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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Charter Schools — Recommendation to Extend Probation for Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School and Amend Charter for Maximum Enrollment and Districts Served

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Jeffrey C. Riley, Commissioner
Date:
February 8, 2019

In January 2018, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) renewed the charter of Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School (PFSJCS) and placed the school on probation, imposing eleven conditions related to enrollment, governance, and academics. On January 11, 2019, I provided you with a report on the progress of PFSJCS in meeting these conditions. I am now recommending continued probation with further conditions and approval of modified amendment requests to decrease the school's maximum enrollment and to change the districts specified in its charter region.

As reported to you in my January 11 memorandum PFSJCS has met seven of the eight time-limited conditions, two conditions are ongoing, and one condition is unmet. The eleventh condition requires the school to demonstrate improved academic performance by December 2019. I recommend that the Board extend probation and impose a new set of conditions on the school's charter. The rationale for my recommendation follows on page three.

Additionally, PFSJCS has submitted several charter amendment requests for approval. Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School submitted a request to decrease its maximum enrollment from 500 to 375 students and to change the districts specified in its charter region in order to align with historical patterns of enrollment. I recommend that the Board1 vote to decrease PFSJCS's maximum enrollment to 320 instead of the requested 375. As to the school's request to change the districts specified in its charter region, I recommend that the Board vote to approve the request to remove Westfield and Northampton from its districts served. Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School also requested to add Springfield to the districts in its region, but I am not recommending that addition because PFSJCS is not eligible for proven provider status. The rationale for my recommendations on the charter amendment requests follows on pages three and four.

The school's building lease in Holyoke expires at the end of the current school year. Despite a six-year search for an appropriate school location in Holyoke, PFSJCS has not found a facility in that community. Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School conducted a search for a facility within the region in its charter and located a recently constructed and vacant facility in Chicopee that is owned by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Springfield. The school requested that I approve2 its relocation to Chicopee, a district in the region specified in the school's charter. An amendment request to change the location of the school within the school's region requires Commissioner approval. I intend to approve this request contingent on the Board's approval of the motion related to the school's probationary status and the other amendment requests requiring Board approval.

Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School
Type of Charter
(Commonwealth or Horace Mann)
CommonwealthLocationHolyoke
Regional or Non-RegionalRegionalDistricts in Region
(if applicable)
Chicopee, Holyoke, Northampton, South Hadley, West Springfield, and Westfield
Year Opened2013Year(s) Renewed2018
Maximum Enrollment500Current Enrollment275
Chartered Grade Span9–12Current Grade Span9–12
Students on Waitlist03Current Age of School6 years
Mission Statement
The Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School (PFSJCS) is a public high school preparing students for college success while inspiring them to be active and effective citizens. We achieve educational excellence and social responsibility for all our students through high expectations and a rigorous academic and social justice curriculum. Our students graduate with strong intellectual and ethical foundations necessary for future leaders of a global society.

School History

On July 26, 2017, Acting Commissioner Wulfson notified the Board of his intention to place PFSJCS on conditions due to concerns about the school's organizational viability. The Board did not request to discuss the matter, and the Acting Commissioner subsequently imposed seven conditions on the charter of PFSJCS. In January 2018, due to the school's partial progress in meeting the conditions and its efforts to restore its viability, the Acting Commissioner recommended that the Board renew the school's charter and place it on probation with eleven conditions.

Additional Evidence

In light of the evidence gathered as part of monitoring the school's performance in terms of its probation, I still have concerns regarding the school's lack of demand, financial planning, governance practices, and lack of academic success, which I articulated in my memorandum of January 11, 2019. The school, however, has demonstrated a commitment to improving its programming, has seen some stability in leadership positions, and attracts a committed school community. During my visit to the school in December, I heard students express a deep appreciation for the school's culture, safe environment, and mission-driven programming. Because of the school's commitment to improving in these areas and a proposed new location in Chicopee, I recommend the extension of probation with a new set of conditions.

Amendment Requests Requiring Board Approval

As required by the conditions imposed on its charter, on March 30, 2018, PFSJCS submitted a request to amend the school's maximum enrollment and districts served. After conversations with the Department, PFSJCS submitted a revised request on July 29, 2018. The revised request is attached.

I recommend that the Board grant the school's request to decrease its maximum enrollment from 500 students, and set the maximum at 320 students rather than 375 as the school requested. I am recommending a maximum enrollment of 320 because during its six years of operation, there has been insufficient demand for planned enrollment growth. Despite an original plan to serve 355 students in its third year of operation and growing to 500 thereafter, PFSJCS's enrollment exceeded 300 only in the 2015-2016 (SY2016) and 2016-2017 school years. The school enrolled 314 students in FY2016, 328 in FY2017, 270 in FY2018, and 275 in FY2019.

