School Committee Jared Nicholson Opposes the Plan for Central Square Charter School

School Committee Jared Nicholson spoke against the  proposed Central Square charter school during a hearing Tuesday. Following is the text of Nicholson’s remarks:

We will hear a lot of good reasons why the Board should reject the application. I am going to focus on flaws in the application itself, and urge the Board to reject Central Square’s application for a charter because:

  • Central Square was required to put forward a proven model, and they did not do so, and
  • Central Square is missing important accountability measures that are required by the state.

First, Central Square failed to put forward a proven model.

It was required to do so because the size of its proposed school would put Lynn over the 9% charter threshold. State law requires that once a district starts to lose such a large percentage of its budget to charters, any new charter in that district can only be opened by a proven provider. To be considered a proven provider, an applicant needs to have already started schools that have had success.

This applicant team has been given proven provider status because of the involvement of Big Picture Learning and a separate filing that Big Picture submitted. The problem is that what Central Square proposed was not faithful to Big Picture’s model.

First, the relationship between Central Square and Big Picture is not guaranteed, which makes Central Square’s deviations from the Big Picture model all the more concerning.

There is nobody on the Board or in the Executive Leadership at Central Square from Big Picture. The only Big Picture representative involved, Dr. Frishman, is proposed to be on the advisory board. In the application, he said that “[i]t is likely that if the charter is approved, the school would contract with Big Picture Learning to provide a variety of support services.” Central Square may pay Big Picture Learning for their services. But that has not been decided yet.

Second, Central Square directly contradicted a core tenet of the Big Picture philosophy by proposing a school much, much larger than what Big Picture says should be the maximum size of its schools.

According to Big Picture’s website, “The organizing principle of Big Picture schools is to educate one student at a time. In order to carry out our design, we believe that each school should not exceed 150 students.”

The comparison schools that Big Picture put forward to the state as evidence of its model’s proven success have 118 students, 120 students, and 136 students – all well under the 150 maximum for a Big Picture school.

But Central Square proposed to be 640 students. Even just looking at the high school grades, that would total 320 students – more than double what Big Picture says should be its maximum size. These doubts about Central Square’s ability to deliver a proven model, which it is required to do, make approval too risky for our city’s students.

But Central Square’s application didn’t just contradict and ignore its proposed partner, it also contradicted and ignored the Commonwealth’s requirements for charter schools.

As part of its application, a potential charter submits proposed bylaws, what would be its governing document. What Central Square submitted failed to include important measures required by the state that are designed to help hold private operators accountable and prevent individuals from taking advantage of the system.

First, Central Square failed to include requirements that its board comply with the Commonwealth’s state ethics requirements.

Second, Central Square did not commit to submitting timely annual independent audits. The state specifically asks that such an audit be written into the charter school’s bylaws.

Third, Central Square ignored a requirement for a written complaint procedure. Elsewhere in the application, Central Square claimed its bylaws have such a procedure, which is required by the Commonwealth. But the bylaws submitted contain no such procedure.

Now, these flaws could be fixed by future amendments to the bylaws, but that’s not the point. This is the third time that Central Square has applied. The first time, the state refused to even review the application because of its inadequacies. The second time, the state specifically pointed out to Central Square that its proposed governance did not meet the standards required by the state.

The fact that on its third opportunity, Central Square still did not meet the standards that the state requires of organizations to which it would give a charter shows that Central Square is still not fit for this responsibility. Central Square doesn’t even have a charter yet – if they are unable or unwilling to follow the state’s requirements at this stage, what more might they ignore or dodge with a charter already in hand?

Many of the students who would make up Central Square would be coming from the Lynn Public Schools. As a soon to be member of the Lynn School Committee looking out for those students, I read this application closely – it’s their future that hangs in the balance.

The requirements that Central Square ignored were designed by the state to protect against the many risks that come with opening a new charter. If those risks become real problems, it will be our kids in Lynn who suffer the consequences.

In addition to the many other reasons you’ll hear, the flaws I shared show that Central Square Charter is not ready to meet the state’s standards and that their application should be denied. Thank you.

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