State takes control of Holyoke schools

Receiver to be appointed later this spring


HOLYOKE PUBLIC SCHOOLS will be taken over by the state, after the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted 8 to 3 Tuesday to authorize the education commissioner to appoint a receiver.

The board designated the district “Level 5” and declared the Holyoke schools “chronically under-performing.”

Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester is expected to name a receiver this spring. In March Chester recommended state takeover of the Holyoke Public Schools, saying “persistent and pervasive” problems in the school district make receivership necessary. Chester has recommended receivership for only one other school district – Lawrence – since he took over in May 2008.

“I approach receivership with a profound sense of responsibility to the youth and city of Holyoke,” Chester said in a statement. “In light of the persistent and pervasive underperformance of the district, it simply is not defensible to leave on the table the tools and authorities that receivership provides. For this reason, I applaud the board’s vote.”

Parents and teachers in Holyoke and a statewide teachers’ union opposed receivership. The board held a public hearing in Holyoke earlier this month.

Holyoke schools have some of the lowest achievement results in the state, according to state education officials. Only one out of every three students read at grade level, and one out of four students is on grade level in math. One out of every five students has received an out-of-school suspension, and graduation rates are low.

The receiver, which could be an individual or a non-profit group, will assume authority of the district this summer. Under receivership, the entity put in charge would have authority to hire or fire staff, and void union contracts, in an effort to turn the schools around.

The Holyoke system has more than 5,500 students attending 11 schools and, at $16,220 per student, higher per pupil expenditures compared to the $12,487 median of districts of similar size.