GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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December 10, 2012

Death knell for charter?

State education chief, citing problems, calls for revocation

Mitchell D. Chester, the state commissioner of education, has recommended that the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education revoke the charter of the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School and close the school at the end of the spring term in June.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meets next Tuesday with Chester’s recommendation on the agenda. Charter school officials will present their rebuttal to Chester’s recommendation before the board votes.

Board spokesman J.C. Considine said he expects the board to follow Chester’s recommendation, but the charter board can appeal, which could draw out the decision for months.

The demise of the experiment after three years would send about 100 of the 130 students at the charter school back into the Gloucester School District’s one middle and five elementary schools. Closure of Gloucester Community Arts would also give the city back Chapter 70 funding that the charter school claimed; the money had been a sore point with public school advocates concentrated in the School Committee and allied with state Sen. Bruce Tarr and state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante.

The process of revoking the school’s charter was triggered with a nine-page, single-spaced memo that described a suite of failings adding up, in Mitchell’s judgment, to a school that “is no longer a viable organization.”

School Committee Chairman Jonathan Pope said the public schools would have no trouble integrating the charter students.

“My reaction is that this has been a terrible waste of time and money,” Pope said. “I feel badly for the parents and children, and at the same time, the (Gloucester) School Department will deal with the students coming back and provide a good education.”

The Gloucester Community Arts Charter School was born in controversy: Chester was lobbied by Gov. Deval Patrick’s education secretary — against his own better judgment and by the against the grain of the Department of Education charter staff — to recommend granting the charter to Gloucester advocates and organizers, as the best of three uninspiring options, and the board went along with Chester back in 2009. Opponents sued the state and battle lines formed throughout the city.

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