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State expands Boston charters

Jule Pattison-Gordon
State expands Boston charters
Neighborhood House Charter School in Dorchester

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted on Tuesday to grant four Boston charter schools’ requests to expand, adding more than 1,000 charter seats to the city. Charter advocates heralded the vote as a step in the right direction, while BPS advocates said the move has troubling implications for the finances of district schools and the Board’s priorities.

The Board’s vote to permit the expansions passed eight to two, with Ed Doherty and Mary Ann Stewart as the opposing votes.

Under the move, the Brooke Charter School in Roslindale, the one Mattapan and the one in East Boston will consolidate operations into a single regional school, according to a DESE release. The schools currently serve a combined student body of 1,530 in grades K-8. The existing three campuses will remain open and a high school will be added to serve an additional 691 children in grades 9-12. Neighborhood House Charter School — which currently enrolls 400 students in grades pre-K through 8 — will gain grades 9-12 and 428 seats.

The Board also voted to approve new charter schools in Springfield and Brockton

BPS concerns

According to several BPS parents who attended the hearing, several Board members said they did not consider the impact of charter schools on district schools when making their decisions. BPS advocates charge that the just-approved charter school expansion will draw millions of dollars in funding from district schools.

Tracy Novick, field director for the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, posted on her personal blog that, during the hearing, “several board members clearly stated that they did not think taking into consideration the impact charters have on districts was under their purview, and thus dismissed such testimony from their own consideration.”

Peggy Wiesenberg, parent of three BPS graduates, past member of the Citywide Parent Council and current member of QUEST and Citizens for Public Schools, gave testimony at the hearing. Recalling the hearing, Wisenberg said that some board members stated that they judge charter school applicants based solely on the school’s merits — such as innovations offered —and do not consideration for potential effects on district schools or the need for another school in the area.

“They don’t do a determination of need hearing,” she said.

In a statement on its Facebook page, parent group Quality Education for Every Student estimated BPS will lose $17 million per year due to the seat expansions, while City Councilor Tito Jackson’s office pegged the figure at nearly $19 million.

The loss of funds “will have a catastrophic effect,” said Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, who estimated BPS’s loss at $15 million from the charter seat expansion.

Charter praise

In a statement, Marc Kenen, Massachusetts Charter Public School Association executive director, praised the Board’s vote and urged for the state legislature to take measures to further expand charter seats.

”The Board’s vote expands high quality educational opportunities for families in Boston, Brockton, Taunton, Randolph, Springfield, Everett, Chelsea and Revere. That’s the good news. The bad news is these new seats may be the last in Boston unless the legislature or the voters lift current enrollment cap,” he said.

Statewide

In total, the Board received 14 requests for expansion from Boston charter schools as well as eight requests from charters outside the city, according to a DESE release. The Board voted to approve the expansion of Pioneer Charter School of Science in Everett — adding grades K-6 and 420 students — and to approve establishment of Libertas Academy Charter School in Springfield and New Heights Charter School in Brockton. The two new schools will target enrollment in the surrounding towns, with Brockton also appealing to children from Randolph and Taunton, although they may accept students from anywhere in the state, DESE’s report said. New Heights is scheduled to open fall 2016 serving approximately 735 children in grades 6-12, and Libertas plans to open in fall 2017 as a grade 6-12 school for 630 children.