Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

August 29, 2013

Charter school idea is a `lose-lose'

The Andover Townsman

---- — Editor, Townsman:

Two weeks ago, a story appeared on a charter school proposal, to be located in Andover, and then last week, a letter. From the story, I was surprised and concerned that David Birnbach would be leading the application for it. I think that his role as a School Committee member should preclude his involvement. The inherent conflicts are so apparent, I am surprised that he has not resigned his seat. I would urge him to do so, and I hope others do as well.

In speaking of conflicts, I will note that my wife is a teaching assistant in Andover and thus a member of the Andover Educational Association. Our children are graduates of the Andover Public Schools, and the excellence and professionalism of Andover teachers make them an equal partner in the triumvirate that make our town’s schools the envy of the Merrimack Valley, alongside strong parental involvement and accomplished and innovative administrators.

Having David wear two budget hats, that of Andover Public Schools and that as a leader of a charter school initiative sets up some alarming possibilities. His STEAM proposal ... how will that work with budget decisions around increasing staff to address the per-pupil ratios at Andover High? As David notes, the high school is overcrowded by 250 students. What of expenditures for expanding the high school’s own Science, Math and Engineering initiatives, to offer an increased advanced placement curriculum; the list could go on and on.

That David has made proposals that have not been acted upon increases, not lessens, my concern. It seems that rather work within the system he is part of, he has decided to go rogue and it is not difficult to imagine where his enthusiasm will be focused.

The rest of the committee seemed caught off guard by this announcement. There is a finite amount of budget money to support public schools ... ALL SCHOOLS ... in Andover. Most years, we find that amount is less sufficient that we would like.

His blithe “win-win for everybody” comment in the original story, based on “taking 250 students out of the high school” is especially puerile and offensive. Taking $3.2 million out of the budget that serves all students in town and channeling it to an alternative school will not amount to a win-win. It will amount to a lose-lose, as parents of Andover Public Schools students will see a decline in district performance and tax-paying homeowners will notice a decline in the resale value of their properties as a direct result. Nobody picks the community they choose to live in based on a charter school location.

If bringing a charter school to Andover is your new passion, David, please pursue it. Just not as a board member whose sole focus should be to increase the excellence of the schools we already have.

Gerry Gustus

5 Fern Road