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CORRECTION: School Committee Weighs In On Question 2

Oct 20, 2016 07:29AM ● Published by Mary Hart

Courtesy of DracutMA.gov

(EDITOR'S NOTE: The article below, when originally published, contained incorrect financial information regarding Dracut's charter school assessment and the state reimbursement for that assessment. The article has been updated, with the corrected section bolded. We apologize for any confusion this caused.)

In November, Massachusetts residents will head to the polls to elect a new President, but they will also vote on a number of ballot questions. One of those questions was a topic of discussion at the Dracut School Committee meeting: Question 2, which would give Massachusetts the ability to lift the cap on charter schools with a "yes" vote. 

State Representative for Dracut and Tyngsborough, Colleen Garry, was invited to attend the meeting to provide her thoughts on Question 2, and Superintendent Steven Stone started off the discussion with information about the financial impact charter schools have on public schools and the town overall. 

Stone started off stating that the charter school assessment to Dracut Public Schools for FY16 was $2,032,811. Dracut has received reimbursement of $570,658, just 62 percent of what the state is obligated to pay Dracut, under the Charter School law. Therefor, for FY16, Dracut students attending charter schools are costing the town $1,462,153. 

"If those students came back to our district," said Stone, "the district would have approximately $1.5 million to spend." 

Stone went on to add that charter schools are designated as "public schools", but they can choose who they teach. If a child is enrolled and found to have special needs, the charter school could say "no" after a team meeting was convened, which would place the child back in the Dracut Public Schools.

School Committee member, Daniel O'Connell, mentioned that if the students who are brought back want to leave again, that decision has essentially already been made. He summed it up by saying, "It seems like the system is broken."

Rep. Garry noted that she is opposed to uncapping the charter school cap. She sees that the Dracut School becomes "what's left" from charter schools instead of being chosen, and money won't increase to public schools with Question 2 passing. 
"We have finite dollars," said Garry. And, in FY17, Dracut will be down $1.9 million. 

Garry added that Innovation Academy started in Chelmsford and then moved to Tyngsborough without any input from the town. With Innovation Academy, Tyngsborough now has a vocational school, public schools, a charter school, and a private school, so there are transportation issues with transportation having to be provided to all of these schools. Plus, charter schools have money, but they don't have the children with the higher needs. 

Garry continued, saying that the State Senate has had numerous caucuses this year on charter schools, but they couldn't get it through the legislature. This is why Question 2 has come up and that essentially "it's stealing from Peter to pay Paul".

School Committee member, Allison Volpe, mentioned that she thinks people leave their town for a charter school because they think that there's something better out there. She wondered if anyone has ever asked parents why they're having their children leave for a charter school.

Stone answered Volpe, saying "Our principals have exit interviews with each family that leaves to learn why they're leaving, and indeed there have been students who wind up coming back from a charter school to the public school."

School Committee chair, Betsy Murphy, brought up a point about charter schools, saying, "If charter schools are really public schools, then why is there a lottery for them? If you want public money, you need to act like a public school." 

O'Connell stated that it's frustrating being a parent and seeing kids leave the district for really no good reason. "I'm a product of Dracut High and it irritates me seeing people leave. Maybe we need to pull back food services regulations to have food that kids will actually eat in the public schools." 

Murphy brought the charter school discussion to a close by asking if the Committee supports (a "yes" vote) or does not support (a "no" vote) the purpose of Question 2. 

Stone stated that the Committee will oppose lifting the cap on charter schools, and the motion to oppose lifting the cap was passed by the Committee. 



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