SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

February 19, 2013

Town versus gown again

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

(Continued)

Town Manager Michael Lombardo confirmed the $100,000-a-year gifts and said the money is put into the town’s general fund.

The town and seminary do not have a formal payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement. Before the $100,000 checks, the school would typically pay about $35,000 a year.

The per-student cost to operate the district is an average of $14,600, according to selectmen.

Hubbard said it costs the town at least $8,000 per child to educate the seminary students’ children each year. Through school choice, the town brings in $5,000 for each out-of-district student.

With 40 to 50 students attending the schools, the $100,000 gift from the seminary amounts to about $2,000 to $2,500 per student.

Selectman Jennifer Scuteri agreed with Hubbard’s call to reopen the dialogue with the seminary.

“There is an unusual cost that most tax-exempts don’t cause a community,” Scuteri said. “So it does require an unusual conversation. ... It doesn’t mean we don’t recognize them as contributors to our community.”

Several grass-roots citizen groups, including Enough is Enough, have formed over the years urging the seminary to pay more for its students.

In the end, the board decided to have Chairman David Neill approach the seminary about trying to come up with a deal.

“I am hoping we can come up with some sort of arrangement that will satisfy the town and the seminary,” Neill said in an interview. “There’s got to be a fair number.”

Neill said he typically doesn’t support the idea of payments in lieu of taxes, but he agreed that this ongoing issue is an unusual hit to the school system.

“The point is not to badger or shame. That won’t get us anywhere,” Neill said. “But the fact of the matter is we have an issue to address.”

Neill acknowledged that the school has no legal obligation to the town.

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