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Howard defends deal with charter school for using Malden park

Posted by Matt Byrne  September 13, 2010 01:44 PM

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Malden Mayor Richard C. Howard rebuffed claims by a citizens' group last week that a deal with the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School to use a city park is unfairly curtailing access to the fields for public school students and children who live in the surrounding community.

Howard said in a phone interview that any accusations that the charter school is receiving preferential treatment are “spurious.”   The group, Concerned Citizens of Malden, published a flier questioning the deal and use of federal money to rehab the park.

According to the terms of the contract, which was signed on March 25, the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School will pay $380,000 toward the $1 million renovation of Roosevelt Park in exchange for 20 years of exclusive use of the fields during after-school hours and on certain weekends. The project, which is expected to be completed in the fall of 2011, features an artificial turf playing surface suitable for lacrosse, soccer, and softball.

In an open letter to Malden residents and the mayor, the group said that block grant money designated for projects in low to moderate income areas is being used to help fund the renovation, yet only a fraction of Mystic Valley students – about 19 percent, according to the group – fall within that economic bracket.

Howard said that the city spends block grant money all over the city and at multiple parks, and that students at the Salemwood School near Roosevelt Park, who the citizens group say will suffer reduced access under the agreement, currently have exclusive access to the playing fields from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

 “After that period of time, as we do with all of our parks, we permit them to groups who make good productive uses of them,” Howard said.

“I would recognize that there is a sacrifice in giving that to them on a 20-year basis, but in a public policy arena I think that’s a reasonable call on my behalf. It allows our own public dollars to be stretched,” he said.

The Globe reported in May that since its founding 12 years ago, the charter school has amassed a $10.1 million real estate portfolio that includes three houses, two school buildings, and a fire station leased to the city.

“Could we have held a series of community meetings, or went down there to tell the school that we’re putting a new field surface down? Could we have put that kind of outreach out there, yeah,” Howard said. “Hindsight being what it is, we’re just trying to get a better field.”

Howard said the financial assistance the charter school will provide vastly outweighs concerns of access. Howard said only one major scheduling conflict arose involving a youth softball league, but that those concerns were dealt with and mollified.

 “There is no hidden agenda. Everybody knows, I supported the charter school coming into the city. I remain a supporter of its mission in purpose. I think it provides a quality choice in educational alternatives,” he said.

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