, Gloucester, MA

January 10, 2013

Editorial:Charter kids, parents deserved better than sudden shutdown

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — Wednesday’s final collapse — and that’s just what it was — of the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School rings down a painful and shameful final curtain on a three-year venture aimed at helping many students and their families find educational success where many had not in the past.

While the school’s pending insolvency had clearly signaled the end of the line last month, it was hard to believe yesterday that the school’s Board of Trustees — and, perhaps even more so, the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education — could not find some means of an orderly transition rather than notifying parents by Tuesday night email that they should get their kids into another school, pronto.

As we noted earlier this week, the closing of the school has represented the harshest lessons in state and local political science, with the kids and their parents playing roles as pawns for far too long. But it’s frankly hard to believe that a state education department and local trustees board supposedly dedicated to children’s education could have allowed the chaos forced on parents, some of whom suddenly had to make or move up child-care arrangements for the rest of this week, with trustees voting just last week to at least extend school through this Friday.

Indeed, it should have been clear since Chester warned of a charter revocation in late November that the school would lose students virtually every day after that. That clearly put the GCACS on a fast track toward its current insolvency, with officials unable to make payroll or, as of Tuesday, apparently cover the cost of even another day’s pay.

Couldn’t the trustees, who initially cut a tentative deal with the state to at least get through the current school year, have perhaps shut down the middle school grades after Christmas break, allowing the younger children to remain in a stable environment for the rest of the year?

Couldn’t the school have made staff cuts — as it has in the past — to at least free up some funding to continue through June?

Couldn’t the state — recognizing the instability Wednesday’s shutdown brought — have come up with some funding mechanism to at least take the school through Friday, as promised, or beyond?

And, last and certainly not least, shouldn’t the Board of Trustees, which knew enough as of last Friday to lay off teachers on Sunday, have notified parents at that point it might only have a day or two to go?

In the end, of course, being up front with parents, state officials and — especially, at this point — city and local school officials about what’s been happening would have been an exceptional step in the right direction by the trustees, whose lack of communication and accountability has generated flurries of open meeting law complaints and violations from the start. Expecting the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to take up a greater oversight role it had shunned for three years of charter school trouble would have, at this point, just been too much to ask.

So, as of 12:45 p.m. Wednesday, this innovative Gloucester educational venture had to simply close its doors — leaving its remaining kids and parents educationally stranded not only in the middle of a school year, but in the middle of a week.

Did the charter school fail? That will ultimately be answered over the long haul by the students and their families, as the children of the GCAS go forward. And a clear majority of them have found success in school that they have never achieved in other settings, showing the school was not a failure at all.

The colossal failure has come at the hands of the adults entrusted with serving these students and their parents, both on the local and state level. And that was never more the case than Wednesday afternoon.

That’s a sad legacy to leave parents and kids who believed in their school, fought hard for it — and deserved so much better in the end.