Saturday, December 17, 2011

Open, Honest, and Productive: NJDOE style

I just can't let Justin Barra's statement to Gannett Statehouse reporter Michael Symons regarding my meeting with Acting Commissioner Cerf go unanswered.  

Department of Education spokesman Justin Barra said acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf met in August with Cimarusti and others from Highland Park, who were opposed to the proposed Tikun Olam Hebrew Language Charter High School, which has been denied three times but has reapplied.
“In addition to evaluating the quality of the proposed program, we also take into account feedback both from districts and the general public. We take seriously all public comment that we receive in the review process,” Barra said. “We welcome an open, honest, and productive dialogue about proposed charter applications.”

While I did meet with the Acting Commissioner, Barra's characterization of the meeting is entirely disingenuous.  I met with him, Carly Bolger, soon-to-be-ex Director of the Charter School Office, and Chief of Staff and former Commissioner David Hespe in August.  Also in attendance were other concerned parents from East Brunswick, Princeton and South Brunswick who feel shut out of the process, as well as one other parent from Highland Park.  

This meeting was NOT about Tikun Olam, the charter school I am opposing.  It was in response to two women, Liz Lempert from Princeton and Lisa Rodgers-Grieco of South Brunswick, attempting to hand deliver a petition to Acting Commissioner Cerf.  Alan Guenther, the director of communications accepted the petition, not Cerf.  The petition asked the Acting Commissioner not to approve an additional planning year to the Princeton International Academy Charter School (PIACS) in Princeton.  The Acting Commissioner did not listen to the voices of those 1200 residents and granted PIACS their second planning year.  

Liz and Lisa continued to follow up and request a meeting, which was granted only after much persistence on the part of these women.  They asked representatives from Highland Park and East Brunswick to also attend as our districts have been very outspoken on this issue.  The meeting was cancelled by the Acting Commissioner when PIACS sued the affected districts stating that they were using public funds to object to their charter.      

The meeting was rescheduled only after much persistence and multiple assurances that discussion of PIACS would be off the table.  There was little to no discussion about individual charters at this meeting, instead it was about broad overarching issues related to the lack of community involvement in the charter application process.  At one point when I attempted to discuss specifics of the Tikun Olam charter application Ms. Bolger became agitated and threatened to end the meeting.

What we are asking for is an equal say in the application process.  While we fight for legislation that would give voters a say, we are demanding that the DOE have open discussions about pending charters with districts and communities.  

From January 3-13 to DOE will conduct interviews with applicants, but there are no such meetings for the effected districts or communities to discuss specific charters.  That is what we are asking for, and that is what the NJDOE is refusing to provide.  

"an open, honest, and productive dialogue about proposed charter applications"??  Really Mr. Barra?

Then why do I need all of these elected officials in suits backing me up to try to get my voice heard?  And why didn't ANYONE from the NJDOE come to the meeting despite numerous requests?  


The Acting Commissioner is approving charters against the wishes of communities and is not meeting with those communities to discuss the applications or the approvals; ONLY the applicants.  Just look at East Brunswick and Cherry Hill for examples.  For them to say they take community or district input into account would be laughable if it weren't so destructive and misleading.

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