, Gloucester, MA

November 30, 2012

Editorial: Ed chief's remarks spotlight need to end divisivenes

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — State Secretary of Education Paul Reville — yes, the same man whose infamous, late-night 2009 memo to state Education Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester made it clear that he believed the state needed to grant a charter for an independent school to avoid alienating education allies like The Boston Foundation and The Boston Globe — doesn’t have many friends in this city after that debacle.

But Reville, speaking at Tuesday’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education hit the nail on the head when he noted the excessive opposition the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School has faced since it opened and even prior to that. City leaders and charter school critics would do well to consider his remarks as all Gloucester education officials consider options that may soon loom if the state moves to shut down the school by the end of the academic year, as Chester clearly hinted.

Speaking to the same board that barely — by a one-vote margin — blessed Chester’s 2009 recommendation to approve the Gloucester charter, Reville noted that Gloucester’s charter school has had to face an extreme uphill fight, even against local school officials — such as a School Committee that was given a state honor for its steadfast charter opposition.

“Another reality is this school is facing opposition from certain people in that community that for a long time have done everything possible to see it fail,” Reville said. “We’ll never know, in the absence of that kind of implacable opposition to the school, if they would have succeeded.”

He’s right. The energy some critics have put toward bringing GCAS down is not to the city’s credit. That stems from the week the school opened, when city officials dragged their feet in carrying out the needed fire safety inspection and issuance of a building permit, right through this past summer, when a handful of parents filing undocumented claims against former GCAS executive director Tony Blackman fueled a new round of scare tactics by those who have discouraged parents from sending their children to Blackburn Industrial Park. And let’s not forget the shameful moves along the way — such as briefly banning charter kids from playing in what was supposed to be an “All-City Band.”

Look, if the state education board revokes the GCAS charter — and Chester made it clear that’s very much on the proverbial table for next month’s meeting — charter officials will largely have no one to blame but themselves. That’s especially true of a Board of Trustees that, time and time again, has shown little or no accountability or oversight in dealing with a public, independent school and taxpayer dollars.

That, too, has been the case from the start, through the allowance of no-bid contracts that drew a slap on the wrist from the state Attorney General’s office, multiple actions that have drawn justified open meeting law complaints, and — this past week — documents showing that the school accepted a shaky personal loan from another charter school head that was never approved by its own board, and is now part of an expanding state board audit.

But, as we noted earlier this week, city school officials cannot respond to any potential closure with a “Thank God, that’s over with,” and a return to the status quo. Indeed, with a school building in place, city officials should begin considering how to put it to use for perhaps an alternative magnet school, a Horace Mann school, or some other innovation program that can help provide a better education for all Gloucester students.

Regardless of whether the state revokes the GCAS charter, all local officials and parents should heed Reville’s latest call. Whether the charter goes forward, a new regional charter or other school takes its place, or the city school system uses it to integrate new programs into the district, let’s — once and for all — end this divisiveness that has pitted family vs. family, neighbor vs. neighbor now for more roughly four years.

That’s four years too many.