Opposition to lifting charter school cap aired in Northampton

  • A group of 150 people opposing a potential ballot question to lift the state’s cap on charter schools gathered at JFK Middle School Wednesday evening for a public forum organized by Save Our Public Schools, a Massachusetts-based grassroots organization. —STEPHANIE MURRAY

  • Mayor David J. Narkewicz speaks at the Save Our Public Schools public forum at JFK Middle School Wednesday evening.  —STEPHANIE MURRAY

  • Andrea Egitto, a kindergarten teacher at R.K. Finn Ryan Road Elementary School speaks at the Save Our Public Schools Forum Wednesday evening at JFK Middle School. —STEPHANIE MURRAY

  • Barbara Madeloni, the president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, speaks at the Save Our Public Schools forum at JFK Middle School to a crowd of 150 people Wednesday evening.  —STEPHANIE MURRAY

  • Jenny Bender, a mother with children in the Northampton public school system, speaks at the Save Our Public Schools public forum at JFK Middle School Wednesday evening.  —STEPHANIE MURRAY

  • Massachusetts Teachers Association President Barbara Madeloni answers questions during a question-and-answer session Wednesday evening at JFK Middle School.  STEPHANIE MURRAY

Published: 6/23/2016 12:52:00 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Opponents of a ballot question that would lift the cap on charter schools drew a crowd of some 150 parents, educators and community members to a forum Wednesday evening at JFK Middle School.

The hour-long forum was part of a larger campaign by the grassroots organization Save Our Public Schools to defeat a potential ballot question that would lift the cap on charter schools, allowing 12 new charter schools annually anywhere in Massachusetts.

Former city councilor Pamela Schwartz moderated the forum.

Barbara Madeloni, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association said the ballot question is an assault on public education that will destabilize public schools.

“Public schools are where democracy starts. We can’t lose that to private interest and competition.” Madeloni said. “This is a critical moment in our history, it really is. We have to beat the ballot question.”

Madeloni said lifting the cap on charter schools, which she called “charterizing” communities, would lead to a two-tiered education system and the eventual extinction of public schools.

Madeloni said it already is happening in places like New Orleans Parish, where public schools no longer exist, and Los Angeles County, where 35 percent of students go to charter schools.

Charter schools move the education system back toward segregation, Madeloni said, an ideal she believes public schools work against.

“Public education is a space to grow social justice. That means everybody is welcome and everybody needs to be there,” said Madeloni. “Charter schools use public funds for private interests.”

Jenny Bender, a former public school teacher and national literacy consultant who has children in the Northampton public schools, agreed the increase in charter schools would create a two-tiered education system

When Bender was choosing where to send her son for kindergarten, her values were put to the test. Bender said she was torn between sending her son to a public school in line with her social values and the “parental fear” that she needed to send her son to the best school possible.

“But I no longer think that’s the point,” Bender said. “Protecting our public schools is a civil rights issue … If this initial ballot question passes, it will be the end of public schools.”

Bender, who sent her children to public school and is happy with the results, said the competitive culture between public schools and charter schools goes against the values of education.

Bender said she wanted her children to learn to be compassionate and how to think, but also how to interact with those who learn, play and think differently from them.

“My kids are getting that,” she said. “Every child, no matter the level of intelligence, race, or class deserves the same education.”

Andrea Egitto is a kindergarten teacher at R.K. Finn Ryan Road Elementary School who has children in the city schools. Egitto compared Ryan Road Elementary to a comparable charter school, and concluded that children of color, children with disabilities, English language learners and economically disadvantaged students are underrepresented in charter schools.

“At Ryan Road School we have 46 percent high-needs students. This charter school has 22 percent,” Egitto said. “These numbers tell the story.”

The potential ballot question poses a financial problem for Northampton, Mayor David J. Narkewicz said. In the fiscal year beginning July 1, he said, “There are 202 students leaving, and $2.2 million is going with them. Right now, that’s more than we currently allocate to our four elementary which each serve between 230 to 330 students and have annual budgets of $1.7 million.”

Narkewicz said Massachusetts already underfunds public schools statewide by a billion dollars by using a dated formula that does not account, among other things, for special needs education and health-care benefits. Lifting the cap on charter schools would further strain the budget, he said, and adequately funding public schools is his priority.

“I do not understand it, I do not support it, and I will not support any more charter schools until we fix these core issues regarding not only how how we fund our basic public schools, and the inequities related to how charter schools are funded,” Narkewicz said.

Charter school group

According to Marc Kenen, executive director of the Massachusetts Charter School Association, charter schools are in demand by parents across the state. Kenen did not attend the forum but was interviewed by telephone last week.

In the fiscal year that ends June 30, a total 33,903 students were on charter school wait lists in Massachusetts, according to the Massachusetts Department of Education website. Charter schools are on the rise, Kenen said, and passing the proposed ballot question, something he calls a modest increase, would not satisfy demands by parents.

“Parents need more high-quality options for education,” Kenen said. “No one model fits the needs of every student.”


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