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Brockton

Division over charter school

BROCKTON — Opposition to a charter school proposed for this city of 94,000 is heating up as the date to gather public comment nears.

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will conduct a hearing on the proposed International Charter School of Brockton on Dec. 18 at the Brockton Public Library. 

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Opponents, led by local School Superintendent Matthew Malone, plan to tell state officials the charter school would skim off top performers and drain dollars needed to educate the city’s 16,000 students.

In their 200-page application, the proposed school’s founding members say they aim to offer Brockton students “a highly successful and proven college-preparatory K-12 program of choice in a community in which access to such options is extremely limited.”

But Malone called the proposal “a cherry-picking operation” that will take the public school system’s most motivated students.

“I’m going to tell the Board of Education that we believe in charter schools, but not this charter school,” he said. “It’s a bad idea, and one that should end up on the cutting-room floor.”

The International Charter School of Brockton is one of 11 final applications under state review. The school would be overseen by a nine-member board of trustees, consisting of community members and area business leaders, and run by Sabis Educational Systems Inc. The international for-profit company already operates charter schools in Springfield and Holyoke, and is set to manage one in Lowell when it opens next year.

Superintendent Matthew Malone

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Kimberly Gibson, president of the Brockton teachers’ union, says the school proposed for Brockton is not needed, and said the union intends to fight the plan.

“We believe Brockton is well known for providing a great education for all its students,” she said. “Charter schools were established to offer choice where there is none, and Brockton offers choice.”

Charter schools, created by the 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Act, are tuition-free public schools, open to everyone. The schools operate independent of the local school district but get their funding for student tuitions from the district’s state aid allotments.

The Brockton charter school would open in 2014 with 540 students in grades K–5 and gradually expand to 1,200 students in grades K–12. The school would cost the district about $10,800 per pupil, based on current aid estimates.

“It would strip our limited resources,” Malone said. “We won’t be able to do as much for our children as we do now.”

Former Brockton mayor John T. Yunits, a founding member of the charter school, insisted the proposal is not an attack on local education.

“I have nothing bad to say about the Brockton school system; I think it’s come a long way,” he said. “This would provide an option for parents who want something more for their kids and can’t afford it.”

Yunits said the charter school wouldn’t take money away from educating local students. “It’s transferring money from one school to another, still to be used on education of the kids,” he said. “This is a great opportunity for Brockton to move forward, and it will keep the middle class here.”

Five years ago, a proposal for a Sabis-run charter school to be based in Brockton and serving 13 school districts drew heated opposition from school leaders and was ultimately denied a charter by the state.

“I don’t know why they’re trying again,” Malone said. “This proposal doesn’t offer anything new or innovative that’s better than what we’re doing.”

Jose Afonso, director of US business development for Sabis, said other Massachusetts charter schools run by his company enjoy “tremendous” community support. In Springfield, for example, the charter school has a waiting list of 3,000, he said.

“Charter schools are doing a great job. The fact that we’re still fighting the old fight in Brockton is a paradox to me. It’s like we’re in a time capsule.”

Afonso said he is confident state officials will ultimately approve the Brockton proposal. “I don’t think screaming from those who have a vested interest in the status quo is reason to reject the charter,” he said. “We have a well-established track record in Massachusetts.”

The Dec. 18 hearing, scheduled for 4 to 6 p.m., is simply to gather public reaction.

“Typically, the Board of Education member chairing the hearing makes quick opening remarks, then the public has opportunity to speak,” said J.C. Considine, spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. 

Ultimately, hearing comments will be considered along with written comments, applicant interviews, and a hefty submission package by Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester, Considine said. The commissioner will then give a recommendation to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which will vote on the charter applications in February. 

Christine Legere can be reached at christinelegere@yahoo.com.
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