It was written by charter founder/leader Debbie Pontoriero. I first came across Pontoriero when I helped the good people of Florence Township successfully defeat the expansion of the Riverbank Charter School of Excellence. Riverbank had taken root in Florence before the backlash against boutique suburban charters became vogue.
Pontoriero, who identified herself as Riverbank's School Business Adminstrator (SBA), presented the expansion of Riverbank Charter School of Excellence to the press as a done deal.
Debbie Pontoriero, Riverbank’s business administrator, said the school’s founders are confident that the department will renew the charter and approve the proposed expansion given the school’s high performance record on standardized tests as well as other evaluations.My, she's awfully cocky, isn't she? What Potoriero didn't factor in was that engaged parents in Florence Township were not about to lose more programs and services for their students to support the expansion of a charter that segregates and divides their community.
She also didn't bet on Florence's State Senator, Diane Allen (who just happens to sit on the Senate Education Committee) sending a letter to Education Commissioner Chris Cerf stating that Riverbank's expansion was not in the best interest of the entire community.
And she sure didn't bet on Cerf owning up to the fact that in a small town like Florence, a charter is likely not needed and can be a real burden. These are Cerf's own words when he testified before the Senate Education Committee after Senator Allen questioned him about the role of charters in a district like Florence.
The first thing I look for is whether the proposed charter would meet an unmet need. You can define an unmet need in lots of different ways. You can say we don't have a school that focuses on the Italian Renaissance so I'm going to build a charter that focuses on the Italian Renaissance. I'm being overly facetious, but for me unmet need means that there are children who are being underserved in terms of their basic educational rights. Right? So, if there is, and by the way you can find this in large communities and small communities, but if there are children that, I am much more sympathetic to a charter application if there are kids that are not being educated, and the charter applicant makes a credible case that it has a solution that will fill that need.
I also look at the economic impact on a district and one of the, um, I'm hardly an economist, but I can tell you that the smaller the district's budget is, the greater the impact a charter school has and that's because certain costs are fixed, and certain costs are variable. You have to have a Superintendent's salary whether you have one school or 50 schools and therefore when you have a charter school in a smaller community it has a larger impact. (emphasis mine)Faced with pressure from the community, no support from their legislators, and the not so encouraging comments from the Commissioner, Riverbank withdrew their expansion request, and alas, Riverbanks' burgeoning excellence was stopped in its tracks.
But let's get back to Pontoriero's guest opinion column. Here's the meat of it.
Ms. Ravitch erroneously criticized charter schools for using public funding that could have been used for public schools. Charter schools are public schools, and most charter schools in New Jersey are educating students for less than 90 percent of the per-pupil allocation.
Every single one of Pontoriero's talking points is unmitigated claptrap.She stated that charter schools do not accept children with disabilities or who speak English as a second language in order to ensure better test results. The fact is that charter schools are open to all students on a space-available basis with preference given only to children who reside in the district where the charter school is located. According to law, charter schools cannot discriminate in its admission policies or practices —- the same as public schools.
Most charters are getting less than 90% per pupil? Show me that data, and show me that charters are educating the same population of students and actually deserve equal funding.
Charter schools are open to all students? Then, Ms. Pontoriero, how do you explain the fact that Riverbank charter has NO Limited English Proficient (LEP) students, and significantly less special needs and low income students than the local elementary school?
And whatever you do, don't miss this nugget.
Perhaps Ms. Ravitch should rouse the traditional public schools that are in danger to reach out to their local charter schools to learn what best practices they are implementing to achieve academic success.I sure hope Ravitch can "rouse the traditional public schools" to start excluding those pesky kids with "needs" so they can start implementing those charter "best practices" tout suite!
Pontoriero also cited CREDO's New Jersey charter school study as proof positive that charters in New Jersey are outperforming traditional public schools. I can't imagine how many times I will have to refute the recitation of the CREDO study as "proof" of anything, but here it goes...
Read Bruce Baker here and Julia Sass-Rubin here on the shortcomings of the study, and read me here for everything you need to know about CREDO's serious credibility problem. CREDO's Louisiana study has also been discredited by a blogger who previously worked inside the Louisiana DOE and actually handed the data over to CREDO for the study.
The CREDO study was bogus. Plain and simple.
But why would Pontoriero go out of her way to write and publish a weakly argued opinion column about Ravitch, one of the most renowned education historians of our time, right on the heels of her New York Times best selling book?
Because the charter movement has allowed Pontoriero to cash in on the poorly regulated "public" schools we call charters. That makes Ravitch public (charter) enemy number one to the likes of Pontoriero.
Allow me to explain. Note that in the byline Pontoriero identifies herself as "founder and head of school of the Pace Charter School of Hamilton." Pace? I thought she was the SBA at Riverbank!
Yeah, well, she's pulling down salaries at both.
Yup, she's pulling down $156,750 working at TWO different NJ charter schools, and these were her salaries in 2011. Who knows what's she's making now.
The only Annual Report I can find for Pace is from 2009 (nice accountability NJDOE!) and at
that time Pontoriero was also listed as their SBA. I can not find a current reference for an SBA on the Pace website. Is it possible that she controls the finances for both charters?
Pace was founded by Pontoriero and approved by the NJDOE in 1999. Riverbank was founded in 2008 by Beth Kelley, then a teacher at Pace Charter School of Hamilton. Riverbank is little more than a satellite campus of Pace, and it appears that Pontoriero may control the finances at both charters.
Just for the heck of it, let's see how Pace's demographics compare to a local Hamilton Elementary School.
Yeah, that's what I thought.
But the truly shocking part isn't the story of yet another charter leader skimming kids and raking in mad cash. This is from Pontoriero's LinkedIn account:
Over and over, auditors found inflated rents -- some had doubled, tripled, even quadrupled in a single year. The owners of Little Tots in Asbury Park took home an extra $136,500 by nearly doubling the rent, auditors said. They never told the state they were both landlord and tenant.
Rental costs at Little Kids College in Trenton shot up 31 percent. Owner Deborah Pontoriero told auditors that her landlord -- who was also her father -- had refinanced his mortgage and passed the costs on to the Abbott program. (emphasis mine)Little Kid's College and PACE share an address at 528 South Olden Ave.
While Chris Cerf is investigating the finances of private special needs schools that service public education students, may I suggest he add an investigation of Pontoriero's charter/Abbott empire to his to-do list?
Maybe it's all above board, but it sure looks fishy, and she sure it defensive.
Sources (completely stolen from Bruce Baker!)