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Virtual School

Board OKs contract with virtual school

GREENFIELD — The Greenfield School Department will provide administrative services for the independent Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School this coming year and will receive just under $500 per student.

The 3-year-old cyber school, which uses the Internet to teach students across the state, recently switched from being a Greenfield school to an independent one run autonomously by a board of trustees. The virtual school is now contracting with the Greenfield School Department for administrative services, agreeing to pay it 7.5 percent of incoming revenue from tuition.

Tuition to the virtual school, paid for by students’ home districts, costs $6,700 per student, with the state keeping $75. That means that if there are 500 students in the school, about $248,000 will be paid to the Greenfield School Department this year.

Greenfield students will be able to attend the school for free, as has been the arrangement since 2010 when the school first opened.

And, if contract negotiations with curriculum provider K12 continue as expected, Greenfield brick-and-mortar students will be able to take an unlimited number of virtual courses that they wouldn’t be able to otherwise, such as AP Russian.

After three hours of debate Thursday, the Greenfield School Committee approved the agreement 4-1. Francia Wisnewski voted no, Maryelen Calderwood abstained and Margaret Betts was not present.

According to the agreement, the school department will provide typical “central office” tasks like superintendent duties, special education administration, data services, payroll and financial management, grant development and personnel hiring.

Greenfield administrators have done the work on the virtual school for years, retaining about 3 percent of tuition to cover time spent working on the school. For the past two years, this amount has been just under $70,000.

The primary debate among school board members Thursday was whether the potential significant surge of additional revenue would be worth splitting the time and energy of employees like Superintendent Susan Hollins.

School board members included language in the contract that said the amount of time spent by administrators should be dependent on the size of enrollment. Each side can, at any time, begin a 90-day opt-out period.

Some members asked Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School Chairman Ed Berlin, who was present throughout the meeting, if the virtual school could guarantee a minimum payment to the school department. He said that would not be financially viable for the virtual school board.

Berlin and the school board did agree to quarterly reports, which would discuss the virtual school’s plan of when it would pay Greenfield School Department for its services.

Exactly how the school department will spend the revenue was not decided Thursday. But school officials plan to bring in additional central office staff to cover the tasks now needed for the virtual school, and this will be discussed further at a later meeting.

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

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