By Marjorie Nesin
---- — After a tumultuous journey over the past two months, Gloucester Community Arts Charter School officials last night voted unanimously to close the school Jan. 11.
Trustees had expected to keep the school open through the end of the school year, as part of bargain reached with the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Trustees said they found it inevitable that the school would need to close earlier than the June date they bargained for after signing an agreement that the state would fund the school monthly, based on enrollment, if the trustees would forfeit the charter in June.
But enrollment declined, resulting in reduced money flow from the state to the school, which led to a lower line of credit from outside lenders, according to school trustees.
“With no line of credit and with possible decreasing enrollment, the numbers started going against us very quickly,” said James Caviston, president of the school’s board. “As time went on we suddenly found ourselves with shifting sand under our feet.”
Charter trustees said the dip in enrollment was due in part to the state’s threat to close the school after just three years instead of giving the school the normal five-year incubation period.
Trustee David Buchanan said he and his colleagues kept stability in mind when making the early closure decision.
“We’re in a position right now where we either see our program dismembered ... or we maintain our commitment to our staff and the kids and the safety of those kids, and make a responsible decision of closing the school together, intact, with some kind of dignity,” Buchanan said.
The closure will send around 100 students to the Gloucester School District and schools of surrounding towns.
Gloucester school leaders have vowed to welcome the students with open arms. Superintendent Richard Safier said at a Dec. 12 meeting that the Gloucester schools are prepared for any influx of students.
“We are confident that whether it is a process that takes place over the course of the school year, up to next September, or if there should be any other disruption, then we are prepared to accommodate any and all contingencies,” Safier said.
Charter trustees lamented the end of what they called a “safe place” for all types of children.
“For all our ups and downs, one of the things that we have achieved that I think a lot of people didn’t recognize was what a good place this was for kids who are different,” Trustee Jay Featherstone said.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.