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Virtual School

Martin: Contracting with virtual school a good test

GREENFIELD — The Greenfield School Department’s ability this year to manage its own schools and the Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School will serve as a test case for whether the department could pursue similar business relationships with other neighboring school districts, according to Mayor William Martin.

The virtual school, now its own independent entity, agreed last week to pay the Greenfield School Department this year to perform “central office” tasks including superintendent duties, data services, payroll and financial management and special education administration.

Martin, the School Committee chairman, is eager to see how effectively this model works and if the department could some day sell these services to other school districts, as well.

“This is a one-year experiment for how to co-mingle the two school systems,” he said. “It’s very possible that we can offer services to other smaller school systems and districts. ... (It’s) looking into the entrepreneurial values of this system to generate new revenues for the school department.”

Most Franklin County towns are already part of established regional school districts. But as some regional school contracts play out over the next year, it’s possible there may be one or two towns shopping around for superintendent and central office services, Rowe and Erving, for example.

First though, the Greenfield School Committee will have to see how well the school department does this year at taking on the added tasks while also ensuring that it doesn’t detract from its primary mission of serving Greenfield students.

Some school board members are concerned that Superintendent Susan Hollins and her staff splitting their time and energy between two school systems will hurt Greenfield students.

Others argue that school staff can pull it off and that revenue coming in from the virtual school will make the arrangement worthwhile.

The Greenfield-based virtual school agreed last week to pay the school department 7.5 percent of its incoming revenue to handle typical central office tasks. With a cost of about $500 per student, officials are estimating the school department could bring in anywhere from $200,000 to $300,000 in extra revenue this year.

This money will likely be used to hire additional central office employees so they can accomplish its normal duties for the school department as well as these paid tasks for the virtual school, said Martin. And there may be extra money to spend on other things for the school department.

For the past three years, central office staff have managed the virtual school — which had been part of the school department until last month — along with its brick-and-mortar schools. But it has been unclear exactly how much money, time and energy have gone into that effort.

Martin said that Melanson Heath & Co. is currently working on a financial audit of the virtual school’s past three years, and that the school board will receive the report in September.

The School Committee will be able to use this report, plus its own observations as this year progresses, to determine how best to monitor the time that school employees are spending on each of the two school systems.

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

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