The school also requests an amendment to its charter region, removing Westfield and Northampton and adding Springfield. The school has enrolled few students who live in Westfield and Northampton. There is no indication that enrollment demand from these communities will change. Several other Commonwealth charter schools also serve Westfield and Northampton, and these schools have had greater success in attracting students from these two communities. I recommend that the Board grant the school's request to remove Westfield and Northampton from its charter region.

Despite nearly 20 percent of the school's population coming from Springfield, I do not recommend adding Springfield to the school's charter region. Springfield Public Schools performs in the lowest 10 percent of all school districts based on state test scores in 2015-2016 and 2016-2017. Therefore, up to 18 percent of the district's net school spending (NSS) may be transferred to Commonwealth charter schools. More than 9 percent of NSS is currently transferred from Springfield to Commonwealth charter schools, leaving approximately 425 seats available under the 18 percent NSS cap. Under the charter school statute, any request for enrollment from Springfield can be granted only to a proven provider, as further described in 603 CMR 1.04(4). Because of its academic performance, PFSJCS does not qualify as a proven provider. Therefore, I do not recommend that the Board grant the school's request to add Springfield to its charter region4.

Amendment Request Requiring Commissioner Approval

As noted above, PFSJCS has also requested to move from Holyoke to Chicopee, a charter amendment subject to my approval. I intend to approve the school's request with conditions and contingent upon today's vote to extend the school's probation. Commonwealth charter schools are generally permitted to locate anywhere within their region. Chicopee has been part of the school's charter region since the Board awarded its charter in 2012.

With any request to relocate within a school's region, I consider the school's reasons for the request, and the suitability of the facility and location for a public school. The school has identified the former Holyoke Catholic High School on Springfield Street in Chicopee and signed a lease to occupy the building in the 2019-2020 school year. There is no evidence that the former parochial school or its location is inappropriate as a new location for PFSJCS. All residents of the school's region will have equal access to the school and we expect a regional charter school to serve students from all of the towns included in its charter.

Chicopee Public Schools can anticipate reimbursement from the state to offset the district tuition costs of any new enrollment of Chicopee residents at the charter school. In addition, the school will provide transportation services to students within its region. The school's current enrollment for the 2018-2019 school year is 275 (as of October 1, 2018 SIMS), and approximately 18 students (6 percent) are residents of Chicopee. The relocation to Chicopee may result in increased demand from Chicopee residents. Based on Department projections, Chicopee is currently below the 9 percent net school spending cap and could accommodate additional Chicopee residents enrolling at a Commonwealth charter school.

I have also considered all comment submitted by members of the Chicopee community, including Superintendent Richard W. Rege, Jr. and Senator Eric P. Lesser, related to the school's request to relocate.

Recommendation

I recommend that the Board vote to extend the school's probation. I further recommend the continuance of some conditions and the imposition of new conditions on the school's charter.

  1. Until further notice, PFSJCS must submit to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department), at charterschools@doe.mass.edu or 75 Pleasant St., Malden, MA, 02148, board and committee meeting agendas, materials, and minutes prior to each board meeting at the same time that these items are sent to the school's board members. The documents must reflect adherence to the Open Meeting Law. Additionally, if board materials do not already include this information, the school must also submit monthly financial statements (including, but not limited to, statement of revenues and expenses, a balance sheet, bank account statements, and a cash flow statement including actual and projected revenues and expenses).
  2. By March 15, 2019, PFSJCS must submit evidence to the Department that it has provided the school community with notice of the school's renewal and that the school's charter has been placed on probation with conditions that the school must meet. The school must inform parents/guardians, teachers, staff, board members, students, and other community members of the school's current status.
  3. Until further notice, the school must submit weekly enrollment updates to the Department.
  4. The school must maintain the current escrow account to pay for any potential closing, legal, and audit expenses associated with closure, should that occur.
  5. By April 1, 2019, the school must submit to the Department for approval an updated comprehensive action plan (action plan) for improving academic performance. Such action plan must include a needs assessment aligned to the 2018 statewide accountability results for PFSJCS. The action plan must also specify the evidence-based strategies the school will use to improve performance in mathematics, English language arts, and science for all student subgroups. The action plan must set clear and specific implementation benchmarks, with a clear timetable and deadlines for completion of key tasks, sufficient to allow the school's board of trustees and the Department to monitor implementation. The school must provide evidence that it has shared its improvement plan with the school's community including, but not limited to, students, parents, and staff.
  6. By April 1, 2019, the school must develop and submit for Department approval a transportation plan to provide transportation services to all of its students in the region it serves.
  7. By May 1, 2019, the school must demonstrate the readiness of the proposed facility in Chicopee for occupancy including, but not limited to, the completion of all building and safety inspections, submission of certificates of occupancy and inspection, and completion of all tasks and modifications necessary to use the proposed facility as a public school.
  8. By June 15, 2019, the school must develop and submit for Department approval a financial management plan that explains how the school will ensure that it has the appropriate capacity to meet Criterion 10: Finance5 from the Charter School Performance Criteria.
  9. By November 1, 2019, the school must demonstrate enrollment sufficient to meet its growth plan, pre-enrollment, and FY20 budget.
  10. The school must submit its annual fiscal audit and Charter School End of Year Financial Report by the due dates required in the charter school statute or Department guidelines.
  11. By December 31, 2019, the school must demonstrate that it is an academic success by providing evidence that the school has exhibited significant and sustained academic improvement in English language arts, mathematics, and science.

