The report is in from State Auditor Suzanne Bump on the demise and considerable financial failings of the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School.
And perhaps the most disappointing part is that it’s not, in the least, surprising.
In a nutshell, it found that horrendous management on the part of the school’s own Board of Trustees, and horrific oversight by both that board and the state’s Department of Education doomed the school to financial collapse from the start. And while the report did not cite any true criminal malfeasance, it indeed noted that many of the problems were causes by an ignorance or out-and-out disregard for state laws pertaining to contract bidding and other fiscal controls.
Chief among those was the trustees’ securing — through a no-bid contract — of a rental agreement that far exceeded the cost limit outline in the school’s own charter, and a refusal to address consistent over-estimates of the school’s budgeted enrollment, which of course meant an excessive opening budget and drastic mid-year cutbacks in school programs that hurt the school’s fiscal solvency on a regular basis.
But while Bump’s report is right to note that the lessons learned from the Gloucester charter fiasco should “make this the last mid-year closing of a charter school,” city and school officials here should also note that the report spotlights the true tragedy in the Gloucester Community Arts shutdown. That’s that “the ripple effects of this school’s closing were widely felt by its students, their families, their teachers ...” and others, including schools that had to absorb the displaced students mid-year.
Indeed, the school’s abrupt shutdown — and really its closure before the usual five-year charter school grace and renewal period — ultimately failed the students and families who had come to thrive within its brightly colored walls. They had every right to choose the innovative education program offered at GCACS, especially as their children found and displayed a love and appreciation for school they had never shown before. And it was not just trustees and state board that let them down.
As cited in the report, the GCAC’ primary failing came through persistent shortfalls in enrollment. And at least some of those shortfalls were due to intimidation by public school parents and others who carried out consistent attacks and scare tactics, discouraging students from choosing the charter option.
Yes, the closure of the charter school was indeed a case of poor fiscal management and pathetic oversight. But the audit’s documentation of that isn’t anything to celebrate. For it was, more than anything else, a lost opportunity for Gloucester and many of its families.
That’s the real shame.