I was recently asked what my position on the newest application for expansion to the state from the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School was. This is a great question, so I thought I would share my views here.
On a related note, I opposed the state-wide ballot issue a few years ago that sought to raise the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in Massachusetts. I did so because of the current means of funding charter schools. Through my service in Town Meeting, I realized that the way charter schools are funded in Massachusetts is fatally flawed. The loss of one student in a school district does not necessarily result in the savings by that district in the “per pupil” cost of education that student. Even in great numbers, the savings don’t add up, because the students come from different grades and schools within the district. Yet, each student lost results in money lost in an amount unequal to the actual savings realized by not having to educate that student. This directly hampers the ability of the district to continue educating the remaining students at the same high level. Similarly, after a critical number of students has been reached at a charter school, the addition of one more student doesn’t require additional spending in the amount of that student’s “per pupil” costs received by the charter school from the home district, which then results in a “windfall” for the charter school.
Given this reality, I opposed the increase in the number of charter schools in the state, as it would result in the declining ability of public school districts to educate the students that are not enrolled in the charter schools.
As a Town Councilor, I need to act in the best interests of the Town. This requires listening to the residents, learning what they want and believe, and also doing my own research and using my own experience to make that determination.
As those principles relate to the PVCICS expansion request, it means opposing the expansion of PVCICS until such time as the funding formula has been fixed. As a Town Councilor, school policy is not in my domain, so while I know there are arguments opposing expansion that relate solely to education policy and responsibility, they do not factor into my determination to oppose the expansion. Such policy arguments are best left to those whom the residents have elected to consider and act on school policy — our School Committee. What is within my realm as a Councilor is ensuring that Amherst’s public schools are appropriately funded for the services our residents desire. The expansion of PVCICS (or any charter school in this area that is likely to draw several Amherst students) will harm the ability of Amherst to fund its public schools to the extent needed to provide exceptional educations to all of Amherst’s students. Therefore, as a candidate, and if elected a Town Councilor, I oppose the expansion on grounds that it is fiscally harmful to the Town of Amherst. I am also making this opposition public because I believe that elected leaders in the Town have a responsibility to use their public profile to help achieve the Town’s best interests.