The Codcast: Charter battle heats up in New Bedford

Think the battle over charter schools in Massachusetts is over? Think again.

Voters may have soundly defeated a ballot question two years ago to raise the cap on charters, but there is plenty of room in some communities under the existing cap to add more charter school seats. One of them is New Bedford, where the next big charter battle may play out.

Two charters there are looking to expand. Together they are asking the state to approve more than 1,300 new charter seats. Meanwhile, a third group is applying to open a new charter in the Whaling City.

Mayor Jon Mitchell has come out strongly against the expansion proposals, arguing they would be devastating to city finances and the state of its district schools.

The head of the state charter school association, Tim Nicolette, penned an op-ed last week in the New Bedford Standard-Times in support of the charter growth and the options they give families who are desperate for quality school options. He said New Bedford is the fourth lowest performing school district in the state. “Parents and students deserve better, and they shouldn’t have to wait another generation to get it,” he wrote.

Mitchell joined the Codcast to talk about the charter issue. We reached out to the charter school association to invite Nicolette to take part. He declined.

Mitchell said state and city funds that charter expansion would draw would make it even more difficult to fund the city’s already financially strapped district system, and called the proposals “unreasonable.”

“I want to see kids have the greatest and the broadest opportunities that we can make available for them, but this is at the end of the day a zero sum proposition for cities that are financially constrained,” said Mitchell, noting that New Bedford property tax bills have soared 24 percent in the last five years, while the city has closed one school and one firehouse

As for the capacity to add more charter seats in New Bedford under the existing state cap, he said, “just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

But state education officials have generally considered only the strength of a charter school proposal and interest among local families in such a school in weighing charter applications, with the concerns of municipal leaders — who almost always view charters negatively — not figuring prominently in the decision-making. Indeed, the state charter school law vests full power over charter school authorization in the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education because of the natural tension between the publicly-funded, but independently run, schools and officials overseeing district school systems.

Mitchell recently laid out his argument in CommonWealth on the ways the charter school funding system is broken. “I hate to sound pessimistic about it, but there aren’t easy solutions,” he said on the Codcast.

Mitchell is hardly a crusading anti-charter zealot. Indeed, he praises the innovation charters have brought to public education, including longer school days, greater flexibility over curriculum, and school-level autonomy.

“I think you’d be hard-pressed to find any mayor in America who wouldn’t like to see some of those built into their district schools,” he said of the features common in charters. Mitchell said the city has been able to bring some of those reforms to the district in recent contract agreements with the teachers union, and he supported a bill filed in the recent legislative session that would have allowed districts to create “innovation partnership zones” made up of schools within a system that would operate independently of the central district office.

“We do need to look at some of these other governing models,” he said.

MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

Sen. Eric Lesser and Eric Paley and Shirley Paley say Gov. Charlie Baker turned his back on the innovation economy by vetoing patent troll measure. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Worcester landed the Pawtucket Red Sox, with team chairman Larry Lucchino saying his mother always told him to take the team where it’s wanted. (CommonWealth) The state’s second largest city, where baseball is baked into local history, is excited about landing the Red Sox top farm team. (Boston Globe) A commitment of $35 million from a state fund for infrastructure improvements was a key component of the deal that landed the team in Worcester. (Boston Herald) The private developer of the project’s two hotels, market rate housing, and commercial space will give the land for the ballpark to the city of Worcester and will receive in return tax breaks worth $5.6 million. (Telegram & Gazette)

Braintree Mayor Joe Sullivan and Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller say cities can clean up the transportation sector. (CommonWealth)

Plymouth, where an estimated 300,000 syringes are used annually by residents, finally has a disposal system for sharps after officials found dozens of needles that had been disposed by addicts in sewer drains floating to the surface after a recent storm. (The Enterprise)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Margery Eagan joins the pushback against those saying House minority leader — and former and potentially future speaker — Nancy Pelosi represents everything wrong with the current Democratic Party leadership. (Boston Globe) Charlie Pierce and Paul Krugman have both recently penned pieces arguing Pelosi has, in fact, been one of the most effective House speakers in modern times.

White House counsel Donald McGahn has “cooperated extensively” with the special counsel, sitting for nearly 30 hours of interviews in what could be a break with President Trump. Trump, meanwhile, blasted the report as “fake news” and said he agreed to let McGahn cooperate. (New York Times)

Former CIA head John Brennan said he is considering going to court to fight Trump’s revocation of his security clearance. (Washington Post)

One of the leaders of the #MeToo movement who spoke out charging Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein with sexual assault allegedly paid nearly $400,000 to settle a claim against her by a young actor who claimed she sexually assaulted him when he was 17 and she was 37. (New York Times)

ELECTIONS

Howie Carr thinks Gov. Charlie Baker is worried about getting embarrassed in the September 4 Republican primary, which Carr concedes he’ll win but predicts that right-wing pastor Scott Lively will top the 28 percent vote he received among delegates to the state Republican convention. (Boston Herald)  A Lowell Sun editorial endorses Baker and describes Lively as an “unavoidable inconvenience.”

