Friday, March 2, 2012

Regis Academy Districts… Ummm... Un-Expanded?

The Courier Post ran an article today stating that the NJDOE has denied Regis Academy Charter School's request to expand to districts other than Cherry Hill, Lawnside, Somerdale and Voorhees.  As I detailed in my last post, in a January 26th letter Amir Khan asked Deputy Commissioner Andy Smarick for permission to expand to other districts and gave estimated enrollment projections for the original four sending districts, as well as four more.  

Susan Bastnagle, Public Information Officer for the Cherry Hill Public Schools, confirmed in the article that just this week the NJDOE sent Cherry Hill a revised enrollment projection based on the numbers Khan proposed in the January 26th letter I received via OPRA.  

Bastnagel added that the district is still unsure of how to budget, because it received two more Regis enrollment projections from the DOE this week in addition to the original one of 169. This week’s numbers are 186, based on the district’s own enrollment data for the grades that would be operational at Regis this fall, and the 50 suggested by Khan. 

She said Cherry Hill Superintendent Maureen Reusche has asked the DOE which number it plans to use to determine the district’s payments to Regis, which are to begin July 15.

“We await the DOE’s guidance,” Bastnagel said.  (emphasis mine)

Really?  This is how the NJDOE functions?  The week before district budgets are due Cherry Hill gets not one but two enrollment projections and the NJDOE can't tell them which to use?  Based on the $1.9M for the original projection of 169 students, the NJDOE is telling Cherry Hill to budget somewhere between $562,100 for 50 kids or $2.1M for 186 kids.

Well, that's helpful. 

I have also confirmed with the Superintendent of Lawnside, Dr. Ronn Johnson, that Lawnside also received a revised enrollment projection based on Amir Khan's January 26th letter.  This ups Lawnside's total from $54,858 for 4 students to $262,112 for 20 students.  In 2010-2011 Lawnside had 283 students.  If Khan manages to enroll the 20 students he projects, that's 7% of Lawnside's student population and over 3% of their total budget based on the 2011-2012 projected budget numbers available on the districts website.

This makes it all the more ridiculous when Amir Khan is quoted in the Courier Post saying things like this:

Khan said he would like to open the school to students from other districts to help make the situation more palatable for Cherry Hill and Voorhees.

“It would ease the financial burden on them,” he said.

Especially when just two short months ago, in an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer titled 

Even in Cherry Hill, schools fall short he said this:

The relatively affluent suburban school districts of Cherry Hill and Voorhees have nevertheless argued that because their students perform just fine on state tests, a charter school would be an unnecessary burden on their budgets. 

and this:

If 169 students decide to attend Regis next year, it will cost the Cherry Hill district a mere 1 percent of its budget. (emphasis mine)

Huh, doesn't sound like he is really too concerned about "easing the financial burden" on Cherry Hill schools, now does it?  In fact, it sounds like he feels entitled to that money somehow, and how dare those "affluent suburban school districts" fight back!  

And upping the ante for Lawnside sure isn't considerate of the financial burden on that small district.  

So why is Amir Khan asking the NJDOE to pull kids from other districts?  Could it have more to do with this?

The Cherry Hill district has learned, through an Open Public Records Act request, that just five of the applicants were from Cherry Hill as of Feb. 15.

FIVE!  Cherry Hill is being asked to budget perhaps as much as $2.1M for the 2012-2013 school year when in five months Regis Academy has received applications from FIVE students. 

Based on my original OPRA request I also received an email from the Office of Charter Schools to Amir Khan letting him know that the enrollment data he provided was not properly prepared and submitted.  The NJDOE requires a district by district breakdown of the enrollment, but Lead Person Christian Barnes only provided all ten districts on one spread sheet.  Here is the email:
Office of Charter Schools Email to Khan
I checked with the OPRA custodian yesterday and she said that to date they have not received a response from Regis Academy.

I guess we'll just have to take Amir Khan's word for it when he tells the Courier Post:

Khan said that as of Thursday, there were 65 applications in — just over 50 percent of them from the original four districts.

And don't miss this gem:

Our recruitment numbers are on track. In fact, we’re ahead of the game.


Need I remind Amir Khan of the recruitment timeline in his own application?  Please see pages 126 and 127:
Regis Enrollement Timeline

So between a press release on October 10th and the initial enrollment submission on February 15th, Regis Academy was supposed to conduct Information Sessions throughout the region, post admission information, make applications available, and conduct three enrollment periods with lotteries if needed.  

What happened?  How did all those months of work only turn up 37 kids, and most of all, how does this demonstrate that Regis Academy is "on track?"  Sounds more like they have crashed into the bleachers...

Notice that after February 15th Regis is supposed to move on to hiring staff, notifying districts of transportation needs and adopting and submitting their budget to the NJDOE by the end of this month.  How in the world can they do this based on the enrollment of 37 students? 

Even if Amir Khan is being truthful when he states in the Courier Post that he now has "65 applications in — just over 50 percent of them from the original four districts," that still puts him back to about 37 students!

Also notice that June 1st is the final day for late enrollments.  If Regis needs 90% enrollment from it's four host districts to get it's final charter, that means they will need to enroll another 188 kids between now and June 1st.    

