Friday, January 27, 2012

Charter v. Board of Education, Again

The New Jersey charter invasion has created such a ruckus because many towns have great schools and the parents of the students that are well served in those schools are willing to go to the mat to protect them.  

That said, there will always be a percentage of parents, no matter how good the schools are, that will avail themselves of choice for whatever reason.  And when the Governor and Education Commissioner are hot for charters and all too happy to steamroll districts that stand in their way, you end up with these two groups of parents pitted against each other, and the charters and the districts as well.  

Great, now what?  

What do the parents that don't want to "avail themselves of choice" do when they see their district losing funding to support the niche wants of a select few at the expense of the majority?  What do the districts that don't want to lose funds do?

A story in the New Jersey Jewish News yesterday really brings home the pickle districts are in.  Debra Rubin reported that Hatikvah International Academy Charter School has filed an OPRA request to make it's host district, East Brunswick, disclose financial documents related to it's opposition to Hatikvah.  East Brunswick filed a suit against Hatikvah that claimed they did not have the enrollment required to open their doors.  The district lost the last round in the appellate court, but recently decided to bring the case to the New Jersey Supreme Court.  

This is reminiscent of the lawsuit Princeton International Academy Charter School lost when they unsuccessfully sued the South Brunswick, Princeton and West Windsor-Plainsboro boards of education, claiming they misused public funds to prevent the opening of the charter.  Davy James of the Patch reported that:

In her decision, Judge Beavers found that the three districts have "discretionary authority to perform all acts and do all things, consistent with the law and the rules of the state board, necessary for the lawful and proper conduct, equipment and maintenance of the public schools of the district."
"The discretionary authority includes activities at issue here, which were taken to protect the financial interest of the resident districts," Judge Beavers wrote in her decision.
Hatikvah asked the district to turn over all financial documents surrounding legal action from March 1, 2009.
“We believe that our fellow citizens should be aware of exactly how much this baseless case, which the town is actually subsidizing both sides of, is costing them,” Hatikvah board member Pam Mullin said in a statement given to NJJN. “East Brunswick’s taxpayers have a right to know how their public funds are being used, or in this case, misused.”
Mullin claims that the board has “wasted tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars” in challenging Hatikvah, the state’s first Hebrew-language charter school, on enrollment issues.
In a series of legal salvoes, the board claimed the kindergarten-third grade school did not meet the state-mandated requirements for enrollment when it opened last year.
Here is the part of the article that makes me the saddest, although I have to admit this sadness quickly turns to anger:
“Hatikvah is now in its second successful year in operation and has a waiting list of parents who desire to enroll their children in Hatikvah,” he continued. “Rather than collaborate with Hatikvah officials to advance the best educational interests of East Brunswick children, your client persists in its campaign, however meritless, to close Hatikvah.”
East Brunswick Superintendent Dr. Jo Ann Magistro wrote a letter to Acting Commissioner Cerf for our opposition to Tikun Olam.  In it she states that East Brunswick lost 1.2M to Hatikvah and she details the services that had to be cut in her district to make these funds available.  It is a striking example of the sacrifices public schools are forced to make.
In order to pay the Hatikvah bill, East Brunswick Public Schools had to cut programs affecting thousands of our public school students; including:            
  • The elementary foreign language program
  • The Summer Academy for at-risk students
  • 21 extra-curricular clubs
  • 3 sports programs
Got that?  To provide language immersion to 108 students in K-3, thousands had to lose programs and services -- most notably, the entire elementary foreign language program!  How does this make sense??  And how is the district's advocacy on behalf of ALL of the students in East Brunswick "meritless?"
Hatikvah released a statement on their website that details their reasons for the OPRA request.  The title of the statement reads:
Voters deserve to know how much in public money
is being wasted on legal fees for baseless case


Voters didn't have a say in wether they wanted public money to go to this charter in the first place, but now that it's been approved against the wishes of the district, the voters "deserve" to know how much money is being wasted.  And remember, those same voters that can vote yes or no on the school budget have no say in the charter school's budget.  But I digress...

Hatikvah was approved to take students from East Brunswick, but students from Edison, Highland Park and New Brunswick currently attend as well. If Hatikvah is so successful and there is a waiting list, why are they admitting students from other districts?  Wouldn't they be able to fill their seats with the East Brunswick kids that are supposedly clamoring to get in to this successful school?  
And if they don't have enough interest to fill all of their seats in the only district they listed on their application, how can they claim to be so successful?  

