Northampton City Council takes stand against Chinese charter expansion

  • Northampton Ward 2 City Councilor Dennis Bidwell, pictured at a 2016 meeting, authored a resolution opposing the expansion of the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School. The measure passed unanimously Thursday. Councilors said they weren’t against charter schools, but rather take exception to the state funding formula for them. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 10/5/2017 11:42:13 PM

This story has been corrected to show that the Northampton City Council has not previously voiced its opposition to the expansion of the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School. 

Northampton — The City Council has voiced its opposition to the expansion of the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School.

Though they approved a resolution against the school’s efforts to nearly double the size of its student body Thursday night, many councilors took pains to explain that their vote wasn’t against charter schools or their students, but was driven by the state formula that funds them.

“It’s not about the merits of charter schools,” said Ward 2 City Councilor Dennis Bidwell, author of the resolution. “This is purely about the way they’re funded.”

Most of the cost of sending a student to a charter school in the state is paid by the public school district that the student is coming from.

Ward 3 City Councilor James Nash, a co-sponsor and co-author of the resolution, said that to his knowledge he is the first charter school parent to serve on the council.

“I say to my knowledge as many charter school parents tend to keep their heads down around this very personal issue,” he said.

Nash said the law that funds charter schools is divisive and pits people against one another.

“It will not bring us together,” he said. “It will not build community.”

Nash also urged the law’s replacement, and said that he hoped that his co-sponsoring of the resolution would help to change the conversation around charter schools.

“We need a new law, a new funding formula,” said Nash.

The resolution notes that voters overwhelmingly rejected lifting the cap on charter schools when they voted against Question 2 last year.

“Allowing the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School to expand at this time would ignore the will of voters and only bring more hardship to surrounding communities,” Nash said.

His words received considerable praise from his colleagues, and both Bidwell and City Council President William Dwight asked that his remarks be sent to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which Nash agreed to.

“If I’m ever forced to testify I’m just going to read your comments,” Dwight said.

PVCICS is asking the state education board for permission to expand its enrollment from 584 to 1,036.

The Chinese charter previously applied to the state for an expansion that was subsequently rejected by a 7-2 vote in February. The school then applied for an expansion again in August.

The Northampton City Council in September 2016 passed a resolution opposing Question 2, an initiative that would have allowed the state to approve up to 12 new or expanded charter schools a year. The measure failed.

“This session feels a little bit like groundhog day,” said Ward 4 City Councilor Gina-Louise Sciarra, a resolution co-sponsor and co-author. “I don’t really see what has changed in the last six months.”

In the end, the councilors voted 8-0 in favor of the resolution. Ward 7 City Councilor Alisa Klein was not present at the meeting. Resolutions carry no force of law, but do express the opinion of the council.

In September, the Amherst School Committee sent a warrant article to Town Meeting opposing the expansion, and the Northampton School Committee is set to take up a resolution opposing the expansion at its next meeting.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will likely vote on the expansion request next year.

Bera Dunau can be reached at

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