By Seth Daniel
Chelsea City Council voted in a formal resolution on Monday night to take a stand in opposition to the statewide Question 2 charter school expansion ballot initiative.
The vote was 9-0, with Councillors Roy Avellaneda and Yamir Rodriguez not voting.
Rodriguez works for a Charter School in Boston and chose not to vote, and Avellaneda said he hasn’t made up his mind on the matter.
Other councillors, including Damali Vidot who has a child at Excel Charter School, were firmly against Question 2, citing that it would have very negative effects on the budget of the Chelsea Public Schools and other schools in the state.
“I haven’t made a decision on this; I’m still taking in the information,” Avellaneda said. “Chelsea is a little special because we’ve had a partnership with a charter school – Phoenix. The are kids who never would be able to graduate from our high school. I wonder if we’re going to take that same opportunity away from another community…I’m still struggling with the issue and haven’t made up my mind.”
Vidot said her daughter went to Chelsea schools and then she faced the decision to put her in middle school here or go to a charter. She chose a charter, but she said that didn’t mean she supports the expansion question.
“This isn’t an argument about charters versus public schools,” she said. “Question 2 is saying that in districts where schools are failing, they would be allowed to open up to 12 new charters each year. That would be a complete disaster for our public schools…I can’t sit here saying I am an advocate of the public and advocate something that would take away critical services from them.”
Councillor Judith Garcia said she believes in the teachers in the Chelsea Public Schools, where she attended school, and believes voting for Question 2 would be throwing them to the wind.
“I will vote ‘no’ for Question 2,” she said. “Not because I believe parents shouldn’t have options. It’s because I am not willing to give up on the teachers in our public schools.”
Councillor Leo Robinson said it was a matter of funding, and he said Chelsea School get a bad rap – which is undeserved.
He said statistics show that if more charters open up, more kids might choose the charters over the public schools. For one student leaving, that would be $12,000, and if 45 left, they would lose $306,000. For the most part, funding follows the student, but Robinson did indicate that the public schools get a payback for six years when a child leaves the public system for a charter. That includes 100 percent of the funding in the first year, and 25 percent of the funding for the remaining five years.
“That sounds great, but they’re not funding that at the state,” he said. “They only funded 63 percent of those costs this year. It’s an issue of dollars and sense. I think the school system here is doing an outstanding job.”
Added Council President Dan Cortell, “This isn’t an anti-charter school vote, but it is a pro-public school vote.”
Todd Taylor, a member of the Planning Board and a parent of kids in a charter school, said he didn’t think the vote was appropriate, and he was disappointed in the Council.
“The charter schools we have in this state give the best opportunity for disadvantaged kids in mostly minority community to lift themselves up,” he said. “The school my kids go to, the Brooke in East Boston, is successful at that. The whole thing just shows the need for more serious conversation about real issues and unfortunately they just wanted to do something to say ‘Rah Rah.’ We needed to engage in a real dialog about this issue.”
Question 2 will be on the statewide ballot for voters to choose in November.