East Brunswick, like many New Jersey towns, can not afford full day Kindergarten and only offer half day.  Hatikvah offers full day Kindergarten for the select few that can get in, and I am sure many parents are looking for a free full day option and would gladly get on a waiting list to get one of those spots.  Here is the Hatikvah "brochure" from their website which touts it's full day Kindergarten.  

Did you catch the 11:1 student/teacher ratio with two teacher in every classroom to go along with that full day Kindergarten and dual language partial immersion?  
Until New Jersey funds public schools so that ALL students have the benefit of a partial immersion, full day kindergarten program with a 1:11 ratio, how can we provide these services to a few while we take services away from the rest?
East Brunswick has my gratitude for taking on this fight, and I hope the parents and residents of that district rally behind their board and administration as they take this to the Supreme Court of New Jersey.  They certainly have my support.


  1. So true that sadness turns to anger, serious anger. Unbelievable what has to be cut from so many to benefit just a few. How is that a level playing field? If you want your kids to have a specialty interest - langauge, sports, business, etc - seek it out and pay for it yourself, I do. Support a small business in your area or start one of your own that provdies those services. Don't steal from all the children in public schools so that their future gets more dim instead of brighter.

  2. Darcie,
    Hatikva is actually accepting students from as far as Dunellen. (If anyone thinks this doesn't affect their town, they are mistaken. There is nothing from stopping a family in YOUR town form sending their child to Hatikva. I can only imagine how expensive it is for Dunellen to bus this child to East Brunswick plus pay their tuition costs.)
    To highlight another problem with this scenario, the student from Dunellen who recently enrolled was able to do so only after a student left Hatikva to return to the East Brunswick Public School system. Since this transfer happened after the October deadline, Hatikva gets to keep the transferred E.B. student's tuition, plus they get to collect tuition from Dunellen from the new student.
    That's right - Dunellen must pay this students tuition (even though EB tax-payers have already subsidized this students seat) and they must pay to bus this student all the way across the county. And, in East Brunswick, the public schools must educate one more student, even though the per pupil funding stays with the charter school. This might not seem so bad for East Brunswick, except that this is not the only transfer back to the public schools.
    It would be very interesting to hear why these students are transferring back to the public schools, wouldn't it?

  3. Wow, some amazing points, thank you for commenting! Your comment perfectly illustrates one of the many things that need to happen -- charters need to be more accountable for high transfer rates.

    And you are so right, charters effect each and every town, not just those listed on an application, and not just those in the immediate area. The more charters proliferate, the more districts across the state will understand.

    The charter sector is really the wild west, with few rules and little transparency. And the whole thing is overseen by the NJDOE which favors charter schools over traditional public schools.

  4. Sorry, I went a little off topic. I was trying to speak to your point about "why are they admitting students from other districts?The answer is that it is a money maker for them. Everytime a student transfers out and they accept a student from another town, they can "double-dip."

    Also interesting about the charter school in town having full-day kindergarten while the tradition publics do not, is the high rate of attrition after kindergarten. Its clear MANY parents are simply using Hatikva as a way to obtain full-day Kindergarten (at the expense of every other student in town who lost all those programs you cited). It will be interesting to see what happens to in-town enrollment next year when East Brunswick starts full-day kindergarten for the whole town.

  5. So true, Darcie, and it is worse still....

    The waiting list at Hatikvah, as far as I know, is only for the full day kindergarten. Gee, what are we serving there? In fact the number of enrolled in third grade is tiny - but we send those buses all around town to pick them up and deliver them to the school. Talk about wasteful services!

    Look at the enrollment numbers and the teachers listed and you will see that the 11:1 ratio is probably not happening except maybe in 3rd grade. In fact right now it looks like their ratio is WORSE than that at my children's EB public school. That's right -- bigger classes, fewer teachers there. All in a small church with room dividers and a trailer.....but what did they promise in their charter?

    When they lost their permanent housing plans last year the DoE did not stop their expansion. They put in the trailer, and no one knows if they have plans to move. Our schools would not be allowed to use a trailer unless we had documented to the DoE plans for the resolution of the space issue requiring the trailer..... How about at the very least we demand the DoE deny them the expansion to another grade (4th grade) until they settle in permanent housing.

    Another fight to fight until we get the control we deserve....

    Thanks for your work.