Mayor James J. Fiorentini spoke out against a new charter school in Haverhill, alongside many members and supporters of the Haverhill Education Association clad in red. (Alex Guittarr photograph for WHAV News.)
Mayor James J. Fiorentini spoke at a public hearing held by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) on Monday to oppose the creation of a new charter school in Haverhill.
The meeting, held at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell Haverhill Campus, saw supporters and opponents of a second Wildflower Montessori Charter School trying to open in Haverhill speak to representatives of the DESE, including Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) Vice Chair James Morton. Fiorentini said while he is not completely opposed to charter schools, concerns with transportation costs and logistics, the creation of a divide between poor and middle-class residents and school funding led to his opposition.
“95 percent of our children attend public schools, not charter schools. Our focus as elected officials, our money and our support has to follow the overwhelming majority of our students who are in the public schools,” Fiorentini said.
Superintendent Margaret Marotta could not attend the meeting, but Chief Financial Officer Beth Kitsos, Special Education Director Pamela MacDonald and Haverhill High School Principal Glenn Burns spoke on her behalf. Each read a portion of a statement written by Marotta, voicing her support of Fiorentini’s stance and her concerns over charter schools deepening inequities within Haverhill.
Haverhill Education Association President Ted Kempinski also attended the meeting, alongside more than 100 members of the association and supporters clad in red shirts with “educators are the heart of Haverhill” written on them. Kempinski opposed the charter school not only because he says the school’s staff would be unprepared to help special education students, but also because of the additional funding needed from Haverhill Public School’s budget to fund the school.
“Any increases that we need for services and inflation, we’re not going to be able to get that. It means less staff, less technology for the students that we do have,” Kempinski said.
Despite the strong opposition to the charter school, a number of residents also came out to support the school. Haverhill resident Mike Murphy said families should have a choice in which school their children can attend. Although he also voiced his support for Haverhill Public Schools, Murphy said the schools “need not and should not have a monopoly on educational funding in Haverhill.”
Hill View Montessori Charter Public School Founder Suzanne Roger spoke highly of these charter schools and their “passionate commitment” to education. Roger asked the crowd to look deeper into the situation, saying Wildflower “is not a corporation. It’s a foundation.”
The school will not be allowed to open with being granted a charter from the BESE, who are expected to vote on granting one in February.