Academies proposal divides mayor, schools


Mayor Scott Avedisian says Mayoral Academies would give Warwick students greater educational alternatives.

School Superintendent Peter Horoschak, however, argues academies, which would become reality in 2013 if approved by the Board of Regents, would siphon dollars from Warwick schools and end up hurting the city.

Tomorrow in a special meeting, the school committee will consider a resolution in opposition to the academies, which in addition to Avedisian, is backed by the mayors of Providence, North Providence and Cranston.

Last week Avedisian questioned how the committee could consider opposing academies without hearing what they are about and what they hope to achieve. And yesterday members of the school administration and committee member Patrick Maloney, who sponsored the resolution, accused the mayor of trying to push the school through behind their backs. As a charter school, city and state funds that would otherwise go to Warwick schools would go to the academies on a per pupil basis.

Anthony Ferrucci, director of school business affairs, said that amounts to $12,600 per student on average, though students with special needs are allotted a higher allotment. Currently the department is paying $160,000 for students attending charter schools, an amount that could jump to more than $1.5 million on estimates that the academies would enroll 100 to 120 Warwick students by the time they are fully up and running.

“You are taking away money from our kids to give to a private organization that can skirt [state Department of Education] regulations with immunity,” Horoschak said.

The superintendent, who the mayor has criticized for not being more forthcoming with information about the department, said the mayor is doing the same thing he has been criticized for. He called the mayor’s efforts “clandestine.”

But Avedisian questioned if Horoschak is so concerned, why he hadn’t called him and asked for an explanation. He charged the school administration of deciding on their own to oppose the academy without learning what it is about.

He did not say whether he will attend the committee meeting Wednesday, but said School Committee Chair Beth Furtado was willing to have a discussion.

Furtado said she hasn’t reviewed the application adding, “in theory they’re [academies] necessary for other districts that don’t perform as well.”

Prompting the immediate interest in the academy are hearings Dec. 7 at 6 p.m. at the Robert F. Kennedy Elementary School, 195 Nelson St. in Providence and one the following night at the same time at Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School, 375 Adelaide Ave., on the application from Achievement First and the Rhode Island Mayoral Academies to open two Mayoral Academy elementary schools in Providence.

The schools would draw students from Cranston, North Providence, and Warwick as well as from Providence. The first school would open in the fall of 2013, and the second in the fall of 2014. Each would grow by adding one grade each year to a full total enrollment (both schools combined) of 920 students in kindergarten through grade 5.

The Regents denied a similar application in September. In that proposal, the schools would have been located in Cranston. Despite support by Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, parent groups and the district’s unionized employees turned out in droves to voice their opposition, at a series of public hearings held last spring and through the summer. At the time, Governor Chafee sent a letter to the Regents that supported the wishes of the host community, but urged them to revisit the issue and consider moving the Achievement First schools somewhere else.

The Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education is expected to consider whether to give the application preliminary approval in January, which would allow Achievement First to move forward with the planning process.

Avedisian said he doesn’t plan to attend either of the hearings next week, but will address the Regents when they meet.

Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee initiated the Mayoral Academies movement in 2007, creating a coalition of mayors looking to see different outcomes for the students in their municipalities.

The coalition commissioned a report from Public Impact, a national education policy and research organization that advocated a regional high-performing public charter school network.

In 2008 the General Assembly enacted the Mayoral Academies legislation allowing creation of the network. First Achievement, a private company based in Connecticut, has been contracted by the Mayoral Academies board to run the two schools if they gain Regents approval.

Both schools would be located in Providence. According to Rhode Island Department of Education spokesman Elliot Krieger, students would be selected to attend on the basis of a lottery. He said there is no set allocation of students by municipality, although Avedisian said he expects about 20 percent of the students would come from Warwick.

“My feeling is that we weren’t even consulted before being added to an application,” Maloney said. He said because the academy would draw students from throughout the city, there would not be offsetting savings, enabling the department to reduce staff or classrooms.

“He,” Maloney said the of mayor, “didn’t have respect for the committee. He didn’t let us know we were being put on the application. He’s taken money away from us time and time again. It doesn’t matter to me that the mayor is upset about this.”

Illustrative of the divide between the schools and the administration, Avedisian countered, “I guess this is not shocking from a group who wants to sue us when they have a balanced budget.” Schools are pursuing their suit that the city failed to meet the state’s “maintenance of effort” by not appropriating an additional $6.2 million in the current budget even though, with a combination of a surplus and cuts, they balanced their budget.

Ferrucci called the funding of charter schools with per-pupil allocations from municipal systems “fundamentally flawed” because the system can’t save what it loses. He said about $1,500 in consumables is saved by having a student attend another school but the $11,100 taken out in state and city funding isn’t recouped.

Further, Rosemary Healey, human resources director and school legal counsel, referring to a recent copy of Education Week, said studies show charter schools don’t do a better job of educating students.

“Why are we going to do it for no clear edge or results,” she asks.

Committee member Eugene Nadeau was unaware of the special meeting or that it would involve a resolution dealing with Mayoral Academies. He hadn’t caught up with his e-mail from the Thanksgiving holiday.

Nonetheless, Nadeau is opposed to charter schools for Warwick students, saying that Warwick should be able to do the job with the money it has. He also said “we don’t need the nonsense to sue for another $6.2 million.”

“We can handle this in the city; we don’t need any charter schools. The cities and towns should do this on their own even if it means consolidating [school systems] between municipalities,” Nadeau said.

“I’m all for better education,” Maloney said. He added, “This is being pushed through with no discussion with those responsible for education in this city for years.”

In an e-mail received later yesterday Maloney said, “People I have spoken with have told me this is a done deal and the vote of the Board of Regents is just a formality. To me this would be just another behind closed doors deal at the expense of the taxpayers.”


1 comment on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment

How will transportation work? In the past Warwick students headed for schools in Providence have had to find their own way. If this charter school idea opens up Warwick for transportation to Providence then this could be a much bigger issue than it first appears to be. Perhaps the mayor could provide an answer?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011