With the announcement from Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley that a compromise plan between the City of New Bedford and the Alma del Mar charter school is no longer on the table, those on both sides of the deal are speaking out.

Riley’s decision not to further explore that compromise deal, which would have seen Alma open a 450-seat campus in the city-owned former Kempton School under a new “neighborhood enrollment zone,” means that Alma now gets 594 new charter school seats instead roughly twice the cost to city taxpayers.

New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell:

“When we proposed a neighborhood charter school several months ago, we regarded it as an outside-the-box way of avoiding the blunt instrument of the state’s charter school law, which heavily favors charter school expansion without regard to the financial implications to the host municipality or the progress of its district schools.  While I am grateful to Commissioner Riley and Representatives Markey and Schmid for their efforts in advancing the proposal, as well as the overwhelming support of the School Committee and City Council, it is deeply disappointing that other state representatives – some of whom voted for the same charter school law – acted contrary to the city’s clear interests by opposing the bill.  Although the effective defeat of the proposal will assuredly prove to be difficult, we will face up to the challenge, not make excuses, and do what’s best for the city and its schoolchildren.”

State Representative Antonio F.D. Cabral (D-New Bedford):

“We have received direct communication from Commissioner Riley that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is no longer pursuing the 450 seat charter school model in New Bedford, in which Alma del Mar’s plan will proceed according to the current charter school law. Commissioner Riley has the authority to improve upon the 594 seat proposal by including the same financial incentives provided in the abandoned model, and addressing concerns related to the 3-year roll-out. My office has asked for a meeting with the Commissioner to discuss, in detail, the implementation of the plan as authorized under current law.  I am looking forward to a productive and substantive discussion on how to best move forward and how to treat New Bedford children and their families, and its taxpayers, fairly.”

Alma del Mar Executive Director Will Gardner:

“We are disappointed by the news that we will be unable to move forward with a local compromise deal that would have given 450 children the opportunity to access a high-quality public school in their neighborhood.

We have spent the last few months getting to know the kids and families zoned into what would have been the new Alma campus in the Kempton neighborhood. We listened as families shared their hopes and dreams for their incoming Kindergartners, and we’ve been grateful to see those families commit to enroll their children at Alma.

Today’s news is difficult for our community. To the families that decided to entrust us with their children under this new compromise model: we are sorry, and we commit to continuing to support you in partnership with New Bedford Public Schools to ease this period of transition. We will continue to do everything that we can to ensure that all New Bedford children have access to high-quality public schools.

We also remain committed to the hundreds of children on Alma’s waiting list. We will begin contacting those families soon to begin the enrollment process, as the next school year begins in August.

We want to thank Commissioner Jeff Riley, who chose to take a courageous risk in facilitating this local compromise. We are also grateful to the special attention that our local legislators gave this matter.

We deeply appreciate Mayor Jon Mitchell, Superintendent Thomas Anderson and our colleagues at the district who made every effort to make this vision a reality for the kids and families of New Bedford. We look forward to maintaining the spirit of collaboration of our agreement and to working with them to improve educational outcomes for all kids in New Bedford.”

Ricardo Rosa, co-chair of the New Bedford Coalition to Save Our Schools:

“Any deal cut behind closed doors without community involvement is not something that is being done in the community’s best interest. This whole plan is based on coercion, which is no way to implement education policy. The coalition will continue to oppose any expansion of charter seats because our district public schools remain drastically underfunded.

I believe this is an opportunity for advocates for strong public schools in New Bedford to work together to secure the funding all of our students deserve. We have the 2020 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year at our high school. We have one of the top-performing elementary schools in the state. We also have our challenges, but if given the proper resources and community involvement, we can overcome them.”

Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy:

“This was an attempted end run around the will of voters, who in 2016 rejected charter school expansions. The way students were being chosen for Alma del Mar II raised many questions, as research of the new zone indicated a pattern that excluded higher proportions of black and Hispanic residents, as well as leaving out residents from larger multi-unit housing. “

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