GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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November 26, 2012

Loan sparks new charter questions

A woman who personally loaned the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School $75,000 for three weeks — and a $2,500 loan fee — 14 months ago was one of eight participants whose October 2012 observations of the school were compiled to form a site visit report state officials will consider in a discussion of the charter at a special meeting of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education today.

The actions of Diana Lam, head of school at Conservatory Lab Charter School in Boston, are spurring questions about the legality of the loan on several fronts, including that it was never publicly discussed by the charter school’s Board of Trustees, and whether it was proper for the school or Lam to exchange the cash.

Lam confirmed Monday that she had personally loaned the school money after a “financial person” who works with both the Conservatory Lab Charter and the Gloucester Charter school told Lam the school was in need of a loan, and said she sees no issue with its legality or any perceived conflict of interest.

“We share the same financial person and that’s how that came across,” Lam said in a telephone interview Monday, referring to Cynthia Goncalves. “I actually had not invested in the school. I had never met the director or anything. It wasn’t based on friendship. I just thought they needed a loan, and that’s how it happened.

“I didn’t pass any judgment on whether it was a good school or not. It was a situation that we are sometimes familiar with,” Lam said. “I knew about how difficult it had been (for the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School) to get started, but not much more than that.”

According to documents provided to the Times, the “promissory note,” dated Sept. 14, 2011, is signed by the Gloucester school’s former executive director, Tony Blackman and Lam, with a witness signature from Carol Kennedy Hurley, then special education teacher at the school. The note is not signed off by the school’s Board of Trustees, though Blackman, as executive director hired by the board, was and remains a trustee.

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