Andover Townsman, Andover, MA


September 19, 2013

Charter school raising questions; Birnbach vows to continue serving students

Birnbach vows to continue serving students

School Committee member David Birnbach this week said he intends to continue serving the students of Andover amid conflict of interest concerns raised over his involvement in a charter high school proposal in town.

In response to questions last week by School Committee members over where his interests lie, Birnbach said he intends to stay the course. He rejected a request to consult again with the state Ethics Commission regarding his role with the proposed STEAM Studio Charter School.

Saying he already sought the state’s guidance last month when his team’s proposed charter school was first announced, the four-term School Committee member said he sees no need for further clarification.

“I have a very clear set of guidelines that have been conveyed to me in writing by the state Ethics Commission,” he said. “The guidelines are clear, they’re concise, and I reached out to get guidance proactively.”

Birnbach added he intends to continue to “advocate for what’s best for all public school students in Andover.”

Last week, School Committee Chairman Dennis Forgue in a four-page letter to Birnbach cited “potential or perceived” conflicts of interest with his role on the school board as he lobbies for the creation of the STEAM Studio Charter School.

Other School Committee members joined Forgue last week in registering concern with Birnbach’s dual role and potentially competing interests. At a meeting that at times grew volatile, Birnbach was removed from serving on two subcommittees.

Member Barbara L’Italien, a former state representative, said she had “a big problem” with Birnbach serving on the school board’s budget subcommittee in light of the loss in funding for Andover public schools that would result if STEAM Studio gets the go-ahead from the state.

Under the funding formula, $15,000 per student of town education funds would be redirected to the charter school, which is proposed to enroll a maximum of 450 students from ninth through 12th grades.

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