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August 23, 2010

Judge: State 'blatantly violated' law

A Superior Court judge Monday denied a bid by 15 local parents and the city to stop the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School from opening this fall.

But, in a ruling that turns the spotlight back on state officials, Judge Richard Welch III refused to dismiss the parents' lawsuit and wrote that the case presents "considerable evidence" that the state education commissioner and Board of Education "blatantly ignored and violated state law when granting the GCA charter for political reasons."

And while he denied the plaintiffs' preliminary injunction to stop the charter school from opening, Welch rejected the argument that charter schools movement bring only benefits and no financial harm to public schools systems where they are located, an axiom of the Massachusetts charter movement.

Welch suggested that by January, when the city is working on a budget for next year that will not include full state reimbursement for charter school expenses, another preliminary injunction might be successful.

"As the court stated at the hearing on this matter, the calculus regarding preliminary injunctive relief changes markedly during the next academic year," Welch wrote in the decision. "At that time, the traditional Gloucester public schools will suffer significant financial harm. The GCA cannot claim any justifiable reliance regarding financial commitments/staffing if this court reconsiders the injunctive request early enough to allow planning by both sides for the next academic year."

"Likewise, any student who chooses to attend GCA this September will be aware of the inherent uncertainty involving the next academic year," Welch added.

In his final remarks during oral arguments before Welch last Thursday, charter lawyer Tad Heuer called the awarding of a charter in Gloucester, or any other community in the state, a "windfall" for the city because of state reimbursements during the first several years of each new school's arrival.

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