As the New Bedford School Committee prepares to vote Thursday night on whether or not to approve the Memorandum of Understanding between the City of New Bedford and the Alma del Mar charter school, Mayor Jon Mitchell wants those opposed to the agreement to ask themselves one question.

"What is the alternative?" Mitchell asked in his weekly appearance on WBSM Wednesday.

Under state law, Alma del Mar is allowed to expand because it meets the requirements required by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, so the City of New Bedford cannot keep the school from doing so; the Memorandum of Understanding allows for a much more cost-effective plan for the city, creating 450 new charter school seats as opposed to the 1,188 seats originally sought by Alma del Mar.

If the City chooses not to approve the compromise plan, Alma del Mar will automatically be granted 594 seats, which would cost the City an additional $4 million more than the 450-seat agreement.

So, to Mitchell, there really is no alternative.

"There's a lot of heated rhetoric around the matter, and some of that is a function of folks not knowing every last detail of the deal, and some is a function of, frankly, outsiders trying to push their own agendas on New Bedford from both sides of the political spectrum. And it's my job as mayor to make sure the interests of the city's school children are accommodated first and foremost."

Mitchell said that granting Alma del Mar 594 seats would "end up in some level of layoffs, either in the school system or the City or both," he said.

As part of the 450-seat plan, the City would transfer ownership of the former Kempton School to Alma del Mar for their new campus; in return, Alma would make all repairs and would accept students from the immediate neighborhood as opposed to utilizing its regular lottery system for enrollment.

On Monday, the Massachusetts Teachers Association sent Mitchell a letter informing him that it believes the transfer of the building violates a state law concerning the transfer of public property, as well as its specific use.

"They're wrong. They're wrong on the law," Mitchell said. "This has been looked at be three different sets of attorneys--by Mikaela McDermott, our City Solicitor, by Liz Valerio, the School Committee's attorney, and by the DESE's attorney. They're wrong, and they're dropping this at the last minute as a way to create some kind of controversy around there."

Mitchell said the MTA is citing the state procurement law as well as the anti-aid amendment, neither of which, he says, apply in this case.

"The nub of it is that neither apply because it's a transaction with the Commonwealth and not a private entity," he said. "(Alma del Mar) is a public entity, created by a state charter and by an order of a state administrative agency, the DESE, under the state legislature."

The School Committee will vote whether or not to approve the Memorandum of Understanding at 6 p.m. Thursday night at Keith Middle School. Mitchell is encouraging all residents to attend.

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