May 26, 2024

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Springfield’s Sabis Charter School Board votes to sever ties with management company

SPRINGFIELD – The Board of Trustees for the Sabis International Charter School voted essentially to end the more than 25-year relationship with its namesake management company after a meeting that often turned hostile and included educators airing multiple concerns about the company.

The 5-2 vote on Wednesday night came just three hours before the 30-day contract extension with Sabis Educational Management Company expired.

The decision officially called for the Board of Trustees to ask for a six-month extension of the contract to allow Sabis officials to assist with the transition, but Sabis lawyer Raipher Pellegrino said the company would only agree to extend the contract if there is an end goal of finalizing a new management contract.

He added that the company never ends contracts mid-year.

“I think we should put it in writing and if they reject, it is their prerogative,” said Rev. Atu White, president of the board, when proposing the request for the extension instead of just severing ties immediately.

Pellegrino and the trustees’ lawyer Paul Nicolai spared over language in the contract and other issues during the meeting leaving Pellegrino to accuse the other lawyer of cross-examing him.

“Sabis will not sign an extension unless the purpose is to negotiate a new agreement,” Nicolai said. “The issue is do they want to transit or do they want to leave and we will do the transit ourselves.”

He then called for an emergency meeting to be held on Tuesday so the board could discuss the response from Sabis for the six-month contract extension offer. White then turned to the four school academic leaders who were in attendance and told them the board would be relying on them and the entire staff to help in the transition.

“We are depending on you guys. We thank you for your candor, we trust your truthfulness and your honesty,” he said. “This will be a daunting task, a difficult year and a breakneck 60 days. I’m confident with (your) leadership we can make this school even better.”

For two years, the Board of Trustees has been discussing a break with the international company that was brought in by city leaders two decades ago to start one of the first charter schools in the state. Teachers have complained the management team is too inflexible and too focused on test-taking to suit modern educational standards all while the school’s standardized test scores have declined.

Over the past two years, there have been short-term and temporary extensions of the contract with SABIS as the board worked through the twists and turns of trying to figure out the best way to run the kindergarten through grade 12 school that has about 1,550 students.

Although the school bears the Sabis name, the Board of Trustees is the one that holds the state contract to run the charter school and also owns the building where children attend classes so it can sever ties with the management firm and take over management themselves.

“Sabis is here because of the board,” said Daryl Johnson, a board member. “Kids will still come to school and we are going to continue operations.”

Johnson said she wanted to tell teachers and other staff they still have a job after the vote.

In an interview before the meeting, Amy Wesley, executive director of operations for Sabis Educational Systems, who has been in Springfield overseeing the school in the past week or more said the company wants to continue working with the Springfield school, which has graduated so many students who have gone on to be successful.

At the school’s recent graduation Wesley said she saw $14 million in college scholarship money granted to graduates and she looked at that as 14 million opportunities SABIS granted to students in Springfield.

Trustee Paula Mera voted against the plan to sever the relationship, saying she is especially concerned that the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education would be opposed. The state can revoke charters but it typically takes years of declining test scores and other problems to do so.

She said the state has called the Board of Trustees “dysfunctional” and said members have failed to do the proper planning to take over the school even though they have known they want to make a change for years.

“It takes a year to write a plan. I think you ought to run it by DESE,” she said.

Trustee Sonja Shaw said she was horrified that Sabis officials would even consider walking out without assisting with the transition and added she is concerned the company could hold student records and other data “hostage” to make a transfer difficult.

“It is very disheartening, this started under my stint as chair and all the time they said they are in it for the students. Because they are not getting their way they are ready to up and leave,” she said. “It is clear they are not doing this for the students they are doing it for the all-mighty dollar.”

The Board of Trustees pays Sabis Education Management about $2.5 million a year for the curriculum, other materials and management services. White said that money can now be used to raise salaries and be put toward any expenses needed to make the transition.

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