GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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November 27, 2012

Ed chief questions $75K loan

The state’s elementary and secondary education board had no extensive knowledge of the $75,000 loan given to the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School by another charter school’s head of school, just 14 months before she participated in a site review of the school.

But the state’s education commissioner made calls Tuesday to an auditor asking that the loan be included as part of a current audit of the school’s finances after hearing about the “unusual transaction” at a Department of Education Special Meeting Tuesday.

Mitchell D. Chester, the state’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education, pointed at the loan as questionable at Tuesday’s special meeting, at which the state board was scheduled to discuss the Gloucester school’s site review.

”Certainly it appears to be a pretty unusual transaction,” Chester said.

The loan also spurred new questions about the quality of the already scalding site review and raised further doubts about the school’s functionality.

Diane Lam, head of school at Conservatory Lab Charter School in Boston, personally loaned the $75,000 for a three week period — and a $2,500 loan fee — to the Gloucester charter school in September 2011, securing the loan with $590,000 of state money that was due the school by Sept. 30. Lam said she signed onto the loan after the “financial person” serving both her school and the Gloucester charter told Lam the Gloucester school needed help. Lam then served last month on a site review team that assessed the Gloucester’s school’s progress.

Chester said the state board had not known about the connection at the time of the site visit. Chester also said that those speaking against the state board’s allowing Lam to review the school were “absolutely fair.”

“Had we known about it, we certainly would not have included the individual on the review team,” Chester said. But, he said, “I hesitate to conclude that as a result of this individual being on this site review that the school got a good review, because that’s hardly the case.”

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