Now here is the $64,000 question.  If the NJDOE denied Amir Khan's request to expand Regis' sending districts, why did the NJDOE send out revised enrollment estimates based on Amir Khan's projections in his January 26th letter?  

Cherry Hill confirmed in the Courier Post article that they received the revised bill for 50 students, and the Lawnside Superintendent confirmed to me in an email that he received the revised estimate of 20 students on Tuesday!  

Now that they have gotten caught with their hand in the cookie jar, the NJDOE is saying, "No, no, no, they can't make any amendments to their application!"  But notice how in the letter to Smarick this is EXACTLY what Amir Khan asks to do:

With the expanded definition of a contiguous District in Region of Residence being explored, I am submitting this letter of request asking you to explore the possibilities of the Regis Academy Charter School being able to amend its application to expand our District in Region of Residence. (emphasis mine)

Isn't it funny how my OPRA request didn't turn up a response to Amir Khan's letter from Deputy Commissioner Smarick or any other NJDOE employee?  So let's review what has transpired between January 26th and now and see if the NJDOE has been living up to their claim that an application can't be amended.   

At the public information session on February 16th Amir Khan told those in attendance that Regis was given permission to expand it's districts.  He even bragged that now he could take kids from Hoboken if he wanted!  

The letter from the Office of Charter Schools on February 23rd says NOTHING about limiting the districts, just that a district by district breakdown is needed.  

The districts of Cherry Hill and Lawnside confirmed that just this week they received revised bills based on the numbers in Amir Khan's letter.  

Kind of flies in the face of the NJDOE's claim that they denied Amir Khan's request and that an application can't be amended, doesn't it? 

I suppose this is just par for the course.  Acting Commissioner Cerf's NJDOE does whatever they want, whenever they want, to whatever district they want, the laws and regulations that govern charter schools be damned!  All the while coddling and cajoling unproven charter operators.

Until they get caught.  

Which is why I won't be going away any time soon...


  1. Sometimes I cannot think of the right words for all of this. Let’s hope this districts do not have to downsize too much in their budgets that are due THIS MONDAY and cut services and staff to cover this mess. If it’s out of our budget, we can’t get it back. He is only continuing to think about himself and not the children of these districts. Ease the burden .....please....does he really believe we think he is sincere?
    He is just trying to bankroll his congregation all to the detriment of THOUSANDS of schoolchildren receiving the best education possible in the tightest economic times most likely since the depression.
    He is not even using email addresses of Regis? All the correspondence is being sent through his congregation email. How can we expect our tax dollars not to pay for his congregation when he can't pay the $15/year to use an email service with email addresses attached to Regis?
    This farce is only becoming more of a mockery each day and the DOE is joining the cast and showing its true colors as well and they are not beautiful like a peacock.

  2. Watch out, Cherry Hill, Voorhees, and neighboring towns. Hatikvah Charter School in East Brunswick did not fulfill its final enrollment numbers, two years ago, as it was required to do, and the DOE granted it a final charter anyway! Shundler signed it the day before he stepped down as DOE commissioner, so that there would be no one left in office to point fingers at.

    Since then, our BOE has has had no choice but to spend a great deal of money (that could've been spent on student instruction, or returned to tax-payers in the form of tax relief) on litigation with the charter school over enrollment numbers.

    So, be vigilant. As the state DOE has been proving repeatedly, just because the school does not meet DOE standards, does not mean the DOE won't allow it to open anyway and pilfer your school budgets.

  3. What can/should people do? What's the call to action?

  4. @ Chris. I am Rita McClellan. I and a devoted group of parents from Cherry Hill and Voorhees have been actively working to oppose this charter. Here are several things that you can do right now. 1) Sign the petition asking the DoE to deny Regis' final approval, then send the link to everyone that you know and ask them to sign it ( 2) Sign the petition asking our legislators to give us local control of charter schools ( and send this to all of you friends and family and ask them to sign it and 3) join our Facebook page "Speak Up South Jersey" to keep up to date on what is going on with this issue. The more people we have fighting for our schools the better off we are.

  5. agree with rita above. you can also write to commissioner cerf. i do it every day. sometimes i even copy/paste darcie's blog. use this link

  6. We keep hearing about how Regis will use the "Microsociety" model -- well two concerns about contacting Microsociety, they state they have NO contract with Regis Academy. So is he really using it? Or has he just not paid the bill yet (seems to be an issue for Amir Kahn!).

    Also as far as I can tell Microsociety doesn't directly address content area standards for math, science, English, social studies, etc. How exactly will Regis address the Common Core for math and English Language Arts as well as the NJCCCS for the other content areas?

  7. Why didn't Regis submit the racial/ethnic breakdown for enrollees - it is clearly listed in NJ State Admin code. Why is NJDOE/Cerf continuing to cut them slack with all the red flags that just keep popping up?

  8. Please contact Americans United for Separation of Church and State as there seem to be First Amendment violations.

  9. It’s appropriate time to make some plans for the future and it is time to be happy. I have read this post and if I could I wish to suggest you few interesting things or advice. Perhaps you could write next articles referring to this article. I desire to read even more things about it!
    24hr urgent couriers