NEW BEDFORD — Alma del Mar's proposal to expand their charter school is drawing opposition from several New Bedford City Councilors.

The school has proposed a five-year expansion plan to the state that calls for two new school buildings that would increase their student offering from 400 seats to nearly 1,600.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is expected to review Alma del Mar's proposal during the winter months.

Ward Three Councilor Hugh Dunn says the City is already shelling out $15 million for charter school students in the 2018 fiscal year budget, receiving only $2.3 million in state reimbursement. Dunn says the Alma del Mar expansion would balloon the City's charter school spending to roughly $30 million, about 10% of the City's overall budget.

"So, at the end of the day, we're talking about raising taxes or laying people off. Laying teachers off, laying firefighters off, laying police off," said Dunn. "So, I think we really need to be careful going down this road."

Dunn, along with councilors Joe Lopes, Maria Giesta, and William Markey, sponsored the motion to author a letter of opposition to Alma del Mar's expansion proposal on behalf of the Council.

Saying the state's funding formula for charter school reimbursement is woefully inadequate, Ward One Councilor William Markey says the problem needs to be fixed from the top down, or New Bedford will end up holding the bag.

"If the state doesn't change its ways, there's no way we can afford it," said Markey. "And what'll happen is, I don't know if you've got to lay off teachers or anything else, but I can tell you what will happen is the taxpayers of this city are going to get whacked with that bill. And that could be a heavy bill."

Massachusetts provides reimbursement to school districts when students enroll in public charter schools, transferring from traditional public schools. The formula calls for 100% reimbursement of the child's tuition to the school district for the first year following the transfer, with 25% reimbursement to the district for the next five years.

Councilor-at-Large Debora Coelho says given the school district's track record, students in New Bedford deserve as many options as the City can provide, including charter schools.

"The history of the public education in the City of New Bedford has been poor," Coelho stated. "And only recently have we started making gains on that. So, to take away from charter schools is really to take away from the students, the children, our children of the City of New Bedford."

Ward Four Councilor Dana Rebeiro suggested the Council call for a town meeting in an effort to gather more information on Alma del Mar's plan, along with feedback from city residents. Councilor-at-Large Joe Lopes recommended that Senate President Harriett Chandler and Speaker of the House Robert Deleo attend such a meeting, along with local state representatives, so they can hear firsthand how the state's funding formula impacts cities like New Bedford. An official motion for the town-hall style meeting was not made.

The motion to oppose Alma del Mar's proposal was referred to the Council's Committee on Appointments and Briefings.

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