Senate President Stan Rosenberg thought he was heading back to his Western Massachusetts district to meet with some constituents and talk about charter schools. Little did he know he was walking into a buzz saw.
Before it was all over, a local charter school principal was charging that he had been barred from the meeting. Rosenberg had to scramble to distance himself from the gathering — and he canceled his appearance at a follow-up meeting scheduled for this Friday.
It all began when word got out in the local media that Rosenberg was meeting in Greenfield Jan. 22 with educators and education activists to talk about the controversial push on Beacon Hill to life the state cap on the number of charter schools. He had been invited by an anti-charter group — Public Funds for Public Schools — to meet in a private home.
When Peter Garbus, the principal of the Four Rivers Charter Public School, showed up at the private residence where the event was to take place, he said he was told “that I was not welcome” and attendance was by invitation only.
He said he was led to believe — in part from statements made by Rosenberg’s office — that the Senate leader was coming to his community to have an open and frank dialogue.
“However, what happened in Greenfield ... was a partisan, closed-door meeting to organize opposition to charter schools,’’ Garbus wrote to Rosenberg the day after the meeting.
Rosenberg, realizing he had been unwittingly caught up in a conflict he didn’t need — particularly as he is trying to craft a consensus in the Senate to deal with the red-hot education issue — moved quickly to distance himself from the kerfuffle.
He immediately canceled his appearance at a follow-up session in Amherst. And his aides quickly got the word out that his office had nothing to do with organizing the sessions.
His chief of staff, Natasha Perez, insisted Rosenberg was not aware that the Greenfield meeting, which had been touted in the local media as a public session, was private.
“He obviously doesn’t want to be in a public meeting in which people are excluded,’’ Perez said. “But he also will meet with either side privately if that’s the forum they want.’’