, Salem, MA


June 19, 2013

A surprising candidate for Salem School Committee

In one sense, it seems like the manager of the Yankees offering to help the Red Sox run their team.

There has always been a sense of competition between the Salem Public Schools and the Salem Academy Charter School. So, the news that Rachel Hunt, head of school at Salem Academy, is running for School Committee, hoping to help oversee the public schools, is, to say the least, surprising.

It is not a match made in heaven.

Competition between the two school systems is there by design. After all, charter schools were formed in part to provide competition for the traditional public schools. The theory was that charters, freed from the constraints of teachers unions and local administration, could model new ways to educate kids — and that public schools would have to do the same if they wanted to hang onto their students and their state education dollars. (For each student they lose to a charter school, the public school gets a corresponding cut in state education aid.) So, they do compete in a real way for state money and for students and families in the same city. The fact that Hunt once worked as a teacher at Collins Middle School, then left to form a rival charter middle school, did not endear her to former colleagues.

But everyone may have gotten a little more rivalry than anticipated over the years, particularly in Salem. Relations were downright hostile for a while, and both sides bear responsibility for that. So what to make of Hunt’s campaign for School Committee?

It’s unusual, if not unprecedented in the state, but state officials do not see a conflict of interest. Charter schools are public schools, but they are funded by state education aid and not local tax dollars — so they are considered state agencies. That means, for example, that Hunt should be able to vote on a school budget without a conflict of interest.

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