Andover Townsman, Andover, MA


October 24, 2013

STEAM Studio faces sharp concerns

Officials fear funding loss from charter high school

Andover public school officials are painting a grim picture of what would happen if a charter high school opened its doors in town.

They say a 450-student charter school — the size of the one being actively pursed by a team led by School Committee member David Birnbach — could cost the town about $5.8 million in annual state education aid, under a worst-case scenario.

The damage would potentially come in the form of dozens of teaching positions lost at Andover High School, they said,

Officials highlighted their concerns this week at a combined meeting of the School Committee, Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee.

Birnbach, who was out of the country on a business trip and did not attend Monday’s meeting, disagreed with the projections. He is advocating for the creation of STEAM Studio, a charter school focused on the core areas of science, technology, math and the arts. It would be phased in over four years, with a maximum enrollment of 450 students in grades nine through 12.

STEAM Studio has been invited by the state to apply for a charter license. Its application is due into the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education by Friday, Oct. 25.

A loss of up to 450 students “would have a disproportionate impact” at Andover High, School Committee member Annie Gilbert said.

In fiscal year 2012, the town spent $12,805 on per-pupil expenditure, the benchmark for how much a single student’s Andover education costs per year, Gilbert said.

With the average salary of an Andover High teacher marked at $60,000, the cost of 450 students totaling $5.8 million would equate to 96 teaching positions, according to Gilbert.

Currently, the school employs around 110 to 115 teachers, according to school psychologist and Andover Education Association President Kerry Costello.

Based on other estimates, attributing to how much of the town’s budget goes to the School Department each year, the pain could be shared throughout town. But even then, School Committee Chairman Dennis Forgue said “you potentially lose 25 percent of the students at the high school and 48 percent of the faculty” in one scenario.

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