont district, but Hawlemont board member Daphne Clark said excluding School Choice students from one district would constitute discrimination.

The compromise will allow Rowe to retain its current enrollment of 58 students by adding about six more School Choice students next year. For each new student coming from Hawlemont, the Hawlemont district is to be paid its full sending fee of $5,000. For each new student from another school district, Hawlemont will receive $2,500.

When the idea of paying Hawlemont for Rowe’s new School Choice students was raised, Miller pointed out that Rowe still has to pay for the educational programs of each new student. But Hawlemont members pointed out that the cost-sharing would be cheaper than for Rowe to lease modular classrooms in its town center for next year.

The Rowe School Committee is likely to vote on the agreement Friday morning, when the revised written contract comes back from the school lawyer. The Hawlemont board may vote on it next week.

Besides the School Choice issue, the agreement would charge Rowe $74,032 to lease classroom space next year, with Rowe to be responsible for providing additional parking space for its staff, to address parking overflow problems this year.

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