Saturday, January 21, 2012

Four Strikes and Tikun Olam's Still Not Out?

The New Jersey Department of Education, according to their timeline, was supposed to release the decisions on the latest round of charter applications on Tuesday, January 17th.
Notice that charter applicants must submit their applications and addenda not just on particular days, but by a specific time.  If they fail to meet these deadlines their applications are automatically disqualified.  

OK, let's put that aside.  The Governor's State of the State speech was understandably postponed due to the unexpected death of Assemblyman Alex DeCroce.  It makes sense that when the State of the State got delayed, the announcements did to.  

But for 3 days?  Why wait until Friday, and why drop it at 4:30 on that Friday unless you are trying to bury the story?  

Luckily a couple of committed reporters ran stories about the approvals anyway, and also touched on the denial of Tikun Olam.  Jessica Calefati somehow managed to get a comment from lead applicant Sharon Akman.  Unfortunately the quote she got was that "of course" Akman will reapply.

Bob Makin of the Home News Tribune did not reach Akman, but did speak to yours truly.  Even before I saw Calefati's article and knew Ms. Akman intends to reapply I was careful to point out that the denial was not necessarily the end of the road for Tikun Olam:

"I am thrilled that the hard work and determination of so many people in Highland Park, Edison and New Brunswick has paid off,” Cimarusti said. “It is a tremendous accomplishment that even though the applicants came to the table with a $600,000 federal grant, we were able to make the NJDOE see that this application was not worthy of approval.

"The victory is short-lived, however. This is the fourth denial, and there is no reason to think there won’t be a fifth application, especially since the NJDOE denial does not mean the end of the USDOE grant. Our next task is to meet with the USDOE to make sure they fully understand that the grant was awarded based on false information. If the grant is rescinded, which it should be based on the misrepresentations, I think we may finally see the end of the Tikun Olam application.”

That about sums it up.  I am proud of what we have accomplished, but I am realistic about the road ahead.  

We also have the truth on our side.  In an earlier post I detailed the section of the US Code that speaks to the penalties for making false statements to a federal official.  The grant application that was submitted to the United States Department of Education by Ms. Akman has already been brought to the attention of the Office of the Inspector General, so there could potentially be very real consequences for Ms. Akman at the federal level.

What I have yet to detail is that there should be penalties at the state level as well.  Each and every founder that is part of a New Jersey Charter School Application is required to sign a Founder Statement of Assurances:

Got that?

As a founder, I herby certify UNDER PENALTIES OF PERJURY that the information submitted in this application for a charter for Tikun Olam Hebrew Language Charter High School… is true to the best of my knowledge and belief…

So what does "penalties of perjury" mean, anyway?

1. N.J.S.2C:28-3 is amended to read as follows:
    2C:28-3. Unsworn Falsification to Authorities
    a. Statements "Under Penalty." A person commits a crime of the fourth degree if he makes a written false statement which he does not believe to be true, on or pursuant to a form bearing notice, authorized by law, to the effect that false statements made therein are punishable.
    b. In general. A person commits a disorderly persons offense if, with purpose to mislead a public servant in performing his function, he:
    (1) Makes any written false statement which he does not believe to be true;
    (2) Purposely creates a false impression in a written application for any pecuniary or other benefit, by omitting information necessary to prevent statements therein from being misleading;
    (3) Submits or invites reliance on any writing which he knows to be forged, altered or otherwise lacking in authenticity; or
    (4) Submits or invites reliance on any sample, specimen, map, boundary-mark, or other object which he knows to be false.
    c. Perjury provisions applicable. Subsections c. and d. of section 2C:28-1 and subsection c. of 2C:28-2 apply to the present section.

It's all well and good that Ms. Akman would like to reapply despite the intense media scrutiny her application has received, but how can the New Jersey Department of Education allow Ms. Akman to reapply when it has been plainly shown that she has repeatedly misrepresented information in her applications?  

Why have applicants sign this Statement of Assurances if the NJDOE allows them to make false statements, under penalties of perjury, time and time again?  Makes it seem like the charter application process is just a free-for-all with little to no accountability, doesn't it?

And if it's not just a free-for-all, how can there be no consequences for Ms. Akman for her past applications?   

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