The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted today to force an irresponsible proposal upon the students and families of New Bedford in approving a plan that requires the community to give up millions of dollars in public school funding and hand over a public building at no cost to the Alma del Mar charter school so that the school can expand by 450 seats and draw students directly out of the district, according to the New Bedford Coalition to Save Our Schools.
“This so-called compromise is no compromise at all,” said Ricardo Rosa, co-chair of the NBCSOS, who attended the BESE meeting.
The board voted to proceed with a radical hybrid that allows a charter school to expand and fill its seats from a single neighborhood school district.
“If the city did not go along with this plan, the board said it would simply allow Alma to expand by even more seats and drain more funds away from our real public schools,” Rosa said. “None of this is in the best interests of the students of New Bedford. Instead, it benefits Alma del Mar and its investors.”
MTA Vice President Max Page called the proposal “extortion” in his public testimony before the board.
“You have weaponized the charter expansion process,” Page told the board.
Page pointed out the deep flaws in the proposal put forward by Education Commissioner Jeffery Riley. It requires the city to give away a publicly owned building to the private organization that operates Alma del Mar, he said, and it would automatically enroll students at a school that is not overseen by city officials.
“Not a word was spoken today about the pain inflicted on the 95 percent of public school students attending real public schools,” Page said. “Charters have already siphoned away millions from the city’s proud public schools, run by a democratically elected school committee. This whole process has been deeply undemocratic. Advocates for public education across the state should be very worried if this scheme moves forward. Secretary of Education Jim Peyser made clear that this is a model he would like to replicate across the state.”
New Bedford Educators Association President Lou St. John said that the proposal benefits Alma del Mar but does nothing to address the issues raised by parents and educators about the funding that any charter expansion takes away from district schools.
“The NBEA has said all along that we do not support any expansion of charter seats in the city,” he said. “Our public schools are currently underfunded by $40 million, and the city already loses $15 million to charter schools. I urge our local officials to support the public schools that educate all children and to fight alongside us for the funding our students deserve.”
MTA President Merrie Najimy criticized Riley and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for being such staunch advocates of the charter school industry while ignoring the concerns of students and families in New Bedford.
“The commissioner would not even attend a community forum to listen to what some of the 400 parents, students and educators in attendance had to say about charter school expansions,” Najimy said. “Yet the commissioner managed to find time to come to New Bedford to meet with Alma Del Mar’s leaders and attend other pro-charter-school events.”