NEW BEDFORD — Supporters of Alma del Mar Charter School, including students, family members and its founder and executive director gathered in the City Council chamber Thursday night, as the council weighed a resolution opposing proposed local charter school expansions.

Four members of the City Council joined the mayor and School Committee in opposing the proposed expansions via a resolution discussed at the meeting. The majority of the City Council members said they felt more discussion was needed, and that state representatives and officials need to be included.

Ultimately, the resolution signed by four city councilors was voted 6-4 to be referred to the Committee on Appointments and Briefings, but not without discussion. Councilors Debora Coelho, Hugh Dunn, Brian Gomes and Scott Lima voted not to refer it to committee.

Last month, Alma del Mar Charter School applied to the state for 1,188 more charter school seats, and if approved, two more schools. Global Learning Charter Public School also applied to the state to increase its enrollment by 100 seats in grades 5-12. Richard Porteus, Jr., lead founder of the proposed New Bedford Cheironeum, applied to open a school to serve 1,008 students in grades 6-12 in New Bedford.

The “resolution against charter school enrollment in New Bedford” from councillors Dunn, Joseph Lopes, Maria Giesta and William Brad Markey notes “a loss of funds that is undermining the ability of districts to provide all students with the educational services to which they are entitled.”

The resolution claims that charter schools are often approved over objections of a majority of community residents and their elected officials and the schools aren’t accountable to local elected officials once approved.

Expanding the number of charter school seats in the city would “lead to a costly and divisive two-track school system,” the resolution states. 

Dunn thanked everyone from Alma del Mar who attended the meeting, acknowledged that a child’s education is important to parents, but said “At the end of the day, we’re talking about a budget buster.” There was no opportunity for the Alma del Mar representatives to speak.

Coelho called the resolution “a grandstanding opportunity.”

She also noted that the history of public education in the city “has been poor” and only recently has it started to make gains.

“This should be a discussion and there isn’t a discussion here on this resolution,” she said.

Councilor Dana Rebeiro suggested holding an open public meeting before the committee meeting.

While Markey signed the resolution, he said he’s not against charter schools, but has an issue with the financial side of it, noting “The state has to straighten this out.”

Lopes said “The state can’t afford to fix the (funding) formula.”

He also said the senate president and the speaker of the house need to be present during a public meeting.

Jacqueline Reis, spokeswoman for the Office of the Commissioner confirmed that for FY19, the department of Elementary and Secondary Education projects that New Bedford Public Schools will pay $15,904,542 in charter school tuition and receive $1,892,986 in reimbursement.

The office estimates that statewide, traditional school districts will pay a total of $575,810,716 in charter school tuition costs after reimbursement.

In terms of the number of charter seats available, that formula is set by state law, Reis said.

There’s a statutory limit on the amount of funds that can be sent to charter schools from a district for tuition, according to the state. Typically, a district’s total charter school tuition payment to Commonwealth charter schools can’t exceed nine percent of the district’s net school spending, unless the district has performed in the lowest 10 percent statewide on the MCAS.

However, if the district is in the lowest 10 percent, like New Bedford, the cap on net school spending is 18 percent, the spokeswoman said.

Currently, under that net school spending cap, New Bedford has enough room for about 1,225 more students to attend charter schools.

When deciding whether to allow a school to amend its charter to expand, the commissioner and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education consider evidence regarding the success of the school's academic program, its organizational viability, its faithfulness to the terms of its charter and the availability of existing seats under current caps, according to a news release.

The commissioner and Board will consider comments solicited from the superintendents within each charter school's proposed district or region. Members of the public may also submit written comments regarding expansion requests to: Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, c/o Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign, 75 Pleasant St. Malden, MA 02148 or by email to charterschools@doe.mass.edu.

Comments on proposed new schools will be solicited during the final application stage, which is yet to be announced.

Link to the resolution: https://newbedford.novusagenda.com/AgendaPublic/CoverSheet.aspx?ItemID=9880&MeetingID=419