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School Committee won’t budge on Devens school offer

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HARVARD — The School Committee has been negotiating a lucrative five-year contract to educate Devens students from grades seven to 12, but disagreements with MassDevelopment have compromised the offer.

Harvard’s proposal does not include elementary school services, which MassDevelopment reportedly termed a potential deal-breaker to the Harvard School Committee in January.

The vote was to clarify what services the district was willing to provide if awarded the contract, said Superintendent of Schools Thomas Jefferson.

”At this point, we’ve put grades seven through 12 on the table,” he said. “We’re not prepared to enter into a formal arrangement with respect to the elementary school.”

The elementary school contract would involve overseeing a new school at Devens, which makes the issue more complicated, he said.

One of the stipulations was that Jefferson would need to be the superintendent of Devens and Harvard would need to provide central office services at the former base.

While he did not go into specifics, he said the School Committee had a number of concerns with that scenario. However, only some of them have been answered.

”I’m confident if we choose to go there we’d do it in a way that would work. But at this point we’re not prepared to agree with that,” said Jefferson.

Conversely, he said the high school contract has clear benefits for both sides.

The five-year contract provides the educational stability Devens residents are seeking, he said, and allows Harvard a chance to revisit the agreement after the expected residential development of Devens has commenced.

With the base expected to take on 1,300 houses in the next 20 years, Jefferson said the School Committee looked into how that would impact Harvard schools over the life of the contract.

”We’ve looked very carefully at the growth projections for Devens,” he said. “It wouldn’t be a dramatic increase for us.”

The high school contract would bring between 12 and 15 students to Harvard next fall if awarded, said Jefferson. They would likely fill existing school choice slots for almost twice the revenue at $9,600 apiece rather than $5,000.

The deal would also include $90,000 per year from MassDevelopment to support staffing and $100,000 over five years for capital costs.

Whether Harvard will see those benefits or not remains to be seen.

The other finalist for the Devens contract is Littleton, which has maintained that it would be willing to staff and manage the Devens school.

MassDevelopment has not put out a time frame yet for when it would render a decision, said Jefferson.

”Their goal is to nail this down as soon as possible,” he said.

Students of Devens have attended the Shirley schools since fall 2001, but that five-year contract will expire in June.

While principals have declined to comment on the particulars of negotiations, there are indications that Littleton was the early favorite. Momentum has swung toward Harvard in recent weeks.

In November, Littleton Superintendent Paul Livingston expressed optimism that his districts’ kindergarten to grade 12 proposal was a key distinction.

However, two months have passed since then without a deal. MassDevelopment is now asking Harvard to include similar services within its proposal.

MassDevelopment Chief of Staff Meg Delorier confirmed only that negotiations are still ongoing.

”They are hoping to have some news in a week or so,” she said.

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