I also recommend that the Board approve the school's request to amend its charter region to remove Westfield and Northampton from the districts in its charter region and decrease its maximum enrollment from 500 to 320 students, effective FY2020.

In addition to meeting the terms of probation, PFSJCS, like all charter schools, must comply with the terms of its charter. Failure of PFSJCS to meet the conditions within the timelines specified may result in immediate suspension and revocation of the school's charter.

I will review and report to the Board on PFSJCS's success or lack of success in meeting the terms of probation. Based upon this review, I will recommend that the Board take action as appropriate with respect to the school's charter including, but not limited to, removal of probation, continuation of conditions, or suspension and revocation of the school's charter.


If you have any questions regarding this recommendation or require additional information, please contact Alison Bagg, Director (781-338-3218); Cliff Chuang, Senior Associate Commissioner (781-338-3222); or me.

 

Attachments:

The following documents are public records and are available upon request.*

 
Correspondence from Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School
 
Comment from Public Officials
 
Motion for Board Action on Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School

*Due to the volume of documents, limited web server space, and the Department's commitment to achieving meaningful accessibility to this online environment for all users, but most particularly for users with disabilities (we follow specific Commonwealth Enterprise Standards designed to meet the needs of our citizens with disabilities), we are unable to post this document on our webpage. Please send an email to boe@doe.mass.edu to request the document and we will respond promptly. Thank you.

 

Note:


1 603 CMR 1.10(1): Amendments Requiring Board Approval: If a charter school plans to change the terms of its charter, the school's board of trustees shall vote on and submit to the Board a request in writing to amend its charter. Changes requiring approval by the Board before they can be implemented include:(a) Districts specified in the school's charter; (b) Maximum enrollment …

2 603 CMR 1.10(2): Amendments Requiring Commissioner Approval: If a charter school plans to change the terms of its charter, the school's board of trustees shall vote on and submit to the Commissioner a request in writing to amend its charter. Changes requiring approval by the Commissioner before they can be implemented include: (l) Location of facilities, if such change involves relocating to or adding a facility in another municipality or school district, in a district already specified in the school's charter.

3 As reported on March 15, 2018, in the Massachusetts Charter School Waitlist Initial Report for 2018-2019 (FY19).

4 All charter schools in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are, by definition, public schools and open to all students who reside in the Commonwealth, on a space available basis.

5 Criterion 10: Finance
The school maintains a sound and stable financial condition and operates in a financially sound and publicly accountable manner.
Key indicators include but are not limited to:

  1. The school maintains a sound and stable financial condition and demonstrates a history of positive net assets, adequate cash flow to sustain operations and support the academic program, as evidenced by performance on key financial indicators reported in the Massachusetts Charter School Financial Dashboard.
  2. The school develops an annual budget that can be sustained by enrollment and other sources of historically stable revenue. The budget supports student performance.
  3. The school uses an accurate accounting system and engages in appropriate budgetary planning, budget oversight, and budget revision.
  4. The school has and is maintaining appropriate internal controls, documented by a written set of fiscal policies and procedures.
  5. The school follows generally accepted accounting principles as evidenced by independent financial audits with an unqualified audit opinion and a limited number of findings that are quickly corrected.



Last Updated: February 11, 2019
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