Lawmakers forcing Waterbury charter school’s future into ‘limbo’

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Students at Brass City Charter School in Waterbury

As the leaders of Brass City Charter School, the only public charter school in Waterbury, we know firsthand how special our school is to our community. But despite our successes, and even in light of recently being named a School of Distinction by the state, the future of our school and our students is in limbo, and it’s our lawmakers who are the ones keeping us there.

Our school opened in September of 2013 with students in grades Pre K through 1. And like most charter schools, we’ve contracted with the state to add one new grade per year until we reach scale in September 2020. For us, that would see BCCS operating as a full Pre K through 8 school, with a projected enrollment of 352 students exclusively from within the city of Waterbury.

This past June, our third graders took the SBAC for the first time. They scored 82.1 percent proficient or above in both math and English Language Arts, placing our students among some of the highest performing students in the state, exceeding virtually every wealthy suburban school in the state.

The demand from within the city of Waterbury is undeniable! In 2015-16, we had more students on our waitlist than we were able to serve. The same holds true for 2016-17, where we are approved to serve 216 students but have a wait list of 218.

And we don’t even consider this to be our greatest accomplishment!

At BCCS, our mission is to: “provide a rigorous academic and holistic social-emotional learning program that will eliminate the achievement gap for underserved students. BCCS enables students to soar academically, develop as people of character, and lead meaningful and productive lives both for themselves and for their community.

We live and breathe this mission every single day, and so does the entire BCCS family. From teachers to board members, students and parents, we feel the impact this mission has had on our entire community. It’s tangible, it’s powerful, and best of all… it’s successful.

But how then do we explain to this same community that the state doesn’t appear to be on board with our mission? That the Governor’s proposed budget doesn’t honor promises made to help our school to grow? That it contains no language that guarantees reliable and consistent support for our school buildings? Or, that it doesn’t seem to think BCCS or other schools of choice deserve to be a part of our state’s new funding formula?

Sadly, Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposed budget would restrict funding to our school such that we wouldn’t be able to add any grades past our current fourth grade. This is unfathomable to our families and kids who have been promised the chance to grow with us.

Additionally, we are in the process of acquiring the property we currently lease and are planning for an extensive multi-million dollar renovation to support our growth. But without the revenue from the grade growth anticipated in our charter, we will not be able to secure the financing, from private sources, necessary to complete this project.

This is not conjecture, but direct feedback from our lenders (lenders we need because charter schools are the only public schools in Connecticut who don’t receive reliable or recurring public support for their schoolhouse buildings).

But nothing about the governor’s proposed budget disheartens us more than this: In his attempt to revamp the way our state spends its dollars on public education, the Governor failed to include charter schools  – like BCCS –  in his proposed funding formula fix.

ALL public school students should be on the same level playing field. The state must ensure all public students are treated fairly and equitably.

We’re proud to have held up our end of the bargain at Brass City Charter School. But now it’s time for the state to hold up theirs. Our kids need and deserve a budget that, at a minimum, funds our charter school’s ability to grow and provides sufficient and equitable annual funding so that we can fulfill our mission. The state owes this much to our families, and most of all, to our students.

Barbara L. Ruggiero, Ph.D., is Executive Director and Andy Sternlieb is Chairman of the Board of the Brass City Charter School.

 

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