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State commissioner backs 2nd virtual school applicant

Greenfield’s now independent cyber school, the first in the state, will likely soon have some cyber competition.

A collaborative in eastern Massachusetts now has the backing of state Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester to open up the state’s second virtual school this fall. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will need to vote on the proposal at its meeting later this month.

The Education Cooperative, which serves 50,000 students in towns west of Boston, wants to open the TEC Connections Academy Commonwealth Virtual School to serve K-12 students across the state who may otherwise struggle in brick-and-mortar schools.

The collaborative had sought a five-year certificate with an enrollment that expanded up to 6,000 students in the fifth year. Chester, in his recommendation Friday, said he believes the certificate should be for three years and a maximum student enrollment of 2,000 students.

He set the per-pupil tuition, which is paid for by the students’ host districts, at $6,700 — which matches the rate at the Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School.

Six groups, including two in western Massachusetts, had expressed interest last fall in vying for a virtual school certificate — but The Education Cooperative was the only one to ultimately submit an application.

The enrollment cap bodes well for the Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School, which for four years has been the state’s only cyber school. Just over 500 students attend the school from all over the state.

Trustees at the Greenfield virtual school have said they are focused on improving their own school and not monitoring potential competitors.

Greenfield school board to discuss virtual school next week

It’s still unclear if the Greenfield School Department will continue providing administrative services to the virtual school beyond the end of the month. The trustees are prepared to sever ties with the school department on March 1 if a new contract can’t be reached before then.

For the second consecutive year, the Greenfield School Committee plans to hold a special February meeting dedicated solely to the virtual school. Committee members tentatively scheduled the meeting for next Thursday, beginning at 4:30 p.m., in the Greenfield Community Television studio at 393 Main St.

The Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School agreed last summer to pay the school department 7.5 percent of its student tuition payments for “central office” tasks like superintendent duties, special education administration, data services, payroll and financial management, grant development and personnel hiring.

Trustees have since proposed a revised contract that would reduce the amount of services and the payment, down to 3 percent. If the Greenfield School Committee adopts this new proposal, the virtual school board will pay just under $200,000 total by school year’s end as it continues to transition away from its parent brick-and-mortar public school department.

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