Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

News

November 21, 2013

Proposed charter school debate mounts

State prepares to take public input on proposal

The proposed STEAM Studio public charter high school grew heated this week, with both sides challenging each other’s claims and distributing position statements and rebuttals to residents.

The heightened interest in the 450-student charter school proposal comes as officials from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education were preparing to take public comment on the initiative Thursday, Nov. 22, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Memorial Hall Library on North Main Street.

On the heels of taking a formal stand against the charter school proposal, the School Committee on Monday afternoon distributed a position piece via email to parents across the district.

In the letter, the school officials placed STEAM Studio’s impact “to Andover’s expenses” at $1.9 million in the school’s second year, on up to $5 million in year seven and onward based on state funding lost from Andover High School students enrolling in the new school. The numbers assume 70 percent of STEAM Studio’s students will come from Andover High, as outlined in the proposal.

Lead charter school proponent David Birnbach, who also sits on the School Committee, characterized the data in the position piece by his colleagues as not only untrue, but “irresponsible for the school district to be sending such misleading information to Andover parents.”

“If the proposed charter school is approved, 1.2 percent to 3.2 percent of town revenues will shift to the public charter school,” Birnbach said via email. “Andover’s expenses will not increase $1.9 million to $5 million as the school district claims. And if town revenues continue to grow at the prior 3 percent rate (every year), the charter school’s impact on town and school budgets is minimal.”

The School Committee, meanwhile, says it doesn’t believe “the programming (STEAM Studio) promises to offer students enhances or builds upon our offerings enough to justify the very large share of state funding it will divert from Andover’s existing schools and programs, nor will it eliminate the need to address educational space issues at Andover High.”

Anyone who is unable to attend Thursday’s state hearing for STEAM Studio or who would prefer not to speak in public can submit written comments through Jan. 3 to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, c/o Charter School Office, 75 Pleasant St., Malden 02148 or by email to charterschools@doe.mass.edu.

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