, Salem, MA


June 30, 2014

Column: Bowditch School task force needs access to all options

No one likes last-minute additions to a public meeting agenda — myself included — but when an issue arises that is time-sensitive, unanticipated and critically important, elected representatives have both the obligation and the legal recourse to make such an addition.

That is exactly what occurred at last Monday’s meeting of the Salem School Committee.

On Friday, following a meeting with the school superintendent, an item was added to the committee’s agenda pertaining to Bowditch School. In particular, the School Committee discussed whether the district should submit a nonbinding letter to the state that would allow for consideration of a Horace Mann Charter School at Bowditch to be among the options on the table for the newly formed working group. This working group, which includes parents, teachers, School Committee members and district staff, has been established to focus on needed improvements at Bowditch.

The state deadline for such a letter was June 26. Failure to meet that deadline would mean that the working group would have had one fewer tool at their disposal, before they had even first met.

Horace Mann charters are schools created with the approval of the local school committee and, in many cases, the local teachers union. Horace Mann teachers remain members of the local union and are paid according to the school district scale. These schools operate with increased autonomy in exchange for greater accountability. They often have the freedom to expand their school day and year, establish their own educational culture, and have greater staffing flexibility.

The letter, which a majority of the committee approved sending, would merely allow this option to be considered. It is not binding, nor is it a final disposition of the matter. Any decision to actually submit a charter application requires a separate vote and would entail substantial deliberation and public input.

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