NEW BEDFORD — It was a tough pill to swallow for the New Bedford School Committee Thursday night as they voted to approve the Memorandum of Understanding between the City and Alma del Mar Charter School.

The agreement will lead to the addition of 450 new charter school seats at the former Kempton School if the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education signs off on it. The additional seats are expected to place a $4 million burden on the annual school budget once Alma del Mar reaches full buildout of the expansion in its fifth year. If the committee had not approved the MOU, the DESE would have granted Alma del Mar 594 seats. That ruling would have cost the City a total of $8 million annually upon full implementation, according to estimates.

In a presentation to the School Committee prior to the vote, Superintendent Thomas Anderson informed the members that while the school budget could accommodate the $4 million increase with minimal impact to student services, the option to disavow the MOU would have translated in substantial losses of essential services to students including the elimination of 40 teaching positions, the loss of computer privileges, and even high-speed internet in some schools.

Committee member John Oliveira was one of two dissenting votes on the MOU, and says the DESE never gave the City due process in the matter.

"This is fundamentally wrong," said Oliveira. "It's a fundamental change in education and it's not something to be taken as lightly as some members of this Committee and the DESE Commissioner seem to be taking it."

School Committee member Christopher Cotter also voted against approval of the MOU.

Mayor Jon Mitchell explained that the decision was not taken lightly, but the School Committee had it's back against the wall in the matter.

"For everybody that is disappointed in this, count me among you. Count every member of this committee among you," said Mitchell. "We'd be better off with zero [new charter seats], but we've tried to do something under difficult circumstances that I think was very clever and that I think, in the long run, will put us in a better position to educate every single child in this district."

The DESE must now ratify the agreement.

The Committee voted to table its approval of the transfer of the Kempton School to Alma del Mar until a later date. Member John Oliveira expressed that he wanted a lawyer for the school district and an attorney for the Massachusetts Teachers Association to further examine the legality of the transfer. The Committee does not have to surrender the school until the MOU is implemented.

The School Committee also voted to request that the City Council approve a home rule petition that would place the Memorandum of Understanding into active status, allowing Alma del Mar to begin implementation of their expansion. The vote carried 5-2.

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