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December 6, 2012

Charter eyes 'Horace Mann' alternative

'Horace Mann' proposal faces major hurdles

The Gloucester Community Arts School, facing a potential revocation of its charter in less than two weeks, is entertaining the idea of joining the Gloucester Public School District as a Horace Mann school — an arrangement that would allow the school to maintain relative independence yet receive funding as part of the public school district.

David Buchanan, a member of the charter school’s Board of Trustees and employee of the state’s Department of Education, presented his personal proposal at a board meeting Thursday night, including a timeline that would have led the school to become a Horace Mann facility by July 2013.

But, the charter immediately faces two issues. The state requires that both local school committee and local teachers’ union to endorse any Horace Mann schools. And the timeline Buchanan laid out fails to take into account the state’s application process, which, according to Department of Education spokesman J.C. Considine, runs July through February of each year.

“It wouldn’t happen because they’ve missed this year’s application cycle,” Considine said.

Considine, calling a Horace Mann school “a completely different charter” from a state charter school, said the current charter school’s trustees would need to apply for a new charter.

Though some opponents view Buchanan’s proposal to re-charter the school as a last ditch effort to hang onto the school, Buchanan classified it as an attempt to preserve “alternative educational opportunities.”

“I see it as an effort to try to mend the rift in the city, to try to reunite the city around a common goal, around trying to create better educational opportunities for all kids in the city,” Buchanan said in a telephone interview Thursday. “And I think we should all be working on that together.”

Buchanan said the timing was wrong when the Horace Mann idea was last discussed, with the charter school just being formed at the time. The GCACS was granted its charter in February 2009, but did not open until September 2010, with activists at least talking of a potential Horace Mann alternative as a potential compromise in the interim. A Horace Mann School functions under a board independent from the school committee, and shares a single pool of funding with other schools in the district, in addition to receiving private grants. Teachers, however, work within the confines of local union contracts.

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