Thursday, January 7, 2010

Charter School Politics

Senate Minority Leader Richard R. Tisei is calling for Education Secretary Paul Reville (right) to resign in the wake of a damaging report from the Inspector General’s Office which found significant flaws in the awarding of a school charter in Gloucester and amidst revelations that key documents pertaining to the application process may have been shredded.

“Shredding documents, this sounds like sort of something out of Watergate, rather than the open and transparent administration that Governor Patrick promised us when he took office,” Tisei said during an interview with the State House News Service on Wednesday.

Is anyone really surprised that something like this happened? After all, when Governor Patrick pushed through his education reorganization plan two years ago to create an Education Secretary, Tisei warned this would compromise the independence of the Board of Education and lead to many questionable decisions, and he was right.

The “smoking gun,” if you will, was an e-mail Reville sent to Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester on February 5, 2009 urging Chester to approve at least one of three pending charter applications so the Patrick Administration would not be seen as “hostile” to charter schools. In the e-mail – which was uncovered by the Gloucester Daily Times – Reville told Chester that “Frankly, I’d rather fight for the kids in the Waltham situation, but it sounds like you can’t find a solid basis for standing behind that one. I’m not inclined to push Worcester, so that leaves Gloucester.”

That hardly seems like a glowing endorsement for the Gloucester charter school, which got the nod anyway, despite strong opposition from local residents and officials. One has to ask, why was Reville “not inclined to push Worcester”? Could it have anything to do with the fact that Worcester is Lt. Governor Tim Murray’s home town? Or that, according to the Daily Times, Reville "had two children in the Worcester public schools" at the time of his appointment in 2008?

It’s disheartening to know the charter school process has been so thoroughly tainted by politics. The Gloucester decision was based purely on political expediency, rather than the merits of the application or what was in the best interests of the students.

Given how badly the Patrick Administration has bungled this whole situation, it’s going to take a long time to restore public confidence in the charter school process. Reville’s resignation would be a good first step, but more importantly, the office should be abolished and the Board of Education restored to the independent body it once was to prevent similar political shenanigans in the future.