Could the city of New Bedford use more seats for students in charters schools? Yes is the answer. But can the city afford to offer more charter school seats?

I interviewed Will Gardner, the Executive Director and founder of Alma del Mar charter school in New Bedford Thursday.

This week, the charter school filed an application with the state to increase their seats by 1,188 and expand their footprint to three campuses in the city.

Gardner, an enthusiastic and determined educator, explained they have to turn away over 500 families when they do their state-sanctioned lottery for new students. As wonderful as it is for the families who win the lottery, it is heartbreaking for the families that don't get the golden ticket that day.

Alma del Mar opened in 2011 and reached an agreement with then-Mayor Scott W. Lang to lease a former school building in the city. The school prides itself on a "no excuses" learning environment, and focus on developing all of its "scholars" minds for higher education and a high quality of life in the real world.

The school's Board of Trustees is an impressive group of individuals. Chair of the Board Jan Baptiste spent 36 years at the college level assisting students and is a published author on the subject. She has deep roots in the area and a long resume of civic involvement. David Eckert is a retired CEO and a former partner in the business consulting firm Bain & Company. He holds an MBA from Harvard and is Chair Emeritus of the Board of Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. Dr. John Polk is a retired surgeon and he also serves as an assistant dean of Boston University’s School of Medicine. The retired editor and associate publisher of the local Standard-Times newspaper-turned-restauranteur, Robert Unger, a Yale graduate, is also a member of the board.

New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell is opposed to the expansion on fiscal grounds. The mayor is joined in his opposition by Michael Janson, an unenrolled candidate for State Representative from the South and West Ends of New Bedford. Mr. Janson, who has also run for mayor and city council, told Mr. Gardner on the air that the city taxpayers couldn't afford the cost of the additional seats. Mr. Gardner acknowledged that the teachers' union in the city is likely against this increase at his school, too. This is rapidly heating up to be a serious political issue in the city.

Chris McCarthy is the host of The Chris McCarthy Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from 10 a.m. to noon. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @Chris_topher_Mc. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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