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September 19, 2009

Charter OK based on 'agenda'?

E-mail shows education chiefs' mindset on Gloucester school deal

Gov. Deval Patrick's office lobbied the state education commissioner to endorse the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School out of a fear that its rejection would alienate powerful allies and potentially derail the administration's school policy agenda, according to documents obtained by the Times.

Secretary of Education Paul Reville, Patrick's top aide on schools, asked Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester in an e-mail to support the Gloucester charter, which faced vehement local opposition, eight days before Chester gave it his thumbs-up Feb. 13.

Chester's endorsement of the school came against the advice of charter school experts in his own office, which had recommended that the Gloucester application "not be approved," along with the two other charter bids this year.

In his request to Chester, acquired by the Times through the state's public records law, Reville warned that rejecting all three charters would get the Patrick administration "permanently labeled as hostile" to charter schools, something that would "cripple us with a number of key, moderate allies like the (Boston) Globe and Boston Foundation,"

"My inclination is to think that you, I and the Governor all need to send at least one positive signal in this batch, and I gather that you think the best candidate is Gloucester," Reville wrote in the e-mail, sent Feb. 5 at 11:54 p.m.

Then he asked: "Can you see your way clear to supporting it?"

The other two charter applications, for schools in Waltham and Worcester, were not recommended by Chester and never voted on by the state's Board of Education.

The Waltham application was for an alternative high school serving 220 "at-risk" students in that city. The Worcester application was for a regional middle and high school charter that would serve 585 students in that city, Oxford and Leicester.

In supporting Gloucester over the Waltham and Worcester applications, Reville appears to have considered it the best out of a list of bad choices.

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