SHIRLEY -- The Ayer-Shirley Regional School Committee is planning to investigate the possibility of securing a contract with the state to educate students from Devens, after members were told that the town of Harvard has a clause built into its agreement with the state to educate those students indefinitely.
The alleged discrepancy was brought to the attention of the committee at its meeting last week by Rico Cappucci of Shirley and an Ayer selectman because they felt the contract was not the only one that appeared to favor certain groups over others.
According to the agreement between the Harvard School Committee and the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency, acting as the Devens School District, per-pupil tuition for students in grades kindergarten through 12 shall be paid to the town of Harvard and must equal the per-pupil expenditure as calculated by the state Department of Education. In the 2010-2011 school year, the per-pupil expenditure for the town was $13,476.
Devens bears the cost of educating prekindergarten students for $5,000 for a half-day program or $6,500 for the full-day program, plus an additional $500.
In the agreement, all costs for educating special-needs students, as well as all transportation costs for students, will be covered by MassDevelopment. In the 2011-2012 school year, transportation costs were $51,660.
A total of $133,988 will be paid in five installments for capital needs and improvements in the district, and if the agreement extends beyond the 2014-2015 school year, $25,000 must be paid annually for any capital needs and improvements.
The agreement will automatically renew for one school calendar year after the initial term of the contract, and then after, either party may elect not to renew the agreement.
If either party decides to terminate its involvement, it must be done two years in advance of the date at which the party wishes to terminate the agreement.
All Devens students enrolled in Harvard Public Schools at the time of termination of the agreement will be allowed to continue to attend school in the district until high-school graduation or when they are no longer entitled to a public education under state and federal law.
Pat Kelly, the chair of the Ayer-Shirley committee, said there should be a more open process in awarding the contract so all surrounding school districts have a chance to respond to a request for proposals.
"I haven't seen the contract, but it's something like $13,000 a child or so, and they have at least 70 kids," Kelly said of Devens. "It winds up being something like a million bucks the state pays to Harvard. That would be great funds to have in our district."
Kelly said there are plans in the works to get copies of the contract to the members of the School Committee to see the terms before they make any decisions.
One of the provisions in the contract, Kelly said, is an automatic renewal for Harvard, which the committee was made aware of recently.
There is a Devens Education Advisory Council that oversees the educational needs of Devens children, and Ayer-Shirley sends one of its members, Michele Granger, to those meetings to stay informed.
"We want to know what's going on and when the contract came up again so we could have a chance at supporting that population," he said.
Granger told the committee about Harvard's automatic renewal.
"There was no RFP or open bidding or anything else," Kelly said. "It didn't appear to us that we could do all that much about it at first. We've been so busy getting the region off the ground that we hadn't made it a high priority to know everything that was going on on Devens."
But, he said, it has become more of a priority for the committee because it appears that other contracts with services that benefit Devens are being handled the same way, including state police coverage.
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