May 27, 2024

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Contract negotiations come down to the wire between Springfield’s Sabis International Charter School trustees, management

SPRINGFIELD — With only four days left on their contract, the Sabis International Charter School board of trustees and Springfield Education Management LLC have not come to an agreement to renew it.

Springfield Education Management is the local representative of the Sabis Network, which provides the curriculum for schools around the world, including the Holyoke Community Charter School.

In Springfield, negotiations have been ongoing since February 2020, but the contract, which was already extended, expires May 31. If the board and the management company do not come to an agreement, the school will lose the right to use the Sabis name and curriculum.

A meeting scheduled May 27 to discuss the situation was rescheduled for Tuesday at 6 p.m. since Monday is a national holiday. The online meeting will be open to the public.

The conflict is over who has authority over the school director. Under the current contract, the director reports to Sabis. The 12-member board of trustees is divided as to who should have that control, although the majority voted on April 15 and again on May 20 in favor of the board taking over.

Atu White, trustees chairman, said he believes it is time for the board to have autonomy over the director based on information he received from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The department granted Sabis a charter renewal for 2021-25 based on several conditions. The department said the board of trustees “has not consistently provided adequate oversight of the school’s relationship with Springfield Education Management” and requested that the board submit a proposed contract that ”ensures the autonomy and authority of the school’s board of trustees.”

White also believes that, with an approximate fee of $2.5 million a year, Springfield Education Management should be making improvements in another area the state highlighted — the academic performance of students in grades 3-8 in mathematics, English language arts and science.

“This is the first time in the history of the school that we have had back-to-back conditional renewals. While there are a lot of bright areas and great things going on at our school, we cannot ignore the second conditional renewal that is heavily reflected upon our third through eighth grades,” he said.

Board member John Delaney said that while there can always be improvements, he believes Sabis has effectively managed the school for the past 26 years.

“I have a long, deep-rooted history with the school itself. My daughter was on the waiting list for many years because she was struggling at her previous school. She got in in eighth grade and it really changed her life,” he said, adding that his son is currently a student there and thrives despite academic struggles.

Since opening in 1995, the school has maintained a nearly a 100{13aab5633489a05526ae1065595c074aeca3e93df6390063fabaebff206207ec} graduation rate, Delaney said, with most students going onto two- or four-year colleges.

If an agreement cannot be reached on the wording of the contract, another option would be for the board to purchase a licensing agreement from Sabis, which would allow it to retain the name and the curriculum while still exerting control over the director.

White said if an effective director is heading the school there is no need to go through a management company.

“If there were no SEM, the board would not handle the day-to-day operations. The school director would be responsible for that,” he said. “If you have a fully functioning, capable and competent director, they can run the day-to-day operations. They don’t need hand-holding.”

Danelle Skorka has been a teacher at Sabis for more than 21 years. She has been listening in to the recent meetings and is hopeful that the board will come to an agreement with Sabis.

“I think the staff has fought hard for many years to keep the Sabis name alive because we have serviced children of the city of Springfield who would not have made it in the public schools,” she said. “I run into students who are now in their 20s and 30s and they are proud of having graduated from Sabis. We have so many success stories.”

Skorka said she has been through many charter renewals and contract negotiations, but this one seems to be extremely negative.

“I feel like the board and Sabis really need to come to some sort of agreement because many teachers, especially younger ones, are not going to continue holding off while they resolve this,” she said. “They are afraid for what’s to come and many of them are going to jump ship. Unfortunately this conflict is ultimately going to affect the children we are here to provide for.”

On May 24, school director Maretta Thomsen sent a letter to the staff informing them of the continuing contract negotiations and alerting them to possible management and curriculum changes for the upcoming summer school and 2021-22 school year.

“It is very difficult to be in this spot right now, but we are focusing on delivering the highest possible quality education to our kids until the very last day of school and then we will take it from there,” she said.

Thomsen said everyone in the school is aware of what’s happening.

“This is no secret to anyone, and I did get a lot of calls after sending them the letter, but I did not ever say or portray to our teachers that jobs were in jeopardy,” she said. “I asked them to stay positive and keep doing what they’re doing. I am hopeful that the board and Sabis can come to an agreement that will be in the best interest of our students.”

Raipher Pellegrino, lawyer for Springfield Education Management, said he hopes a resolution can be reached.

“We are optimistic that the language proposed by SEM should resolve these issues. We are hopeful that the board will allow dialogue at Tuesday’s meeting to resolve this and move
forward with educating the students for the next five years,” he said.

Tuesday’s meeting can be accessed via Zoom or by phone at 1-646-558-8656, using meeting ID 820 0067 8045 and passcode 594571.

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