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February 19, 2013

Town versus gown again

Hamilton selectmen want Gordon-Conwell to pay more for public schooling

HAMILTON — Selectmen are about to reopen a long-simmering issue in town, by asking Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary to pay more to cover the cost of educating students’ children in the public schools.

This issue has been a heated debate in town for many years, with some residents claiming that it has been a burden to the school system. Last week, selectmen decided to approach the seminary and try to reopen discussions about how much the college pays to the town each year in lieu of taxes.

“I think it is important to open up the dialogue with them again; there are some new people there,” said Selectman Jeff Hubbard, who initiated the discussion at a selectmen’s meeting last week. “We can’t afford to ignore this any longer.”

The children of seminary students who live on campus have attended the Hamilton-Wenham schools since the seminary built married student housing in 1975. There was an informal agreement back then that the seminary would pay out-of-district tuition costs for the children attending public schools, but the seminary does not pay that full amount.

Some claim the agreement was set in stone, while others say that then-President Lloyd Kalland did not have the authority to make such a promise.

Because the student housing is on the property of an educational nonprofit, neither the seminary nor its students are obligated to pay any taxes to the town.

Michael Colaneri, director of communications and marketing at the seminary, said the school has made $100,000 contributions annually for the past four years.

“As a nonprofit institution in the community, we are genuinely interested in assisting the town to the extent that our budget permits,” Colaneri said. “This has truly been a gift from the entire seminary community, as we have been unable to grant raises to our staff (administration, faculty and staff) during the same period of time.”

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