by Nick Grabbe
Monday, June 15, 2009 - Hampshire Gazette
AMHERST - While the town and gown debate who should pay to educate the children of graduate students, school advocates are considering other ways the University of Massachusetts could help the town.
And some are looking southward to the settlement of a lawsuit between Rutgers, the New Jersey state university, and its host community.
The school district in Piscataway, N.J., challenged the tax-exempt status of graduate student housing at Rutgers, where about 65 children live and attend the local schools. A state tax court upheld the tax-exempt status of Rutgers housing last August, but the school district appealed.
In April, the two parties agreed to a settlement that will provide the school district with about $80,000 a year worth of free services, causing Amherst officials to speculate about a similar deal with UMass.
For example, the New Jersey agreement sets up a work-study program that will enable Rutgers students to work in the school district and be paid by the federal government, according to a story on the Web site mycentralnewjersey.com.
Amherst School Committee member Catherine Sanderson said that UMass work-study students working in the school libraries or cafeterias could ease the budget crunch.
Piscataway also plans to use the $80,000 in credits to hold graduation at Rutgers; it cost Amherst $13,000 to rent the Mullins Center last Saturday. It would also like to use the Rutgers pool and send teachers there for training.
Under the settlement, Rutgers will lobby state officials for payments to help cover the cost of educating children whose parents live in tax-exempt housing. The university will also provide a head football or basketball coach to speak at a fundraiser for the local schools, according to mycentralnewjersey.com.
UMass may have difficulty paying the cost of renovating Mark's Meadow Elementary School building for a few years, and should consider letting the school district continue to use it for another purpose, such as the alternative high school program, Sanderson said.
Her employer, Amherst College, has lifted the cap on the number of high school students who can take free classes on campus, whereas UMass charges $1,200 a class, she said.
"Why not, for every child in graduate student housing, have UMass provide free space to an Amherst student?" she asked.
My Goal in Blogging
I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.