Charbonneau: BVP loan shows inequity

Charbonneau: BVP loan shows inequity

PAWTUCKET – The chairman of the Pawtucket School Committee is not faulting representatives from the Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academies for pursuing available grant funds, but he is calling for a resolution to the inequity it reveals.

Asked about BVP’s acquisition of a $4 million Paycheck Protection Program loan, Chairman Jay Charbonneau said he thinks the charter school funding conversation is an important one to have.

“While initially this raises concerns from an equity and fairness standpoint, I do not fault any charter school for applying for such funds,” he said. “We are all facing uncertain budgetary challenges. We all want to provide the very best for our students. My colleagues and I take our fiduciary duty to the Pawtucket School Department with the same level of commitment I see BVP’s board engaging in.”

The position of the Pawtucket School Department has always been to provide the highest level of services for students while being mindful of their financial obligation to the taxpayers of the city, said Charbonneau.

“In my time on the committee, this has meant doing far more with less,” he said.

He said he is disheartened that the federal government would make the grants available to some schools and nonprofits, but not to others.

“Further dividing the relationship between public and charter schools is in no one’s best interest,” he said. “Neither is trying to imply that somehow charter schools are taking money away from small businesses when PPP funds are still available in Rhode Island.”

Like other districts, Pawtucket sends money to the charter school for each city student who attends.

“Our schools have the ability to transform the communities they live in. We have seen that happen time and again,” said Charbonneau. “The fact that Congress has refused to provide adequate relief to the same public schools is the real inequity in all of this. We need our federal government to step up and invest in public schools, not a one-time payout, but a long-term deliberate investment.”

In Cumberland, school officials have ripped the decision by the BVP board last week to keep the loan, with three members opposed, including Cumberland Mayor Jeffrey Mutter, Lincoln Town Administrator Joe Almond, and Lt. Gov. Dan McKee, the founder of the academies. Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien is not a board member.

Mutter and Almond cited the optics involved with keeping the money as public school districts struggle with funding, as well as the lack of need for the money. BVP representatives cited financial uncertainty and economic hardship as their reasons for obtaining the loan, saying it’s imperative as a state to bring in as many federal dollars as possible.

Cumberland Councilor Stephanie Gemski announced last week that she plans to introduce a resolution asking officials to look into how and why BVP applied for and received the $4 million loan through the Small Business Administration. The loan is forgiven if staffing levels are maintained. Gemski said it was “extremely disappointing,” as well as “outrageous and shameful,” that the school would seek the loan.