NEW BEDFORD — The Alma del Mar Charter School is looking to expand its footprint in New Bedford.

The school has applied for 1,188 more charter school seats and two new schools within the city, just two years after opening its new campus on Belleville Avenue.

Will Gardner, founder and Executive Director of Alma del Mar, says with 400 students enrolled in the K-8 school and over 500 on the waiting list to get in, it only makes sense to make plans for expansion.

"We have a proven track record of providing great education for kids, serving this population," said Gardner. "I think it's actually a pretty conservative proposal to say, 'Hey, we're going to let these guys at least run two more schools because we want as many great schools as possible in this city."

Gardner says the new schools would continue to serve the K-8 model, and would be rolled out under a five-year plan.

The plan could come under fire from Mayor Jon Mitchell, who also serves as the chairman of the City's School Committee. In a January press conference, Mitchell outlined the three main drivers of the City's operating budget. "If you want to know why things are going up," said Mitchell on January 3, "it's not because peoples' salaries are fat, it's not because of waste or fraud and abuse and all of that stuff. Sorry, that's not the case. Not here in New Bedford. It's healthcare, it's pensions, and it's charter school mandates.”

Gardner says he understands the mayor's budgetary concerns, but intends to offer quality education with what's being made available to Alma del Mar by the state.

"That's the reality for any business, any school system. They have to adapt. If we open these schools, then it's on us to try to create the type of schools that families will want to go to. Hey, if we open bad schools, families aren't going to come and we aren't going to receive any funding."

The state provides reimbursment to school districts when students transfer from a public school to a charter school. The formula calls for 100 percent tuition reimbursement to the school district four the first year, with 25 percent reimbursement to the district for the next five years.

Gardner says he sees that as more than a fair compromise, but acknowledges that, as of late, the legislature has not fully funded the reimbursement fund.

"I'm fully in support of the legislature fully funding that," said Gardner.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, there are about 1,225 charter school seats that could be awarded in New Bedford.

The DESE Board will consider Alma del Mar's request for expansion at some point during the winter.

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