Charter school approval irregularities demand review

MTA Pres. Anne Wass' letter to Board of Elementary and Secondary Education chair.

September 22, 2009

Ms. Maura Banta, Chair
Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Dear Chairwoman Banta:

We are following with great concern the new information that is coming to light about the apparent politicization of the approval of the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School. It is not just Commissioner Mitchell Chester who was asked to swallow a "tough pill" with regard to this school, but the entire community of Gloucester, including the students who rely on its public education system.

As you well know, the overwhelming majority of the elected officials in Gloucester, as well as numerous parents of public school children in the community, have been outspoken in their opposition to this school. As they said again at today’s board meeting, they believe the charter proposal is ill-conceived and costly, offering few if any innovations that are not already in place in the district. Their views were apparently reinforced in the report on the proposal prepared by the department’s charter school office -- a report that board members were not given prior to voting on this school.

In his now well publicized e-mail to Commissioner Chester, Secretary Reville does not make the case for this charter school based on the education needs of Gloucester’s students. Instead, he states: "Our reality is that we have to show some sympathy in this group of charters or we’ll get permanently labeled as hostile and they will cripple us with a number of key moderate allies like the Globe and the Boston Foundation." Although the secretary has said that his e-mailed comments were taken out of context, I can think of no context that would make that sentiment an acceptable basis for approval of a charter school.

In light of this new information, we urge you to follow Governor Deval Patrick’s recommendation that the Gloucester charter school vote be reconsidered. There were so many irregularities in this process that to do otherwise would cast doubt on future deliberations by the board.

To prevent such a miscarriage of due process in the future, we recommend that your regulations be amended to ensure that:

(a) Board members are always provided with copies of the recommendations of the department’s charter school office prior to any vote on a charter school proposal.

(b) Board members are present to hear testimony from community residents and leaders on a school that will so greatly affect their children.

(c) Support for or opposition to a charter school proposal among the elected officials of any sending district must carry significant weight in the charter school approval process.

Thank you for considering our views on this issue. We look forward to working with you in the future to further our mutual goals of improving the quality of education provided to all public school children in the Commonwealth.

Sincerely,

Anne Wass
President

CC: Gov. Deval Patrick