New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell and Will Gardner, executive director of the Alma del Mar charter school, have finally reached a memorandum of understanding.

The city of New Bedford, MA has become ground zero for the debate on charter schools in America. The Wall Street Journal, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and the Boston-based Pioneer Institute have all expressed support for the expansion of the Alma del Mar charter school.

Mayor Mitchell and City Councilor Hugh Dunn have led the opposition in the city. Mayor Mitchell and the elected members of the New Bedford School Committee voted unanimously to send a letter of opposition to the expansion to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Councilor Dunn introduced a similar motion in the New Bedford City Council. Those local political actions had an impact and helped to communicate the city's financial concerns to the state's education leaders who have total control over whether charter schools can expand.

A deal was reached to transfer an old city school not currently being used to Alma del Mar for the expansion, and to change the admission policy of the new charter campus to a neighborhood school rather than an opt-in lottery system. Should the school and the city not reach an agreement, then the state would give the charter school even more students and return to the lottery system.

To complete the negotiated expansion, there now must be a series of votes by local and state elected officials. The New Bedford School Committee must approve the memorandum of understanding the Mayor and Ex. Director just signed. If that vote fails, the deal is dead.

The legislature must pass a bill to allow the neighborhood school admission model for the new campus. If the legislature doesn't pass that change to the law, the deal is dead.

The New Bedford City Council must vote in favor of transferring the Kempton School building to Alma del Mar for free. If the council refuses to transfer the city-owned property, the deal is dead.

The New Bedford School Committee must also vote in favor of transferring the unused Kempton School to Alma del Mar. If the school committee votes down the property transfer, the deal is dead.

There is also the possibility that a taxpayer lawsuit materializes to halt the process of the property transfer. It may not succeed in ultimately stopping the transfer but it could slow it down and strangle the deal.

There are numerous choke points in this deal.

Some elected officials have avoided taking sides in this matter, but that is about to change, whether they like it or not. Every member of the city council and the school committee is going to have to vote up or down and this is an election year in the city. As of now, not a single member of either body has publicly supported the expansion of Alma del Mar.

Local elected leaders in New Bedford are now going to be given the opportunity to take an official position on this important issue and have an impact on the future of education. Now is a great time to be an elected leader in the Whaling 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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