A Lowell charter’s odyssey

A new Lowell charter school found a temporary home at a Greek Orthodox church after being turned away by two other churches that apparently saw the charter as a competitive threat.

The Lowell Collegiate Charter School, run by the for-profit SABIS Educational Systems, will open this fall at the Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church, using some on-site classrooms as well as modular classrooms that will be placed in the church’s parking lot. The president of the church council said the church will receive a six-figure rent for the coming year. Lowell Collegiate plans to move into rehabbed warehouse space the following year.

Lowell Collegiate’s odyssey was typical of many new charters. The charter surveyed the Lowell area and found several locations where classrooms were sitting empty, but their owners refused to rent to a school perceived as a competitive threat.

The closed Sacred Heart School was up for sale, but the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston attached a deed restriction to the 21,000-square-foot property prohibiting its use as a charter school. Jose Alfonso, director of business development for SABIS, said he reached out to church officials, including Cardinal Sean O’Malley, to no avail.

“Here we are providing educational opportunities to the underserved population the cardinal talks about wanting to serve, and for there to be a covenant that outright prohibits charter schools from using the property is unfortunate,” he told the Sun.

Terrence Donilon, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said the church doesn’t lease or sell classroom space to charters in areas in which the church has its own schools. Outside those areas, however, Donilon said the church will rent or sell to charters. The church’s practices were first detailed in a CommonWealth investigative report last year entitled, “What would Jesus do?”

SABIS also was turned down by the struggling Hellenic American Academy, which is owned by another Greek Orthodox church. Officials at the Academy declined comment other than to say that they are attempting to boost their own school’s enrollment.

                                                                                                                                                            –BRUCE MOHL


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