New Bedford and Fall River Speak Out Against Charter School Proposal
If there was a member of the New Bedford and Fall River communities in support of the proposed Innovators Charter School in New Bedford, you would have been be hard-pressed to find them at the hearing held by the Commonwealth's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) on Wednesday evening at the Kilburn Mill in New Bedford.
During the time allotted for testimonials, parents, students, educators, and public officials lined up behind the microphone to unanimously oppose the implementation of yet another charter school.
Among the public officials who spoke were New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell and Fall River Mayor Paul Coogan; State Representatives Tony Cabral, Chris Hendricks, and Carole Fiola; New Bedford City Councilor Hugh Dunn; New Bedford School Committee members Josh Amaral, Coleen Dawicki, Chris Cotter, and Jack Livramento; New Bedford Public Schools School Superintendent Thomas Anderson and Fall River Public School Superintendent Maria Pontes.
The primary concern cited by those in opposition is the drain on already limited public resources a charter school could impose on city budgets.
"We could eliminate the entire library system in New Bedford, all five libraries, and still not make up for the loss this charter school would impose on the City," Mitchell told the board Wednesday. "In the last year we've eliminated 38 positions in the City government...we've closed a police station, we've closed a senior center. So this isn't abstract. There are real consequences that we face if we lose resources. They're very real."
Another point made by the many opponents of the charter school expansion is that this new charter is promising educational opportunities already available at both New Bedford High School and Durfee High School, which both offer college credit courses to their students. Those programs and other vital educational services, they argued, should be allowed the resources to grow and help the entire student population, and not divested to support an experimental endeavor that only purports to help a few students.
"Over 88 percent of our students are considered high-need and over 82 percent are low income. Our program can only be improved with sustainable strategic planning and supported by policies and financial resources," said Superintendent Anderson. "Our current resources are overextended to ensure we are meeting a range of student needs including those with disabilities and those developing language skills. "
Anderson also cited New Bedford students rapidly improving metrics for success and mentioned New Bedford's 21 Advance Placement courses, an early college application program, an international baccalaureate program in its authorization stage, and a dual enrollment program at the middle school and high school. These services, Anderson argued, are not only identical to what is being promised by Innovators Charter School, but more comprehensive versions of what ICS wants to offer.
"If ICS fails to show that their methods of teaching will differ from that of New Bedford, then their application is incomplete as a matter of law. And that is written into the statute," argued State Rep. Hendricks.
Many testifying also vividly recalled the City on a Hill Charter School closure in New Bedford. New Bedford School Committee Member Amaral drew parallels between this new charter school proposal and the fallout of the now defunct City on a Hill, which he described as "a duplicative school with a weak plan, and very little local support, predictably failed with hundreds of students left on a lurch."
The notion that this charter proposal has little to no support for or involvement by members of the New Bedford or Fall River communities was seemingly affirmed by the fact that nobody from either City that didn't have a direct interest in ICS's implementation testified in support of the new charter.
Students from Brockton's New Heights Charter School, whose educational model ICS wants to emulate, attended the meeting with an administrator of the school to show support for ICS. Every New Bedford High School and Durfee High School student who testified, however – some of whom are enrolled in college credit programs at their respective high school – urged the Board of Secondary and Elementary Education to reject the new charter proposal.
Ultimately, the decision on whether or not to leverage additional charter school seats on these two gateway cities rests with DESE, but additional public comment can be submitted to them by January 7, 2022 before a decision is made.