Lawsuit Filed Against Charter School Expansion
NEW BEDFORD — A lawsuit has been filed by New Bedford parents and education activists along with the Massachusetts Teacher's Association, stating the state's Constitution has been violated.
The New Bedford Coalition to Save Our Schools and the MTA are attempting to get state legislatures to deny a bill that exempts New Bedford from the existing charter school and public property procurement laws.
The lawsuit, along with effort in the legislature, looks to disrupt a plan to expand the Alma del Mar charter school. The agreement currently forces the City to give public property to the charter operator at zero cost. A new zone would then be created where students will automatically be enrolled unless they decide to opt out.
“This expansion scheme seeks to set a dangerous precedent for public education in the Commonwealth,” said Ricardo Rosa, co-chair of the coalition. “It also unfairly benefits the charter school industry at the expense of the education that my children and all of the children in the New Bedford Public Schools deserve and are entitled to receive.”
The suit also attempts to stop a section in the expansion plan that forces the City to pay for the full allotment of seats approved for the charter school even if fewer students than allowed are enrolled. In addition, the suit attempts to block the transfer of the Kempton School building and the land it currently sits on to the charter operator.
The lawsuit alleges that the state Constitution's Anti-Aid Amendment has been violated. That amendment states that no use or appropriation of public money or property will go toward an entity that is not publicly owned and operated. The lawsuit later indicates that the plan for charter school growth will "open the door wide to political abuse stripping poorer municipalities of their assets."
Due to both the financial impact the expansion would have on the City and the devastation it would cause the public school system, the expansion faced heavy community and political backlash last year. A deal was then made between Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, Alma del Mar CEO Will Gardner, and New Bedford School Superintendent Thomas Anderson. That deal confirmed that as long as the City handed over its publicly-owned school and the land it sits on, along with the guarantee that there would be neighborhood-based enrollment, the state would approve the 450-seat expansion.
However, if these terms are not met, the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education would grant a 594-seat expansion, which would cost the City just over $4 million a year more.
The MTA, New Bedford Coalition to Save our Schools, and the New Bedford Educators Association are attempting to persuade legislatures to vote down the Home Rule Bill. This bill would allow New Bedford and Alma Del Mar to violate both state procurement and charter school laws.
A letter from MTA President Merrie Najimy to legislators states that the legislation “seeks to advance a dangerous charter school model, in the form of a Home Rule Petition, that is squarely against the public interest. If passed, this model will undoubtedly be used across the state to the detriment of public school districts. The Commonwealth must not be allowed to hold school districts hostage in order to advance the interests of the charter school industry and its backers.”