Virtual School

State rejects draft contract with K12; to be resent next month

GREENFIELD — The state has rejected a draft contract between the Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School and curriculum provider K12 and asked the school to send in a new version by the middle of October.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) told the school’s board of trustees that the contract needs to be clearer about each party’s roles and responsibilities. It must also include specific details about how the board plans to measure the success of K12’s services.

“There’s going to be an amazing amount of work that needs to get done. The contract has to be completely rewritten,” said Ed Berlin, chairman of the board of the trustees, at a meeting Monday.

“The reality is we’re not going to get a finalized contract that’s approved by everybody, in my view, before Nov. 1,” he said.

News of the contract revision comes at a time when the board is closely scrutinizing its spending to ensure that it has enough money to operate.

About 475 students from across the state, including 14 from Greenfield, are currently enrolled in the cyber school. There are 240 other students on a wait list, and while there is space for them, attorney Donna MacNicol said at a meeting this past week that the school can’t afford to enroll them all.

The cost of teachers and a need to strictly follow student-teacher ratios will ultimately determine how many of those students will be accepted. School officials said during Monday’s meeting that they’re currently aiming to enroll 500 students.

The Greenfield School Department is currently still paying the salary of at least one virtual school employee, Business Manager Elizabeth Gilman told the trustees. The board will eventually need to reimburse the school department.

Adding clarity to contract

There is not enough clarity in the contract about whether K12 or the virtual school board is responsible for overseeing certain tasks, said Luis Rodriguez, a director in the state’s office of digital learning, in an email to the trustees.

Rodriguez asked the trustees to write out who manages special education services and instruction for English language learners. The budget process needs to be revised, he said, because the board should be driving its school’s financial planning independent of K12, he said.

The contract says that the virtual school will evaluate K12 in “the areas of academic performance, operations and finances.” Rodriguez said this process needs to be laid out now and included in the contract, along with how academic performance will factor at all into payment.

School Principal Carl Tillona will work with the board to develop this evaluation system. Ryan Clepper, the K12 employee in charge of the school’s teachers and curriculum, will add advice but can’t be heavily involved in the process because it would be a conflict of interest.

The school already needs to submit an annual goals plan to the state by Dec. 1 and must align its curriculum to meet state standards by the start of next school year. Meanwhile, the state suggested that the board adopt a new layout for the contract. The virtual school had used a contract format provided by K12.

Berlin proposed that a K12 attorney rewrite the contract and then send it back to the trustees for review. It’d be a way for the board to save thousands of dollars on legal fees — a move that has MacNicol’s support.

“When we first started negotiating with K12, we had so much to do,” said MacNicol at the Monday meeting. “Sticking with (K12’s contract format) and working through that made a lot more sense than trying to reinvent the wheel. DESE has decided we need to reinvent the wheel.”

K12 spokesman Jeff Kwitowski has said in the past that “K12 is fully committed to the school” and has no plans to back out despite the contract’s delay.

Berlin, who is about to go on a two-week medical leave, charged trustee Christopher Joseph and trustee-elect Jeffrey Hampton to work with MacNicol to see the contract revision process through to completion.

Trustees also need to send in a revised copy of the school’s bylaws. State officials want the trustees to create a real distinction between the Massachusetts Virtual Academy that operated from 2009 until July and the new state-authorized Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School that exists now.

The acronym “MAVA@GCVS” should be reduced down to GCVS, the state said. And the title of “superintendent” should be replaced by “school leader.”

The state also took issue with a clause in the bylaws that said the majority of trustees must come from Greenfield. The rule should be changed so that anyone can be on the board with at least one local trustee, the state said.

Pursuing physical space

The board of trustees set a goal to find a new physical space for the virtual school by January.

Susan Hollins, the Greenfield superintendent who is also acting in a school leader role for the virtual school, recommended finding a space large enough to hold two classrooms — a minimum of 2,000 square feet.

It would include about three to four administrative offices, a reception area, work cubicles for teachers to talk online with their students and meeting space for in-person tutoring.

Adjacent parking space would need to be available, she said.

The school is currently based out of 141 Davis St., a Greenfield School Department building.

A change in location, like any changes to the school’s bylaws, would first need to be approved by the state.

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