Providence Mayor Angel Taveras's application to create two Achievement First Mayoral Academies (AFMA) in Providence, accepted as complete by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) on October 31, 2011, represents a clear attempt to undermine the letter and intent of Rhode Island's charter school law by Taveras, RIDE, Achievement First (AF), the proposed management contractor, and Rhode Island Mayoral Academies (RIMA), the proposed charter holder.
Mayor Taveras's application does not satisfy the basic legal definition of a mayoral academy, and as such should never have been accepted as complete by RIDE.
The definition of a Mayoral Academy is laid out in R.I.G.L. 16-77.4-1(a):
A 'mayoral academy' means a charter school created by a mayor of any city or town within the State of Rhode Island, acting by or through a nonprofit organization established for said purpose... which enrolls students from more than one city or town including both urban and non-urban communities and which offers an equal number of enrollments to students on a lottery basis...
The AFMA application states in Part XVI:
It is important to note that this application does not have a set number of seats per community... It seems reasonable to assume that 50% of the students will come from Providence, 20% will come from Warwick, 20% will come from Cranston, and 10% will come from North Providence.
This is in direct contradiction to the legal definition of a Mayoral Academy. It is not plausibly a simple oversight by RIMA, AF or RIDE because the same problem existed in last spring's application for an AFMA in Cranston, which targeted 75% of its students from Providence.
When this issue was pointed out among a larger set of potential legal problems in the application, the enrollment target was the only issue that RIDE thought important enough to allow an extraordinary revision to that application after it had been accepted as complete and moved to public comment.
On May 2, 2011, AF's Director of Marketing and Communications, Mel Ochoa, emailed the following to me regarding the Cranston Application:
I have an update on numbers in recent posts related to the 75% of students coming from Providence and 25% from Cranston. I believe you got these numbers from the budget document submitted in the exhibits -- I don't think we specified a ratio in the narrative of the application. Each mayoral academy must offer seats on an equal basis (equal enrollment) from the cities and towns that it serves, as stated in the mayoral academy statute. I don’t say this to be argumentative … more to share the context. For example, Blackstone Valley Prep offers 25% enrollment from each community.
We are going to resubmit the appropriate language to make sure it is reflected in the budget -- 50% from Providence and 50% from Cranston.
RIDE has accepted Mayor Taveras's application four full months ahead of the deadline for schools aiming to open in the fall of 2013 (as this one does). There is ample time for this proposal to be withdrawn, brought into compliance with Rhode Island law, and resubmitted.