Local Government and Politics, News

Department of Education hits the brakes on Lynn charter school expansion

A rendering of the KIPP Academy Lynn Collegiate High School at the renovated J.B. Blood building on Wheeler Street. (Courtesy image)

LYNN — The Department of Education has put a hold on the proposed expansion of KIPP Academy Charter School and the plans for a second charter school in the city.

Acting Commissioner Jeff Wulfson has told KIPP officials he will not recommend their request to add 1,000 more students in Lynn to the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. In addition, he also said no to Equity Lab Charter School’s application to open a grade 5-12 school.

But the reason had nothing to do with the merits of the proposals, DOE said.

Under state law, the number of charter school seats is capped. The limit is higher in the districts where student performance on the MCAS tests were among the lowest and least improving over the previous two years. DOE predicts Lynn Public Schools will no longer be in the bottom 10 percent this spring, further limiting the number of charter school seats.

“We recently found out MCAS test scores are up, which is a good thing that Lynn Public School are no longer in the bottom 10 percent,” said Joel Abramson, a KIPP board member. “DOE’s decision has nothing to do with our application, there are simply no more seats available for now.”

Still, in his memo to the board, Wulfson said another factor that contributed to denying KIPP’s request for more seats was the increased rates of student discipline at its Lynn and Boston schools, and the fact that the school has yet to complete the expansion approved in 2015.

Sheila O’Neil, Lynn Teachers Union president, sees it as a victory.

“I’m elated,” she said. “We are extremely proud of the work our teachers do with all of our students all year long. We are thrilled by the Department of Ed’s decision to reject charter expansion in Lynn.”

City Councilor-at-Large Brian LaPierre said it’s a reason for parents, teachers and students to celebrate.

“I think the commissioner saw that there are parents, educators and residents who see the value of our traditional public schools and we’re doing innovative things,” he said.

City Council President Darren Cyr also cheered the news.

“If KIPP were allowed to expand and Equity Lab allowed to be built, that would have meant the $17 million that goes to KIPP from the Lynn School Department budget annually would double to $34 million,” he said. “We can’t afford that.”

Equity Lab founder Frank DeVito did not return calls seeking comment.

Authorized by the Education Reform Act of 1993, charter schools are independent public schools. They are controversial because when a student from a district attends a charter school in that community, the per pupil cost, in the thousands, follows the child to the charter school.

More Stories From Lynn