Gloucester Community Arts Charter School trustees, set to present a last-ditch plea in front of the state’s highest education board today, were preparing for at least two possibilities Monday night — one possibility that would shut the school down after the school year closes and another that would shut it down almost immediately.
Initially, the charter school had essentially been given the traditional five-year startup period that the state’s charter schools have been granted to get on their feet. But, in the wake of low MCAS scores in math and science, and a gloomy third-year site review in October, state Education Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester gave the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education a recommendation to revoke the school’s charter as of June 30, 2013, the end of the current school and fiscal year.
“I expected to see far more progress than we see today,” Chester wrote in a Dec. 7 memo to the board. “I have concluded that GCACS is no longer a viable organization.”
The state education board is due to vote on Chester’s motion to revoke the charter at the board meeting in Malden this morning, after discussing the school’s condition and viability.
One of the state’s criticisms of the school revolves around issues with funding, though charter trustees said finances have been controlled with the landlord of the school’s rented building offering a flexible rent agreement, as well as new loan opportunities arising.
If the state finds the school to be financially insolvent, the state board could carry out an “emergency” revocation, a move that could pull the charter almost immediately, or likely by the end of December.
Though charter revocation still leaves open the possibility for trustees to appeal up to 15 days after the state board’s vote, Trustees Chairman James Caviston said Monday he is unsure whether the board would decide to appeal.
“At this point, we have to see what the board says,” Caviston said. “Some members are passionately in favor of extending the charter and others, I can’t speak for them. Things have happened so fast in these last couple of weeks ... it’s hard to say.”
Caviston said the charter board is negotiating with the state, but would not further comment on the negotiations as they are in progress.
A source close to the school told the Times negotiations could include a deal in which the school agrees not to appeal if the state allows the school to remain open through the close of the school year.
If the charter were revoked mid-year though, Caviston said, it would cause a “disruption” for everyone involved.
“No one wants the disruption ... it’s an administrative hassle, it’s a pity, it’s really bad PR for the state, it’s terrible for the students and parents,” Caviston said.
A group of parents of charter students were planning to attend today’s meeting, according to Caviston, and some students had volunteered to speak on behalf of the school.
“A lot of parents have really strong feelings about this school and this is extremely upsetting for them and for the students,” Caviston said.
J.C. Considine, a spokesman for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said the department has received “a couple dozen” emails regarding Gloucester’s charter school.
“There are strong sentiments on both sides,” Considine said. “We’re hearing from parents of children at the school who are passionate about the education their children are getting and hope the school will stay open, and we have received letters from the other side.”
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at email@example.com.