New Bedford’s charter school battle

Nearly two years ago, voters weighed in on a contentious ballot question over charter school expansion in the state. But the battle over the independently run, but publicly funded, schools hardly ended there.

Ground zero for the latest showdown: New Bedford, where the K-8 Alma del Mar Charter School is hoping to expand by adding two more K-8 schools, enrolling an additional 1,188 students. Plenty of cities, including New Bedford, have room under the existing state cap to add more charter seats.

But the Alma del Mar proposal is meeting with stiff resistance from the city’s mayor, Jon Mitchell, who says the expansion would have a devastating effect on the city’s finances. Mitchell wrote about the effect of charters on district finances in July and he made the case against expansion last month on The Codcast, calling the plan “unreasonable” and pointing to the city’s already challenged fiscal picture.

Today, charter supporters Jim Stergios and Charlie Chieppo of the Pioneer Institute weigh in with a commentary piece decrying the opposition from Mitchell and a New Bedford city councilor.

“If you wonder where children fall in the hierarchy of priorities for some elected officials, take a look at New Bedford, where Mayor Jon Mitchell and City Councilor Hugh Dunn are apoplectic about a highly successful charter public school’s expansion plans,” they write.

Stergios and Chieppo say Alma del Mar students not only outperform their district peers in New Bedford, but have higher achievement scores than students in surrounding suburbs as well. They also look to knock down anti-charter arguments that the school benefits from enrolling fewer high-needs kids, saying the percentage of Alma del Mar students with special needs is similar to that in the New Bedford schools.

With more than 80 percent of New Bedford school spending coming from state aid, they also dispute the idea that more charter students are a significant drain on city finances.

The highly-charged expansion debate will land soon in Malden, at the offices of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, where new education commissioner Jeff Riley and members of the state education board are expected to take up the proposal next month.

“Just because you can doesn’t mean you should,” Mitchell said of the room to add charter seats in New Bedford under the state cap. But local opposition and the impact on a district school system have generally not been grounds to turn down an otherwise strong charter application in a community where there appears to be demand for such seats. (Stergios and Chieppo write that there are 500 students on the Alma del Mar waitlist.)

In the never-ending debate over charter schools, two years ago all eyes were on the statewide ballot question vote. Next month, they’ll be focused on Malden.

–MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

Embattled former state senator Brian Joyce, who was facing federal corruption charges, was found dead in his Westport home. Cause of death has not been determined but police said they suspect no foul play. (Patriot Ledger)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Attorney General Maura Healey spoke to residents at a meeting last night in Lawrence, warning them to beware of potential scammers looking to take their cases in seeking damages for the September 13 gas explosions and fires that rocked Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover. (Eagle-Tribune) A Lawrence family whose home was destroyed filed suit against Columbia Gas. (Boston Globe) Lawrence Housing Authority officials sent a memo to residents falsely stating their leases prohibit the use of hot plates and space heaters, keeping many who cannot cook or heat their homes without gas no fall back. (Eagle-Tribune)

Backers of a Business Improvement District in downtown Worcester have gathered enough signatures from area business owners to bring the matter before the City Council. (Telegram & Gazette)

Framingham’s police unions, saying officials need to look outside the current command staff, jointly criticized Mayor Yvonne Spicer’s choice of a 31-year veteran of the department to take over as chief. (MetroWest Daily News)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh offer irreconcilably conflicting testimony on her allegation that he sexually assaulted her in high school, leaving senators to cast votes on his Supreme Court nomination that will effectively also be proxies for whom they believe. (Boston Globe) Sen. Jeff Flake, one of the key undecided votes, announces he will vote for Kavanaugh, making the confirmation all but certain. (Washington Post)

Gov. Charlie Baker said he believes Ford’s account and called for a full, independent investigation of her charges before any Senate vote is taken. (Boston Globe) Legal experts say Kavanaugh pal Mark Judge, who Ford says witnessed the assault, should have been called to testify before the committee. (Boston Herald)  Howie Carr jumps on the Baker’s comments to ask whether he also believes the charges against his son, who is being investigated by the US attorney’s office following an alleged groping incident on a flight from Washington, DC, to Boston.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The developer of the Union Point project at the former naval air base in Weymouth is in turmoil as a suit filed by the company’s manager against the majority stockholder claims he misspent millions of dollars and companies, such as the Pawtucket Red Sox, refused to do business with the firm while he was in charge. (Patriot Ledger)

Developers have presented a plan to Salem officials to save a historic downtown train station by turning it into a bed and breakfast. (Salem News)

The Securities Exchange Commission has filed suit against Tesla founder Elon Musk to prevent him from running any public companies after his strange tweet this summer saying he secured funding to take his company private, a post that roiled the stock market. (Wall Street Journal)

EDUCATION

Boston School Committee member Alexandra Oliver-Davila and former UMass Boston chancellor Keith Motley were tapped to head the search for a new Boston school superintendent. (Boston Globe)

Pioneer Institute’s Jim Stergios and Charles Chieppo blast New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell and City Councilor Hugh Dunn for opposing expansion of the Alma del Mar Charter School, which they say has significantly outperformed the district’s schools. (CommonWealth)

Atlantic Union College, which closed earlier this year because of declining enrollment, is in discussions with a Chinese company to convert the campus in Lancaster into a prep school for foreign students. (Sentinel & Enterprise)

Six of the seven members of the Lynn School Committee have affiliations or potential conflicts of interest with one or more of the three finalists for secretary of the committee. (The Item)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The state Health Policy Commission handed its final report to Attorney General Maura Healey on the proposed merger of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Lahey Health, urging her to set up “guardrails” if the merger goes through. (State House News)

More than 80,000 people died from flu last season, the highest rate in 40 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (U.S. News & World Report)

TRANSPORTATION

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has approved a $19 minimum wage for workers at the authority’s three airports, the highest minimum wage for a public agency in the country. (New York Times)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Residents pack a Wellfleet meeting to air concerns following a fatal shark attack on man at one of the town’s beaches, but simple solutions aren’t evident. (Boston Globe)

The Trump administration has released a report acknowledging global temperatures will rise by 7 degrees by the end of the century but said the forecast is tantamount to a done deal and there’s nothing much regulations will do to alter it. (Washington Post)

CASINOS

The Mashpee Wampanoag has filed suit against the Interior Department for the ruling that overturned its prior decision to take the tribe’s land in trust, which effectively ended plans for a Taunton casino. (Cape Cod Times)

The state Gaming Commission has voted to open up a 45-day comment period to decide whether to reopen the Southeast Region for a casino license but the commission told the backers of a Brockton facility they were rejected once and there is no process to reconsider their application. (The Enterprise)

Gaming Commission member Gayle Cameron is named interim chairman of panel following this week’s resignation of Steve Crosby. (MassLive) A Globe editorial urges Gov. Charlie Baker to move quickly to fill the vacant slot on the commission created by Crosby’s exit.