Testimony of Lynda Rubin to the Board of Education, May 30, 2019

Belmont Elementary Charter Renewal Application

When I clicked on tonight’s agenda for the Belmont Elementary Charter School Renewal Application, I was surprised to be linked to the 2016-17 CSO Evaluation Report at which time the SRC recommended a 5 year renewal with conditions.

In that report, Belmont Charter was in the WATCH category for Performance on State and Local frameworks. It DID NOT MEET ACADEMIC STANDARDS, including aspects of Special Education compliance and ELL as an entire category. They also were rated DID NOT MEET standards on BOARD GOVERNANCE; ATTENDANCE; FOOD, SAFETY & HEALTH and TIMELY REPORTING, especially for the Financial Audit. And still the SRC recommended a 5 year renewal with conditions. I guess Belmont board chair Michael Karp’s presence on the PICA committee gets him some leeway.

I was present that night and observed Mr. Karp blaming their flaws in part on the percentage of poverty students they had. Let that sink in. I thought charters said they would do better jobs than public schools. In addition, Mr. Karp and company refused to sign the agreement because they rejected not only the conditions, but the District’s right to monitor them, basically ignoring SRC, now Board oversight. In other words, they’ve been allowed to stay open for two years without any compliance.

So why agree now? Because they want something – big. And I’m not sure if this new “agreement” using outdated evaluation data includes any conditions or not or if they do, whether Belmont will disregard them again. Although there’s no mention of this in the Board’s agenda or the non-existent follow-up report, but at the Finance and Facilities Committee meeting last week it was reported that Mr. Karp and his Board want to create a non-profit and for the District to sell the building it now occupies to the non-profit. (I love the word non-profit. It’s its own antonym.)

This Board should not be ignoring the needs of the community to satisfy the wishes of a wealthy real estate developer. The Board needs to ask itself whether the District’s major misstep in handing over control of two neighborhood schools to a real estate developer with no education experience should now be compounded by letting him have the building. It is a catchment area school. The first step in the District’s major reorganization plan should not be selling off schools.

President Wilkerson and Dr. Hite, in your op-ed today, you stated that the original vision for charter schools was teacher-driven laboratories of innovation that could inform and advance all public schools and that charters have not lived up to that promise. Most charters have become big businesses; education is simply a product. Is this the future our students and families deserve?

What you as a Board do today and in the coming weeks how you vote on MCSOs and charter expansions will affect this School District’s future viability.
We must put a moratorium on charter creation or expansion.