Hillary Chabot marvels at the long list of big-name Democratic pols in the state, including Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, US Rep. Seth Moulton, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who have been zigzagging the country on behalf of “anti-Trump” Democrats in battleground states, while ignoring their party’s gubernatorial hopefuls at home who are hoping to dislodge Republican Gov. Charlie Baker. (Boston Herald)

About the oddly-timed state primary, which falls on the day after Labor Day, Secretary of State Bill Galvin, who is responsible for setting election dates in the Commonwealth, says it was the least worst of the bad options available to him. (Boston Globe)

State Rep. Geoff Diehl, the state’s leading Trump supporter and one of three Republicans vying to take on Sen. Elizabeth Warren, repeats the falsehood that GDP is at 4.1 percent growth and pushing the economy to 5 percent growth which “we never saw under the Obama administration.” (Keller@Large) The rate was topped at least four times under the previous administration.

WBUR explains how the six candidates for Suffolk County district attorney would change the office.

Five of the 11 candidates running to replace US Rep. Niki Tsongas in Congress are millionaires (Eagle-Tribune)

The Lowell Sun profiles the Democratic primary race between incumbent Rep. Colleen Garry and challenger Sabrina Heisey to represent Tyngsborough and Dracut. The Lowell Sun also explores the crowded field of Democrats hoping to succeed Eileen Donoghue in the Senate.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Locally owned drug stores may be making a comeback in Massachusetts after years of being squeezed and bought out by national pharmacy chains.  (Patriot Ledger)

Video game developers are making it harder for players to turn off, raising concerns among parents and mental health experts about the effects of extended gaming. (Wall Street Journal)

ARTS

Rain shrinks the  crowd, but doesn’t dampen enthusiasm for Beyond Walls mural festival in Lynn. (Daily Item)

EDUCATION

New York University’s School of Medicine announced it will cover tuition for all current and future students, a move that may push other top medical schools to offer free tuition. (New York Times)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A new approach to opioid addiction, where the desire to get clean can be fleeting: On demand treatment centers where those who walk in are dealt with right away. (Boston Globe)

Boston University’s controversial Biosafety Level 4 laboratory, which faced years of opposition because it planned to study some of the world’s deadliest pathogens in a densely populated urban neighborhood, is up and running in Boston’s South End. (Boston Globe)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Deb Pasternak of the Massachusetts Sierra Club says Quebec hydroelectricity isn’t a good fit for Massachusetts, in part because it won’t help reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions. (CommonWealth)

RELIGION

Pope Francis releases a letter saying the Catholic Church has not done enough to fight clergy sex abuse and the church “abandoned” victims, adding “no effort should be spared” in rooting out pedophile priests. (Washington Post) A prominent advocate for victims of clergy sexual abuse says Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s statement read at area churches on Sunday on the latest horror in the Catholic Church — a grand jury report that more than 1,000 children were abused by hundreds of priests in Pennsylvania — is “too little too late.” (Boston Herald) A former New Jersey priest was among those protesting yesterday outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, denouncing O’Malley’s handling of accusations against Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, DC. O’Malley is head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (Boston Globe)

TRANSPORTATION

A Boston Globe editorial puts the kibosh on the idea of having the state take over operation of the commuter rail system from Keolis.

CASINOS/MARIJUANA

The new MGM casino in Springfield, due to open Friday, looks as “un-Vegas as Springfield itself, and that is exactly the idea.” (Boston Globe)

Walter Pavlo compares the way the Massachusetts Gaming Commission dealt with Ourway Realty, a company whose CEO took money from Plainridge Race Course, and the decision it faces with Steve Wynn and Wynn Resorts. He sees striking similarities in the two situations, and notes Ourway lost its license. (Forbes)

Salem gives zoning approval to its first retail pot shop, a business led by Suffolk Downs executive Chip Tuttle and Nahant resident Don Wyse. (Salem News)

State Treasurer Deb Goldberg says she’s not worried that casinos will hurt the state lottery, in part because of a provision of the state casino law mandating that casinos include space for lottery sales. (Boston Herald)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Bristol Sheriff Thomas Hodgson is opting out of a pilot program at jails around the state that would use medicine to treat opioid-addicted inmates who enter with prescriptions or who are near their release. (Herald News)

MEDIA

Meghna Chakrabarti and David Folkenflik start today as the new hosts of WBUR’s On Point.