Friday, January 13, 2012

Pants on Fire

Tikun Olam lead applicant Sharon Akman responded to a reporter yesterday for the first time in months.  Walt Kane from News Channel 12 did a Kane in Your Corner segment last night as a follow up to Michael Winerip's NY Times Column which detailed the misrepresentations in the application.  I guess a guy at your door with a camera and a microphone is more intimidating than a disembodied print journalist sending emails or making calls, even if he is from the NY Times.  

While she wouldn't be interviewed on camera, she did speak to him on the phone.  When asked about the numerous misrepresentations in her application Akman stated:  

"We're not misrepresenting anybody. If they subsequently changed their mind about it, that's a different thing. But we did not misrepresent them."


And who is the "they" she is talking about?

Former Edison Mayor Jun Choi who on 9/10/11 said:

I am disappointed to learn of the details of the Tikun Olam Charter School application where my name was used in reference to building a diverse student body in the Edison area.  While I met with the founders during my time as mayor of Edison and gave them advice as to the charter school application process, I did not make a commitment to support their charter school, nor did I commit to help build a diverse student body for them.

and Assemblyman Peter Barnes who on 8/16/2011 said:  

I was recently made aware that the founders of the proposed Tikun Olam Hebrew Language Charter School have claimed in the Charter School Application Addenda dated July 2011, that I will be assisting them in the approval process.  I am uncertain as to the reasons the founders are asserting this, as I made no such assurances.

To be clear, the founders of the proposed Tikun Olam School do not have my support despite using my name as a reference on their application.

Funny thing is, there are no statements of support in the application from either of these elected officials stating they EVER supported Tikun Olam.  Guess we will just have to take Ms. Akman's word for it... 

OK, I hear you, they're politicians.  Maybe in a meeting with her in the room they said they would support her and then once the voters and districts started to cry foul they changed their minds.  But what about the Bishop?

Most Rev. Paul G. Bootkoski, Bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen, sent a letter to Acting Commissioner Chris Cerf dated 5/24/11 stating:

It has been brought to my attention that the Tikun Olam Hebrew Language Charter High School has stated that the parish of St. Mary of Mt. Virgin Church, New Brunswick, NJ has entered into a leasing agreement to operate a charter school at the facility of St. Mary of Mt. Virgin Church.  This is not so.  In order to clarify the situation, I wish to state that an agreement has not been entered into by the Tikun Olam Hebrew Laguage Charter High School and St. Mary of Mt. Virgin Church, and will not be approved by the Diocese of Metuchen.  (emphasis NOT mine, the word not is actually underlined in the Bishop's letter!!)


Ms. Akman however resubmitted St. Mary's as her facility in both her Federal application for a Charter School Program Grant on 8/24/11 (three months later), and the fourth submission of her application to the New Jersey Department of Education for a charter in 10/15/11 (5 months later.)  

When the Bishop found out he wrote another letter to Cerf on 12/14/11:

It has recently been brought to my attention again that the Tikum Olam Hebrew Language Charter High School is applying for a charter for the City of New Brunswick.  In May 2011, they claimed to have entered into a leasing agreement to operate the school at the facility of St. Mary of Mt. Virgin Church, New Brunswick, N.J.  As I stated in my May 24, 2011 letter to you, no such agreement was approved at that time nor will it be in the future with St. Mary of Mt. Virgin Church or any other Roman Catholic entity in the City of New Brunswick.

Therefore, I wish to restate that such an agreement has not and will not be accepted by the Catholic entities in New Brunswick or the Diocese of Metuchen.  

Double ouch.

(Notice how he ups the ante here.  Not only will he not agree to lease St. Mary's to Tikun Olam, he will not agree to a lease for any "Roman Catholic entity in the City of New Brunswick.") 

Now here is my favorite part.  This is where the NJDOE and the Acting Commissioner are culpable.  

The Bishop and Assemblyman Barnes sent their letters to Acting Commissioner Chris Cerf, and Jun Choi emailed his statement to me and we submitted it numerous times to the NJDOE as part of our community response materials.  

After Ms. Akman's application was denied for the third time on 9/30/11 we filed Open Public Record's Act requests for any and all reviewer comments on the application.  Of course, we were denied the reviewer's comments (more on that another day…)   We did however receive a form called the New Jersey Charter School Application Evaluation which is given to rejected applicants.  Ms. Akman received this Charter School Application Evaluation from the NJDOE on 10/13/11.  Nowhere in this document did the NJDOE tell Ms. Akman, "Hey, the Bishop says you can't have St. Mary's, don't resubmit until you have another proposed facility" or "Hey, Assemblyman Barnes and Jun Choi said they don't support your application, find some more people that do."

Not only did Ms. Akman resubmit her application on 10/15/11 with St. Mary's still listed as her site, and with continued claims of support from Jun Choi and Assemblyman Barnes, the NJDOE did not reject her application in the new and improved "first round" in the charter school application process on 12/12/11.  

The Kane in Your Corner report stated:

The federal government admits it does not routinely fact-check grant applications for charter schools. The New Jersey Department of Education insists it does, but a spokesman would not discuss Tikun Olam's application with Kane In Your Corner because it is 

Walt Kane also reported that Akman said she was recently "asked to reapply."  One can only assume she means by the NJDOE.  NJDOE spokesman Justin Barra has said repeatedly in the press that they are taking community feedback into account in their review process.  

“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.”

So even if Choi and Barnes DID INDEED change their minds as Ms. Akman claims, and she somehow didn't know that St. Mary's wasn't available to her, why didn't the NJDOE give her the heads up and let her know about the letters from the Bishop, Choi and Barnes?  Why are they encouraging her to reapply?  Especially when they are taking all public comment so seriously.  

Hard to know whose pants to throw the water on first.

No comments:

Post a Comment