West Hartford leaders are weighing in on a controversial proposal that could bring money but also headaches to the local school district.
A Chinese company wants to build a private school where UConn’s West Hartford campus currently sits.
While the proposal could help the district raise millions, critics believe a public school system should not do business with a for-profit international company, especially one that is being investigated by the federal government.
The company is called the Weiming Education Group, which builds private academies all over the world that are attended by international students.
“This could be transformative and people need to have their voice heard,” said West Hartford City Councilor Chris Williams.
As many as 700 students would attend the new academy for two years and then transfer to public schools in the area, with Weiming agreeing to pay $13,000 per student to the district.
West Hartford councilors Williams and Chris Barnes said they understand the financial benefit and are keeping their minds open, but they are skeptical the plan would be worth it.
“If someone made the case that this was a positive thing for the kids in our town and for the people in our town, I could be convinced, I just haven't heard anybody put forth that argument yet,” Barnes said.
Making matters even more complicated is the fact that the Department of Homeland Security is investigating Weiming for possible issues at a similar Michigan academy.
The councilors believe that makes it even easier to say no.
“I mean, these are our public schools. You want to make sure that whoever we have a relationship with is doing the right things wherever they do business,” Williams said.
There will be a public meeting about the issue on Monday night and Weiming representatives will be there.
The company said it is unclear if they would partner with the school district or if they would build a campus at all.
The statement said: "We’re looking forward to Monday’s public information meeting and giving residents the opportunity to learn more about our potential international private school. We are currently in the process of doing our due diligence on the site and will be spending the coming weeks and months examining the property and its buildings to determine if our proposal is in fact feasible. Since we are not sure if we will be able to proceed with a proposal at this time, we have no plans on what, if any, participation there might be with the West Hartford public schools. We should know sometime this summer if a campus on the UCONN property is feasible. We will have more concrete plans to share and will spend the remainder of the year engaging the citizens of West Hartford, spending the time to address concerns and answer questions. The Student and Exchange Visitor Program and Department of Homeland Security routinely monitor US schools that participate in international exchange programs for compliance. We’re aware that this was the case in Oxford, Michigan and have been told by school officials in Oxford and 8 others school partners across the state that their program and ours are fully compliant and that our business practices are sound."
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