SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

March 26, 2009

Town-seminary debate heats up

Studies disagree over what Gordon-Conwell contributes to school district

(Continued)

As a religious educational institution, Gordon-Conwell is constitutionally protected from taxation, but Killoran said separation of church and state is a sword that cuts both ways.

Because the education of the seminary's students is being underwritten by the taxpayers of Hamilton, she said, public dollars are supporting a religious institution and its mission.

"We're not supposed to do that," she said.

In the eyes of some residents, relationships between the town and the school have gone from simmer to boil a number of times since the seminary first built housing for its married students in 1975. Although arguments have been made about other costs relating to the seminary, the central argument has always been over its schoolchildren.

The discussions often leave school officials in an uncomfortable position. Enough is Enough, a local anti-tax-increase group, and others have pressured them to put an actual cost on the education of the seminary students. But school officials have resolutely maintained they are legally and morally prevented from singling out individual groups of children and must educate all the town's children without regard for economic or social standing.

"The taxpayers of Hamilton take a definitively different point of view," Killoran said. "We're the ones footing the bill."

How much is enough?

Hamilton Selectman David Carey has been part of a committee negotiating with the seminary for more than a year. He acknowledges there is a cost associated with the additional seminary students, but determining what it is can be difficult.

And whatever it is, he said, people should balance it against four things the school demonstrably contributes to the community:

The diversity its students and their children bring to an otherwise largely homogenous community;

The culture of academia that many other small towns lack;

The jobs it provides by hiring local people;

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