BArT Adds Pittsfield to Charter, Raises Enrollment Cap

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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BArT students work in the school garden behind the school last spring. The charter school has expanded its charter to Pittsfield, which has been supplying more and more of its students.

ADAMS, Mass. — Berkshire Arts & Technology Public Charter School has been given approval to increase its enrollment and include the city of Pittsfield in its charter.

The move will help shorten a waitlist while putting the school on stronger economic footing, according to Executive Director Julia Bowen. The school applied for state approval in August and received it on Tuesday.

The enrollment cap on the Grades 6-through-12 school will increase from 308 to 363, which should to reduce a waiting list and even out enrollment.

Last year some 40 students who applied were not able to attend because of the enrollment cap. While the increase of 55 students would seem to eliminate that, Bowen said there are 30 percent more applicants this year than last.

"We had to limit our enrollment in sixth grade," Bowen said, because once the school accepts a student, he or she can continue into the upper grades. "We want to be able to smooth out the enrollment."

The increased number of students will not likely require the school to hire more teachers but it will increase class sizes. Currently classes are about 12 to 15 students but the additional children will require more councilors and paraprofessionals.

More students also means more money and the school will be looking to refinance its capital debt for a better interest rate and possibly a "modest" expansion. Bowen said the school currently has one room that serves as the gymnasium, cafeteria and auditorium and that school officials would like to build separate areas for those uses. The building had been an inn and restaurant before being transformed into offices and then the school.

"I'm not thinking about more kids, it is how we better serve the ones we have," Bowen said of the school's future growth.


The second part of the state approval was the expansion into Pittsfield. Bowen said the school has been seeing a decrease in the number of Northern Berkshire students while the number of Pittsfield students has increased. Enrollment into the school is by lottery and students from chartered areas have first dibs. Nearly half of waitlist last year was from Pittsfield, while 35 percent of enrolled students were from Pittsfield.

"We've been seeing more and more Pittsfield students," Bowen said, adding that half of the applications for next year are also from Pittsfield.

Including Pittsfield will give those students an equal chance at getting into the school. But the move will not exclude a higher number of Northern Berkshire students because of the enrollment increase, she said.

"In effect, it won't have a tremendous impact on Pittsfield or us," Bowen said. "It's a vote of confidence in our program."

The lengthy application included the argument that the program was good enough to expand, she said, so expanding is more of a compliment. If a municipality contributed more than 20 percent of the population to a charter school, the district must apply to expand it.

Pittsfield becomes the 10th municipality to be charted into the school — the others being Adams, Cheshire, Clarksburg, Florida, Hancock, Lanesborough, North Adams, Savoy and Williamstown.

The charter renewal is in effect for the next school year and is good for five years.


Tags: BArT,   charter school,   enrollment,   

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Letter: Problematic Proposed Lenox Short-Term Rental Bylaw

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

Under the proposed short-term rental Lenox bylaw, "up to two bedrooms in a dwelling unit may be rented year-round by right provided that the owner or tenant is occupying the dwelling unit at the time of the rental."

Presumably, bedrooms may not be rented at all if the owner or tenant is not occupying the dwelling unit.

In other words, literally, the very same use is allowed by one type of owner (an owner occupying the dwelling unit), but not another type of owner (one who does not occupy the dwelling unit where bedrooms are being rented). Because there is identical use and intensity and the only thing that differs is the type of owner or renter; it is hard to view this as mere regulation of use and not ownership.

The other provision suffers from the same problem. Suppose there is a duplex or land with two houses on it (perhaps an old robber-baron estate) but with separate owners for each dwelling unit. Under the rule regarding "dwelling units being rented in their entirety," "an entire dwelling unit maybe rented up to 75 days per calendar year by right," and "an entire dwelling unit may be rented for an additional 35 days (up to 110 days) per calendar year by Special Permit."

But then suppose there is unity of ownership and one person owns the entire duplex or both houses. In that case, "the above totals apply to the entire parcel" and "the day limits defined above shall be apportioned among those dwelling units."

A town can regulate the number of days a short-term rental may be utilized under the newly passed statute: but this additional restriction based on who owns the premises is a regulation of ownership and not use.

The same is instinct through other parts as well. Of course, Lenox residents or their guest can park in the street. But if you are renting a short-term rental, "All overnight parking must be within the property's driveway or garage." If you own or rent property, so long as you get the right permits, you may entertain on your property. But if you are a short-term renter, "events that include tents or amplified music or which would customarily require a license or permit are not allowed."

Since 1905, when Home Rules was put into the [Massachusetts] Constitution, towns could pass their own bylaws, so long as there was no regulation of a civil relationship unless it was an incident to a legitimate municipal power. This meant, among other things, zoning laws had to regulate use and not ownership. It is now a fundamental principle of Massachusetts zoning that it deals basically with the use, without regard to the ownership of the property involved, or who may be the operator of the use. This bylaw appears to violate this fundamental tenet.

By way of example of the you-may-regulate-use-but-not-ownership rule, it has been held that a city did not have authority under the Massachusetts Constitution to pass an ordinance that affected the civil relationship between tenants and their landlord, who wished to convert their rental units to condominiums. In another case, a municipal ordinance which restricted a landlord's ability to terminate a lease and remove his property from the rental market in order to sell it was invalid.

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