By K.B. Sherman, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Coming one night before a special Town Meeting dealing with town school funding, the Shrewsbury Board of Selectmen April 12 discussed with State Senator Michael Moore, D-Millbury, and State Representative Hannah Kane, R-Shrewsbury, pending legislation before the state legislature dealing with charter schools.
On April 7, the Massachusetts State Senate passed a controversial charter school bill that would lift a cap on charter schools in low-performing districts but would tie the cap lift to an increase in funding for district public schools. The bill passed 22 to 13. Senator Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, spoke in favor of the bill. The Shrewsbury selectmen discussed this matter as it relates to the town’s schools.
In August 2015, proposed charter schools in Shrewsbury and Fitchburg were met with mixed feelings from school officials in districts the schools would serve. The Mass. Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that month announced that the two proposed schools were among 10 for which the agency has received prospectuses. The applicants judged to show the most promise were to be invited to submit full applications last September, with final applications due in November. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education was expected to award new charters in February 2016.
The bill would cost the state $203 million to $212 million a year, reported some sources at the time. Unfortunately, the bill does not identify any new funding source.
One significant amendment, adopted by a 24 to 10 vote, would require that every charter school application get approval from a majority of the board of the local school district.
Town Manager Daniel Morgado began the April 12 discussion by noting that the ever-greater need for state aid was in part the result of the state imposing ever greater mandates upon the town. The state is now considering, he continued, imposing stricter Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards upon all town school employees regardless of the cost or disruption to local school systems.
“[Imposing stricter guidelines for the towns] is financially foolhardy and dangerous,” said Morgado. “The [Board of Selectmen] may want to weigh in on this if it gets any further and should be promulgated by the state, not the federal government. That’s my opinion. Adopting a regulation without knowing what it will cost would be a mistake and flies in the face of what we should be doing.”
The selectmen quickly agreed and Selectman James Kane added that the charter school idea has merit but has been badly implemented.
“They have turned into an industry unto themselves,” he added. Selectman Henry Fitzgerald summed up by recommending that the chair draft an appropriate letter of caution to the Legislature, including a request for a cost study of adopting OSHA standards be created and suggestions on how such a mandate would be funded.
“The ways charter school standards are funded and organized are problematic,” concluded Selectman Maurice DePalo.
A special Town Meeting on school funding was held April 13. It approved both school articles.