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Editorial: Cold shoulder for charter school in Easthampton

Hilltown Cooperative Charter Public School is located in the historic Brassworks building in Haydenville. The school's administrators are hoping to move to Easthampton next summer.
AYRIKA WHITNEY

Hilltown Cooperative Charter Public School is located in the historic Brassworks building in Haydenville. The school's administrators are hoping to move to Easthampton next summer. AYRIKA WHITNEY Purchase photo reprints »

For nearly all of the 18 years the Hilltown Cooperative Charter Public School has been around, school leaders have been on the hunt for more suitable quarters. They feel they’ve finally found a promising new home in a vacant manufacturing building in Easthampton, and shared that news with excitement last week.

The school’s 175 students come from all over Hampshire County, but the bulk of them are from Northampton and Easthampton.

School officials may have been a bit taken aback at the chilly reception their announcement received from Easthampton’s top executive, Mayor Michael A. Tautznik, who minced no words when he said he’s not a supporter of charter schools. “I don’t think this is going to be good for the community,” the mayor said.

Yes, charter schools are lightning rods in many communities. They are also a convenient scapegoat for the many troubles facing the state’s beleaguered public schools districts.

More than two decades after education reform efforts paved the way for charter schools as part of this state’s public school landscape, it ought to be clear to everyone they are here to stay.

It’s time for everyone to stop sniping, make the best of it and move forward.

Hilltown Cooperative aims to move next summer from Haydenville to the former Jenoptik Optical Systems building at 1 Industrial Parkway in Easthampton, opening for the 2014 school year.

First, however, the school must receive approval from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

With that approval in hand, the school will be able to sign a 20-year lease with the building’s owner, Middle Franklin Development Group of Chicopee.

Changing the location of a school like this means amending its charter, and to do that the state will accept public comment before rendering its decision. The comment period lasts 15 days.

Tautznik has said he will submit comments to the state, as will, no doubt, many parents of students attending the school who want to see their school find a better home.

Tautznik said in addition to not liking charter schools in general, he doesn’t endorse the idea of taking a large industrial space out of the tax base of the city. But the $1.3 million property would become tax-exempt only if the school purchases it, not if it holds a lease, as is planned.

Easthampton has had trouble filling its vacant industrial spaces. A new school means that a community of children, teachers and families will find their way into Easthampton. This is a good thing. These new visitors could help counter the loss of traffic to the Registry of Motor Vehicles in Easthampton, which may close in a statewide consolidation.

In Haydenville, Hilltown Cooperative and the Williamsburg elementary schools collaborated on any number of projects over the years, enriching both institutions.

The same could happen in Easthampton if the school gets permission to move, and the hoped-for 20-year lease would provide time to let that relationship develop.

The school opened in the Brassworks Building on Route 9 in Haydenville in 1993. From the day it opened, school officials knew that space was temporary. But an inability to find a new home despite looking at 20 to 30 properties over the years in Northampton, Hatfield, Williamsburg, Whately and Ashfield meant their temporary stay stretched the better part of two decades.

The school’s proposed new location is off O’Neill Street in a 24,268-square-foot building on a 4-acre parcel where school officials imagine building a playground. As for the building, though it will need to be turned into a school by constructing classrooms and other rooms, the basic infrastructure is largely in place.

Given that there is no reason, zoning-wise, this move can’t happen, it is a real possibility the school will move to Easthampton.

We believe it would be more constructive if city leadership would let go of an old grudge and welcome the school, its staff, the families and, especially, the children who will learn there.

when the Mayor has a grudge he holds on to it!

As I noted on the page regarding the original article about this relocation effort, I think the Mayor is incorrect about the property being removed from the tax base. Since the property is leased - not owned - by the school, it would continue to be taxed at the same rate regardless of the occupant.

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