Amherst Select Board backs charter school article for Town Meeting

  • Amherst Town Hall

Staff Writer
Thursday, October 19, 2017

AMHERST — An article coming before fall Town Meeting that calls on the Legislature to fully compensate communities whose schools lose students to charter schools has the Select Board’s backing.

The board Monday voted 4-0, with Chairman Douglas Slaughter abstaining due to his employment with the Amherst-Pelham Regional Schools, to support the article. The measure aims to protect public schools by recommending a change in the reimbursement formula and to not allow existing charter schools to add slots until the Legislature acts.

Town Meeting will weigh in on the article when sessions begin Nov. 6.

The article brought forward by the Amherst School Committee asks the Legislature and the state’s education commissioner to work toward fixes to the formula.

Committee Chairwoman Phoebe Hazzard said the formula, not being fully funded, is fundamentally flawed.

Under the formula, the state is supposed to reimburse school districts for 100 percent of net increased tuition costs in the first year that a district student goes to a charter school and 25 percent for the next five years.

Hazzard said this has meant a loss of $3.29 million between the elementary and regional schools in the current budget.

Select Board member Andrew Steinberg said the article is an important issue for the community to state its position on in clear terms, observing that allowing charter schools to add more slots without additional aid for traditional public schools could destroy public education.

“Thank you for doing this,” Steinberg said.

Select Board member Alisa Brewer said the funding issue has been one Amherst has dealt with for a long time.

The article comes as Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion School seeks to add nearly 500 students, from 584 to 1,036, after the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education rejected a smaller increase this year.

Earlier this month, the Northampton City Council approved a resolution opposing the expansion of the charter school, also out of concern about the way its funding is provided.

School Committee member Peter Demling said anyone can provide feedback on the proposal until Dec. 15.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Edcuation will decide the fate of the proposed expansion in January, after the commissioner has offered a recommendation.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com