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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Gloucester Community Arts Charter School - Probation

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
Date:
September 29, 2010

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Pursuant to the Charter School Regulations at 603 CMR 1.13(4), I recommend that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) place the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School (GCACS) on probation in order to allow for the implementation of a remedial plan. My recommendation is based upon my continuing concern about the viability of this school. GCACS failed to plan adequately for construction related delays, experienced repeated delays in opening and opened over three weeks late, violated state laws regarding procurement and construction of its facilities, is without a head of school, has a significantly decreased enrollment from what it projected in its application, and will face substantial financial challenges as a result of that drop in enrollment. It is clear to me that the school's board of trustees has not managed GCACS effectively.

That said, the school is now open, and more than 60 students are enrolled and attending classes. My primary concern remains the welfare of these students and ensuring that their education is not disrupted more than it already has been. To that end, if the Board adopts my recommendation and if the conditions of probation are met, I am hopeful that GCACS will succeed as a school and offer a successful educational program to the students it serves.

Based on the success-or lack thereof-of GCACS in meeting the conditions imposed in connection with its probation and in alleviating the causes of its probation, I will recommend further action as appropriate.

Background

In February 2009, the Board voted to approve a charter for GCACS. I recommended that the Board approve GCACS's application because I believed GCACS presented strong potential for a high quality school that demonstrates that an arts focus and core academics can be thoughtfully integrated. The Board reaffirmed its grant of the charter to GCACS at two subsequent meetings on November 17, 2009 and January 26, 2010. At these meetings, the Board discussed at length the merits of GCACS application, the process for awarding a charter to GCACS, the allegations of the Inspector General, the rejection by the Legislature of a bill to revoke the charter to GCACS, and the Board's procedural options. At its meeting in November 2009, the Board adopted a motion that "having reviewed and considered all issues that have been presented about the charter granted to the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School, [the Board] conclude[s] that the issues do not provide grounds for revocation of the charter."

Following the Board's vote in February 2009 to grant the charter, GCACS had 19 months to open the school. As you know, the school opened on Thursday, September 23, 2010, over three weeks beyond its scheduled opening date and only one day before the charter would have expired.

By mid-September 2010, I had become deeply concerned that GCACS's board of trustees had failed to manage the opening of the school effectively and in compliance with state law. On September 17, 2010, I wrote to Anthony Blackman, Executive Director of the school, noting my serious concerns. On September 22, 2010, I wrote to the chair of GCACS's board of trustees reiterating my concerns and urging that the school not open. Copies of my letters are included as attachments to this memorandum.

Substantial questions exist regarding the ability of GCACS to manage the school effectively. These concerns are based both on the issues identified below and on the failure of the board to inform the Department of Elementary and Secondary (Department) of significant developments in a timely manner. My concerns include:

  • The failure of the school's board of trustees to formulate adequate contingency plans for likely construction delays and challenges;

  • The school's repeated delays in opening, resulting in its opening over three weeks late;

  • The failure of the school's board of trustees to notify the Department that the Attorney General's Office (AGO) was investigating GCACS for alleged violations of state law related to procurement and construction of its facilities;

  • The finding issued by the AGO on September 15, 2010 that GCACS violated multiple state laws pertaining to procurement and construction of its school facilities. The AGO found that GCACS violated the public construction bidding law, the designer selection law, and the modular construction law. The Inspector General's Office has also raised serious allegations related to these issues. Copies of the Attorney General's finding and the Inspector General's September 17, 2010 letter are included as attachments to this memorandum.

  • The school's "director of education" - its head of school - resigned several weeks before school opened and left for another position out of state. GCACS failed to notify the Department that this key leadership position at the school is now vacant.

  • Substantial questions arise about the financial viability of the school given the apparent drop in enrollment. The school's application for a charter projected a first year enrollment of 120 students. In March 2010, the school reported a pre-enrollment of 95 students. The Department determined that on the first day of school only 64 students were present. Because a charter school's enrollment is directly related to how much funding it will receive, enrollment that is almost 50 percent below what was projected in the school's application raises very serious concerns regarding the financial viability of GCACS.

As these issues accumulated, I have become increasingly concerned that attempting to open a charter school in the midst of all these circumstances was not in the best interests of the children. As I informed the school, given the current uncertainties, there is a very real possibility that the school may have to close during the school year, creating a serious and unnecessary disruption for students and their families. I very much wished to avoid that and, therefore, urged the school not to open.

Conditions and Probation

Given that GCACS has opened, I believe that the best course of action is to put the school on probation, pursuant to 603 CMR 1.13(4). A copy of the regulation is enclosed for your information. The school's probation will extend until the Board's meeting on December 21, 2010, with my commitment to report back to the Board at that time.

