HARVARD -- The Harvard School Committee unanimously voted (4-0) Wednesday to approve a new contact with MassDevelopment for the continued education of school-aged Devens children in the Harvard school district.
The new single contract replaces the respective 3- and 5-year contracts that outlined the prior agreement for Devens students attending Hildreth Elementary School (HES) and The Bromfield School (TBS) respectively. The one contract will cover pre-school education through grade 12, up to age 22.
The committee authorized Chair Susan Mary Redinger to finalize the new contract once its language is finessed as to form by MassDevelopment attorney Lee Smith. However, Harvard School Superintendent Joseph Connelly said that the substantive terms have already been approved by the MassDevelopment Board of Directors.
Each side sought different things from the new deal.
One pressing issue from Harvard's point of view was that the school district had encumbered $133,988 of Devens fund money to cover part of the second year cost of the $400,000 school technology upgrade plan. But the commitment was made without hammering out a new Devens contract at a time "transition money" was to sunset under the initial terms of the old Devens contract.
Without the money, the district would have faced "financial hardship," said Connelly.
Connelly said that, "in appreciation of this problem," MassDevelopment agreed to provide $133,988 in capital
Original contract talks were for the annual $20,000 Devens contract capital improvement contributions to be upped to $25,000 a year. The increase will happen, but, because of the Harvard technology funding needs, the $25,000 per year capital contributions will not flow until the third year of the new contract.
On balance, that means Harvard will forgo a total of $75,000 in MassDevelopment capital contributions over three years in return for the coverage of the technology upgrade. "It appears to be a win-win," said Connelly.
There were also efforts to strike a more equitable position for Harvard and Devens families alike. For nonspecial education students enrolled in the Hildreth Elementary Integrated Pre-K program, tuition was $4,500 for half day and $6,000 for full day students.
The Devens costs will drop from $10,000 per student to $5,000 and $6,500 respectively. The $500 tuition bump for Devens students is to cover the Harvard taxpayer subsidy that helps fund the Integrated Pre-K program.
Also this fiscal year will be the last year that MassDevelopment covers the entire pre-K tuition cost for Devens residents. Starting in the next school year (2013-2014), Devens families will have to pay the pre-K tuition directly.
As of Tuesday, there are 41 Devens students at HES and 26 students enrolled at TBS. That's up 6 students from last year's 61 total.
The added Devens headcount will generate $102,000 more this year for the district, which is compensated at roughly $13,500 per student. This year the district will receive $904,000 from MassDevelopment versus the $802,000 figure last year.
"It will give us a $100,000 cushion," said Connelly.
Committee member Bob Sullebarger asked about holdover language that discusses the notion of the "replacement by another entity" within the contract. The final disposition of the Devens Regional Enterprise Zone (DREZ) remains an open question. Sullebarger asked if the language should be retooled to resemble more of a "successors and assigns" contract clause.
"The attorneys should look at that," said Sullebarger. "It struck me as unusually casual." But, Sullebarger said, "If they're happy, I'm happy." Connelly said the language was simply carried forward from the earlier contract.
Committee member Keith Cheveralls said it's "very important to recalibrate that this is not something that the School Committee initiated. "I believe we need to focus on what this contract is - not necessarily what it replaced," said Cheveralls. "Also what it could have been."
Cheveralls said MassDevelopment signaled it wanted changes last summer when Connelly had just come aboard.
With a nod to Harvard Finance Committee member Steve Cowell, seated in the audience, Cheveralls recalled that there had been push back on the amount of money paid by MassDevelopment on a per pupil basis.
Cheveralls noted the point is not insignificant. Boston developer Trinity Financial hired a consultant to bolster its argument that a 246-unit affordable housing project on Devens would have a positive, and not a negative, impact on the Harvard School District. Trinity Financial argued that the MassDevelopment contract should not be based on $13,500 per student but the "marginal" cost of educating each student in Harvard. "The differential was $4,000 per student," said Cheveralls.
No surprise, MassDevelopment "embraced" the Trinity findings and expressed its feelings to the Harvard Board of Selectmen, said Cheveralls. "It sent a very concerning note of where we could be headed with this contract," said Cheveralls between both the sun-setting transitional reimbursement to Harvard and the potential risk to the per pupil reimbursement rate.
In the end, MassDevelopment left the $13,500 sum alone, said Cheveralls. "Focusing on what this contract is - I believe it is an incredible benefit to the Town of Harvard, the community of Devens, and MassDevelopment. And it gives us a little longevity to our financial planning process."
Juggling the next three years means the committee will "have to have a much sharper pencil at this table" with regard to the management of the district's Devens revolving fund. Also a keen eye will be needed to watch the Devens enrollment count. Birth and graduation rates bring an added "quotient of volatility," said Cheveralls.
Redinger asked that the chief administrator - whoever succeeds Connelly following the end of the coming school year - keep an eye on the Devens contract where its revenues intersect with the school budget "so we're not under the gun to get this negotiated past the date when its already due" in the future.