Leaders of the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School agreed to forfeit their charter at the end of June 2013, and the state, in turn, will fund the school with monthly payments and retain the privilege to shut down the facility if the state education commissioner determines that the health, safety or education of the school’s students is “at immediate risk.”
The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted unanimously Tuesday in support of Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester’s motion at the board’s meeting in Malden, accepting the charter school’s surrender and agreeing to waive procedures that would normally require the state to provide payments quarterly to the school rather than the new monthly payment.
The surrender of the charter, after what will be just three years of operation, was tentatively approved Monday night at a meeting of the school’s Board of Trustees.
The decision was necessary, said Chairman James Caviston.
”So many people are really disappointed, but the option to fight wasn’t there,” said Caviston. “The state said work with us and we’ll work with you...the real heart of this decision was to do what’s best for the children and the families.”
The charter trustees had been battling along and feeling more confident about their financial standing, with a lenient landlord willing to help and a local bank granting the school a high line of credit. But, since the commissioner announced his Dec. 7 intent to revoke the school’s charter, about 10 charter students have relocated to other schools, leaving the enrollment at about 116 students, Caviston estimated. And, when the charter board told the bank of the potential revocation, the unidentified bank pulled out on the credit deal, leaving the school with little choice but to cooperate with the state, according to Caviston.
”When the bank pulled its line of credit, then we lost control of our economic destiny,” said Caviston.
Commissioner Chester said at Tuesday’s meeting he had expressed support for keeping the charter school open until the close of the year, in order to avoid disrupting students.
“I was recommending it originally,” Chester said of the school-end revocation date. “I don’t think it warrants displacing students halfway through the school year.”
Still, said Chester, the state holds onto the ability to perform an emergency revocation of the charter – though that permission is meant to prevent any major issues, not to be used as a threat or leverage.
“Should things end up prior to the end of the school year that the school’s no longer functional, I would like the ability to move expeditiously in that kind of a situation,” Chester said.
The state will base its payments to the charter school on the number of days the school educates students under its charter and the actual enrollment numbers at the school. The more frequent payments allow the school more immediate financial support — and allow the state more oversight and tuition payments based on precise, monthly figures. Though the state will make payments in monthly installments, the amount of money paid to the school will not increase.
Chester was poised to follow through on his Dec. 7 recommendation that the school’s charter be revoked, and sources had told the Times he would likely push for an “emergency” revocation that could have shut down the school almost immediately because the trustees are no longer able to cover the school’s operating costs.
Sen. Minority Leader Bruce Tarr spoke during a public comment period of the Tuesday meeting, calling the state board partially “responsible” for the failed charter and urging the state board to help Gloucester take the next steps into the city’s academic future.
“I come to you with a tremendous amount of remorse over the path we have traveled together,” said Tarr. “Gloucester now enters a new era in its educational life, and I would hope that the board and the department and the secretary would take the time to work in any way possible — including providing resources to help with the transition that is about to ensue.”
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at email@example.com.