The commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has ordered the trustees of the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden to change the way they conduct the school’s business.
Citing a “clear record of insularity and opaque decision making,” Mitchell D. Chester last month placed conditions on the school’s charter and denied Mystic Valley’s request to increase student enrollment.
The school, Chester wrote in a Feb. 8 memo to the state Board of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, “has not consistently operated with transparency or been accessible to all stakeholders.” He noted that each of the five trustees has served on the board for 12 years or more and is involved with the day-to-day management of the school, a practice that runs counter to state guidelines.
Over the years, Mystic Valley’s board of trustees may have regularly discussed matters in executive session that do not fall within the allowable purposes outlined in the state’s Open Meeting Law, according to a review that was submitted last month by Class Measures, an education consultancy based in Woburn that was hired by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The school’s charter was renewed Feb. 15 with the following conditions:
Beginning this month, Mystic Valley must submit to state education officials board meeting agendas and minutes at the same time those are sent to Mystic Valley’s trustees. The school also will be required to submit any additional information requested by state officials, including quarterly or monthly financial statements.
By May 31, Mystic Valley’s board of trustees must engage in a comprehensive self-evaluation and recruit additional members who have needed expertise; amend its bylaws to set specific, reasonable limits on trustees’ successive or total terms; and apply the limits to all current board members.
By July 31, the board of trustees must expand membership to at least seven members; and by Sept. 30, the board must engage in training, conducted by an external consultant approved in advance by state education officials, on the roles and responsibilities of a public charter school board of trustees.
Failure to meet the conditions may result in the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education placing Mystic Valley on probation, revoking its charter, or imposing additional conditions on its charter, according to Chester’s Feb. 15 letter to the school. Mystic Valley’s progress toward meeting the renewal conditions also will be considered when reviewing future expansion requests.
“Although the board does not agree that the conditions on the five-year renewal were warranted, and that they seem to have singled Mystic Valley out, these concerns are minor when compared with a denial once again to raise the school’s student cap,” Mystic Valley board chairman Neil Kinnon said in an e-mail to the Globe.
“We were very disappointed by Commissioner Chester’s refusal once again to increase the number of students who can attend Mystic Valley and further by his decision not even to bring the request before the Board of Education for a fair hearing,” Kinnon said.
The school has the right to appeal the commissioner’s denial of the request to increase enrollment, Kinnon said, and is “weighing its options.”
No similar right to appeal exists with regard to Chester’s decision to impose conditions on Mystic Valley. Since October 2011, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has delegated charter school renewals — and renewals with conditions — to the commissioner.
“Pursuant to his delegated authority, the commissioner renewed the charter of [Mystic Valley] with conditions,” said Lauren Greene, a spokeswoman for the department, via e-mail. “While no process for review or appeal exists for this decision, the commissioner has offered to meet with [Mystic Valley].”
This was the second time in as many years that Mystic Valley has unsuccessfully applied for permission to increase its enrollment from 1,500 to 1,900 students, a change that would constitute a major amendment to the school’s charter. “It is heartbreaking for us and for these students and their families that they are being denied the opportunity for the nationally recognized first-class education that Mystic Valley provides,” Kinnon said.
Mystic Valley was granted its original charter in 1998 and today is one of the largest charter schools in the state, serving 1,497 students in kindergarten through Grade 12 from Everett, Malden, Medford, Melrose, Stoneham, and Wakefield. There are 2,383 students on the school’s wait list for kindergarten through Grade 5, according to the Department of Education. Continued...