The terms of the probation address the concerns I raised in my September 2010 letters and require the school to remedy these substantial issues. Specifically, the terms of probation include the following:

  1. By November 24, 2010, GCACS must obtain approval by the Attorney General's Office (AGO) of a compliance plan addressing the school's violations of G.L. c. 149, §§ 44A-44M; G.L. c. 7, § 38A½-38O; and G.L. c. 149, § 44(E)(4), as described in the AGO's letters of September 15, 2010 and September 22, 2010. As indicated by the AGO in its letter dated September 22, 2010, such plan must address at a minimum bids on remaining construction work, a promise of and actual compliance with the public construction bidding and prevailing wage laws, a commitment to file frequent reports with the AGO regarding such compliance, a training plan for the school's administrators and board of trustees regarding public construction bidding laws and procurement of goods and services, an amendment to the school's current lease to ensure that the school's landlords are bound by the school's obligations under its compliance plan, and any other remedial measures as required by the AGO.

  2. On or before October 15, 2010, GCACS must address directly with the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) the procurement of a contract with FHO Partners LLC and the procurement of a lease with Cape Ann Medical Office Building, LLC. These issues were raised by the OIG in a September 17, 2010 letter to the Commissioner. GCACS must provide to the Charter School Office a copy of all such communications to and from the OIG within a reasonable period of time, and no later than 48 hours after such communications are sent or received.

  3. GCACS must register for and participate in the Charter School Procurement program offered by the Office of the Inspector General in November 2010.

  4. GCACS must register for and participate in the first available program offered by the Office of the Inspector General for the Massachusetts Certified Public Purchasing Official Program, specifically for Public Contracting Overview, Supplies and Services Contracting, and Design and Construction Contracting.

  5. On or before October 15, 2010, GCACS must submit to the Charter School Office an updated budget and cash flow statement for fiscal year 2011, reflecting the number of enrolled students as of October 1, 2010. GCACS must also submit its October 1 SIMS report no later than October 15, 2010. GCACS must submit additional updates as required by the Charter School Office.

  6. On or before October 8, 2010, GCACS must submit to the Charter School Office an updated school leadership plan, identifying how the duties previously assigned to the "director of education," its head of school, will be managed during the current year.

  7. On or before October 8, 2010, GCACS must submit a revised school calendar and a transportation plan to the Charter School Office for approval, such calendar and transportation plan having been adopted by the school's board of trustees. Such school calendar must include no less than 185 school days, allowing five days for possible closing due to snow days or other exigencies, and GCACS must provide at least 180 school days for its students.

  8. GCACS must establish and provide to the Charter School Office a schedule through at least December 2010 of regular meetings of its board of trustees to occur no less frequently than every other week. GCACS must provide the Charter School Office with notice, including an agenda, of all meetings of its board of trustees at the same time it gives such notice pursuant to the open meeting law. GCACS must provide minutes of all such meetings to the Charter School Office within a reasonable period of time and in any event no later than 48 hours after such minutes are prepared. In providing such minutes, GCACS should note whether the board of trustees has approved the minutes and, if not, should provide an approved copy within a reasonable period of time and in any event no later than 48 hours after such minutes are approved.

  9. By November 24, 2010, to strengthen its membership, the board of trustees of GCACS must recruit and submit to the Charter School Office for approval new members with expertise in public administration, finance, real estate, and law. GCACS must notify the Charter School Office within a reasonable period of time but in any event no later than 48 hours after a member of the board of trustees resigns or otherwise leaves the school's board of trustees.

  10. The board of trustees and school leadership of GCACS must participate in trainings regarding the state ethics law, the public records law, and the open meeting law. By November 24, 2010, GCACS must provide to the Charter School Office an outline of that training, the identity and expertise of the trainers, and the records of attendance.

  11. GCACS promptly and effectively must communicate with the Charter School Office regarding any and all significant matters within a reasonable period of time but in any event no later than 48 hours after the occurrence. GCACS must report to the Charter School Office any and all communications made or received by or on behalf of the school with any government audit, investigative, or law enforcement agency within a reasonable period of time of that communication but in any event no later than 48 hours after the communication. GCACS must copy the Charter School Office on such written communications sent by or on behalf of the school and send a copy of all such written communications received by or on behalf of the school within a reasonable period of time but in any event no later than 48 hours after the communication. GCACS must provide a report and copies to the Charter School Office of all such communications that occurred prior to its probation no later than October 8, 2010.

  12. GCACS must report all changes in staff to the Charter School Office within a reasonable period of time of knowledge of the change but in any event no later than 48 hours after knowledge of the change.

Based on the success-or lack thereof-of GCACS in meeting the conditions imposed in connection with its probation and in alleviating the causes of its probation, I will recommend further action as appropriate. The Department's Charter School Office will continue to monitor developments at the school, including through site visits. In addition to meeting the terms of its probation, GCACS, like all charter schools, must also comply with the terms of its charter. I will provide a report to the Board in December 2010 and additional information as it is available.

If you have any questions regarding GCACS or require additional information, please contact Jeff Wulfson, Associate Commissioner, at 781 338-6500, or me.



Last Updated: August 3, 2010
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