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Approval sought for 8 charter schools

2 would be part of Boston system

Massachusetts education officials announced Friday they had received eight proposals for new charter schools, including two that would operate as part of Boston’s school system.

The proposals could add more than 5,000 charter seats statewide if all receive approval from the state. However, education officials rarely give the green light to all the proposals, which undergo a seven-month vetting process.

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“I look forward to reviewing the new batch of prospectuses and inviting the applicant groups with the best proposals to move on to the final stage of the charter application cycle,” Mitchell Chester, commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said in a statement.

Created under the 1993 Education Reform Act, charter schools are intended to be laboratories of innovation. Seventy-one operate fully independently of local school systems, while 10 run as so called in-district schools.

Charter schools rarely employ unionized teachers and often have extended school days. Many have among the highest MCAS scores in the state, but a handful have closed because of low achievement or financial problems.

Half of the eight proposals are for independent charter schools. Those include the Academy for the Whole Child Charter School in the Fitchburg area; the International Academy Charter School for the Chicopee-Springfield area; New Heights Charter School of Brockton; and Weetumuw Wopanaak Charter School, which would be open to students from Hull to Cape Cod.

The other four proposals are for in-district charter schools in Springfield, Salem, or Boston.

That there are two in-district proposals for Boston is surprising. Just last week, school officials presented only one proposal for an in-district charter school to the School Committee and never mentioned publicly a second proposal.

The one presented involved having the Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School in Roxbury take over the running of the Dearborn STEM Academy, an underperforming middle school.

According to the state press release, the second proposal is to let UP Academy Charter School run another school, which would be their fourth site in Boston. The state said it is automatically advancing this proposal to the finalist stage, under new rules implemented this year, because it is considered an expansion of an existing network of schools.

Details on the UP proposal are vague. According to the state, the new UP charter school could serve up to 800 students and it could either be an elementary school, a K-8 school, or a middle school.

In an interview Friday, Interim Superintendent John McDonough described the UP application as a place holder in case the district needs to tap UP to help turn around a low-achieving schools. He emphasized that no school has been identified.

“Anything that would move forward would be well discussed in public before a decision is made,” he said.

The School Department notified the School Committee about the UP application on June 27.

UP academies are run by UP Education Network , a nonprofit school-turnaround group. It’s also working with Springfield on its in-district charter school proposal.

“As a nonprofit, our focus is on restarting low-performing schools and transforming them into high-performing schools as rapidly as possible,” said Scott Given, UP’s chief executive.

Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, said he was unaware of the UP proposal. He said he opposes both in-district charter school proposals for Boston.

“It shows the School Department lacks confidence in its own ability to run a school,” Stutman said. “I don’t think it speaks well for the department.”

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will vote on the finalists in February. Most could open in 2015.

James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.
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