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Expansion of charter schools inappropriate for the Berkshires

By Friday, Feb 26, 2016 Letters 6

To the Editor:

In response to efforts in the eastern part of the Commonwealth to raise the Charter School cap, on February 11, 2016, the Southern Berkshire Regional School District School Committee overwhelmingly passed the motion cited below. Where there is studied and articulated need, charter schools have value to some communities. It is our strong belief that Berkshire County does not fit a model that appears targeted to high-population centers and we are not in a position at this point in time to encourage the expenditure of limited education funds on the expansion of charter schools. Our School Committee, along with many others in the county, is actively involved in a process that has engaged communities throughout the Berkshires in examining how to best bring the best educational opportunities to a declining student population while limiting further financial burden on our towns’ budgets.

The Edge has covered the work of the Berkshire County Education Task Force. That group is facing the challenge of how make the best of our education resources in this time of shrinking overall county population and the increased costs associated with the high quality education we all pride ourselves in providing for our children. State Rep. Smitty Pignatelli is leading the charge in Boston to gain support for this initiative. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is lauding this county’s actions to address not only the factors noted above but also the complete change in how we can now deliver education to meet the changing demand for graduates with true 21st century skills. We cannot afford to dilute our excellent educational structure by siphoning off resources. We owe it to our children to offer them creative options in our existing strong schools to ensure that they will excel in all of their endeavors.

It is our hope that other School Committees, community and elected leaders and the citizens of our county will support the SBRSD’s motion:

The Southern Berkshire Regional School District School Committee requests the Massachusetts House and Senate not raise the existing cap on Charter Schools in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as proposed in legislation H.3928.

We further request the House and Senate to introduce legislation restricting any new Charter Schools from enrolling students residing in towns and cities that have not passed enabling legislation for such enrollments. Such proposed legislation should include:

  1. Local taxpayer approval of any new charter school.
  2. Local taxpayer elected oversight of the charter school’s board of trustees.
  3. Full funding of the Commonwealth’s Charter School Expropriation Amelioration account.
  4. Required social, economic and academic impact study of a new charter school in impacted communities before approval.
  1. Measureable and enforceable requirements that all charter schools enroll and retain a representative cross-section of students with special needs across all levels, English Language Learners and those classified as economically disadvantaged. Such groups should be represented across all grade levels in the charter school.

We believe such legislation would allow Charter Schools to better focus their resources where local taxpayers have identified a demonstrated need for such schools and voted to accept such additional cost to their communities.

E. Bonnie Silvers

Sheffield

The writer is a Sheffield representative on the Southern Berkshire Regional School District.