Peter d’Errico, Tom Hankinson, Julie Shively and Nancy Grossman: Chinese charter school’s lawsuit is ‘frivolous’

Published: 8/22/2019 7:00:29 PM
Modified: 8/22/2019 7:00:17 PM

The Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School lawsuit against the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Gazette, July 23) is a frivolous use of public resources.

The board’s denial of the school’s eighth expansion request in 12 years made clear that PVCICS is currently 55 students short of its enrollment cap of 584. Moreover, despite a robust demand for kindergarten slots, upper-grade interest falls off at the secondary level. For example, the freshmen class that began with 30 students in 2015 had shrunk to 15 by their senior year last spring, and the freshman class that began with 14 students in 2016 dropped to eight by the time their were juniors.

The school’s poor retention is good for towns that must cut programs to pay for every charter-tuition increase, but it hardly supports the request by PVCICS to increase enrollment by 368. Furthermore, districts are prohibited by statute from sending more than 9 percent of their budgets to charters (18 percent for “low-performing districts” which, arguably, most need the money in-house); PVCICS’ greatest waitlist demand is from towns currently near their statutory spending caps.

The charter trustees show a profound lack of understanding of the regional educational landscape. They blame the expansion denial on so-called “surrounding wealthy communities” that oppose sending taxpayer money to the privately-run charter school.

Do they mean Amherst, with 32 percent economically-disadvantaged students, slightly higher than the statewide average of 31 percent? Or Northampton, with 27 percent? In fact, PVCICS is the truly “wealthy community,” educating just 16 percent economically-disadvantaged students and 24 percent designated “high-needs” students (Amherst has 49 percent high-need).

These inequities, demonstrated by Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education statistics, alone disqualify PVCICS from expansion.

Leverett sends $110,000 to PVCICS for six students’ education. The town makes painful educational cuts in its own programs to transfer these funds to the charter school, while PVCICS runs a $354,000 average annual surplus and spends Leverett’s $110,000 on advertising alone, according to DESE statistics.

The Board of Education correctly denied the expansion application. The PVCICS lawsuit is without merit.

Peter d’Errico, Tom Hankinson, Julie Shively and Nancy Grossman

d’Errico, Hankinson and Shively are members of the Leverett Select Board.

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