Pittsfield Council Adopts 'No On 2' Resolution
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council's oddest vote tally of the year came Tuesday night with 11 potential votes being split five different ways on a resolution to oppose the ballot question to expand charter schools.
Council President Peter Marchetti was absent and unable to cast a vote. Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo recused himself from the conversation — and sat in the audience without casting a vote — because he works for Berkshire Arts & Technology Public Charter School. Councilors Donna Todd Rivers and Anthony Simonelli both abstained from voting but debated the issue. Councilors Melissa Mazzeo and Kevin Morandi opposed the resolution. And Councilors Lisa Tully, Peter White, Kathleen Amuso, Vice President John Krol, and Christopher Connell supported it.
In the end, the council's official vote passed the resolution calling for a no vote on ballot question 2.
"This is going to have a significant and direct impact on the city and our budget if passed," White said, who submitted the petition along with Krol and Amuso, urging the council to adopt it.
The concerns from those opposing the question mostly center around the funding. Opponents of the question say the state's funding mechanism for charter schools pulls millions from the traditional public district. In Pittsfield, students opting to go to a charter school shorts the district some $2.3 million while reimbursements only equate to $291,788.
Further, there are other questions with the school such around who is pushing for more charter schools, the lack of state oversight and mandates, the ability for charter schools to expel students who don't fit in while the traditional public school systems need to teach all students, the lack of public representation on boards of directors, union membership, teacher certification standards, and much more.
United Educators of Pittsfield President Brendan Sheran said the question goes much deeper than a yes or no vote on a ballot but rather takes on all aspects of public education. He urged the committee to adopt the resolution calling for a no vote and refuted the debates comparing the traditional school districts to the charter schools.
"We are comparing things that are not the same," Sheran said.
The School Committee had already adopted the resolution opposing lifting the cap, which would allow a dozen more charter schools to open. But, not just allowing more schools to open, according to opponent Sheila Irvin, but also to allow even more funds to be siphoned off to the schools by lifting the net school spending limit.
In the big picture, Frank Farkas says the move is just one step toward the erosion of the public school system. He says the push for more charter schools is an attack on public education and one looking to urge people to move away from public schools altogether - like in New Orleans where nearly all of the students attend charter schools.
"Much more is at stake than meets the eye," Farkas said. "Let's all continue our support and faith in public education."
Pittsfield now joined some 200 school committees, more than two dozen mayors, and 20 other city councils in opposing the raising of the cap. Pittsfield's School Committee adopted the resolution as well.
City Solicitor Richard Dohoney explained that the council has the legal authority to take a resolution — citing a 2011 Ethics Commission decision outlining exactly that question — but some members of the council wondered if it should.
"I do have a problem with us saying this is how we want you to vote," Councilor at Large Mazzeo said.
Mazzeo said that while she voted no on the question as an individual, the collective council taking such a stance would be overstepping its legislative grounds. Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers said the issue with the resolution isn't about the ballot question itself, but the process in which the council votes on such a stance.
She added the hypothetical of what happens if both sides of an issue on a ballot question brings forth resolutions, would the council then have to debate the ballot question? Rivers thinks taking stances on ballot questions is not something the legislative body should be doing.
Further, she said by adopting the resolution, it would be the councilor's responsibility to review and discuss all of the wording in the resolution to ensure agreement.
"It is not about the ballot question. To me, it is about the procedure of it and I'm trying to separate the two issues," Rivers said.
White, however, said the resolution is absolutely in the council's purview because the outcome will impact the city's ability to fund public schools, and plan for the future of providing public schools.
"We are not telling anyone how to vote. We are simply saying how we feel this is going to affect the city," White said.
He said passage of the question could lead to a "watering down" of the traditional public education in the future, which impacts the city's long-term plans for education.
Tully added that by telling people how they will vote, they might as well be adopting the resolution. She too believes the resolution is taking a stance on how the ballot question will impact the city of Pittsfield.
"This is our way of saying we don't want this to effect Pittsfield," Tully said.
Mazzeo said the council isn't taking stances on other ballot questions, such as the legalization of recreational marijuana, even though those will have impacts on the city. Or the local Community Preservation Act question, which is only a local question. Rivers added that she'd like to develop guidelines on which resolutions the council will weigh in on, and which ones it won't.
Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi voiced opposition to the resolution, also calling on the voters to make the final decision. He says the question isn't likely going to impact the county because there is already a charter school here and it isn't likely another one would open.
"The voters are going to speak on this... This question should not be acted on by this council," Morandi said.
Simonelli was the first to suggest abstaining from vote which led to questions on whether or not he could according to council rules — as acting president in Marchetti's absence Krol said he wouldn't compel anyone to cast a vote on the issue even thought council rules state someone would need to be excused by the council on the vote or have a personal conflict.
Simonelli said he will be voting no on the ballot question, but that doesn't mean he should tell others how to vote.
"I don't think it is our case that it is our role to tell people how to vote," Simonelli said. "I don't think this is about whether you are in favor or not. It is about the procedure of should this be before us or not."
The vote was ultimately taken to pass the resolution. But, Mazzeo feels that because it wasn't unanimous, it isn't going to help the petitioners much. She said a split vote "looks bad" and looks as though many councilors support the passage of the ballot question when the real issue was whether or not it should adopt the resolution.
"If we are not unanimous on this, this is not going to look good for your resolution," she said.
Tags: ballot measure, charter school, council resolution,
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