Attorney tapped to help form nonprofit to aid Warwick school reopening

  • The former Warwick Community School closed in 2020. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 11/25/2022 1:34:00 PM
Modified: 11/25/2022 1:31:40 PM

WARWICK — The Selectboard has agreed to a  contract with attorney T. Wilson Flanders as the town looks to establish a nonprofit educational organization to support its efforts to reopen and revitalize the former Warwick Community School, which closed in 2020.

The nonprofit that Flanders will help establish will benefit the town’s “Rural School Redesign” efforts. With Flanders’ counsel, the town hopes to have documentation prepared for filing as a tax-exempt 501(c)3 nonprofit by January.

Speaking during this week’s Selectboard meeting, Town Coordinator David Young described Flanders as “a good, level-headed attorney,” adding that “this kind of practice suits him.” Flanders’ scope of work will include meeting with Young; drafting the nonprofit’s articles of organization and bylaws; completing an IRS Form 1023 application for tax-exempt status and related documents; and teaching Warwick how to maintain the corporation and tax-exempt status in good standing.

The initial fee is $2,500, plus unanticipated hourly pay of $250 and fees relative to paying other entities during the filing process. Warwick plans to draw from a grant-funded $215,000 New Schools Venture Fund budget to pay for Flanders’ services.

According to Susan Hollins, senior consultant for the Rural School Redesign team, the idea of having a nonprofit corporation that addresses non-school initiatives was first discussed in 2019 as part of designing a school budget.

“I address entrepreneurial revenue when talking about small school sustainability to help everyone think about possible new sources of revenue — initiatives that are not strictly related to a public school’s operation,” she wrote in a message to Young.

Young said establishing a nonprofit would avoid the issue of a municipal government directly fundraising, which could be construed as soliciting bribery.

“What we’re trying to do is generate revenues, not ways to spend it,” he added. “This is not a revolving fund.”

“I think it will be really useful for raising money,” commented Warwick Founding Superintendent Carole Learned-Miller.

In her message, Hollins recapped a list of discussed ideas that the nonprofit could enable, including theme meals, developing the 25-acre campus as an environmental education and arts center, development programs for education professionals, “Art and Adventure Days” for families, an outdoor performance space, and conferences and other things that may not necessarily be specific to the school or district.

The Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee voted in January 2020 to close Warwick Community School as a cost-saving measure, a decision that state Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley approved in May 2020. Since then, members of the Warwick Education Committee have held meetings to develop plans with the goal of reopening the school.

Recently, Pioneer officials approved the three agreements necessary for the Warwick Community School to transition out of the Pioneer Valley Regional School District.

“(Roughly around) 2019, our town started realizing this regional district was no longer a good fit for Warwick for several reasons, including: other towns starting to decide what was best for Warwick children, regional administrators publicly taking action against a Warwick school committee member (and) disagreements about how our student tuition costs were being framed to support ending our town’s school program,” Hollins contextualized on the Rural School Redesign website.

According to the website, the next chapter of Warwick Community School would be place-based, meaning studies would be socially and environmentally relevant to Warwick.

“We believe small schools in rural towns bring the community together, create meaningful economic and civic opportunities, and give children a sense of confidence, allowing them to explore learning to the fullest extent,” the website reads. “Warwick’s location, natural resources, and passionate citizens make it a remarkable place for children to learn and grow together.”

Warwick officials plan for the elementary school to be very small, and the town does not plan to have teachers in front of classes teaching traditional lessons to a group of students all the same age. Instead, there will be individualized plans for each student to learn on their own.

“A small school has the luxury of balancing group projects and learning with highly individualized instruction,” the website reads. “Multi-grade classrooms mean that students can advance to more challenging work when they are ready and also have the support they need to build their skills, regardless of their chronological age.”

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