Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Newark And Irvington Kids Stuck In Cerf's Charter Revolving Door

Today John Mooney wrote about the revocation of 100 Legacy Academy's charter.  It can't be stressed enough that this charter was just opened in September.  This is the schools FIRST year of operation.  While I will concede that the charter was granted before Cerf became commissioner, the rest of the decisions to open this charter rest squarely on his shoulders. He could have avoided this at multiple turns.

I guarantee the spin on this will be about how how accountable this DOE is for shutting this school down, but a truly accountable DOE would never have let this happen in the first place.

If you can stomach the schmaltz, watch this video produced by the founders of the charter. And if you wonder why parents chose charters over public schools, just remember this video.  More often than not parents are sold empty promises.

Interestingly, when this charter was approved the New Jersey Charter School Association (NACSA)  tried to sell that there was an increasing demand statewide for charters, and NACSA CEO Carlos Perez and his buddies at Jaffe Communications tried to spin the approvals into a need for multiple authorizers in the state.

Perez said the continued growth of charter schools points to the need for legislation to increase the number of charter school authorizers. Currently, only the state Department of Education can authorize a charter, but proposed legislation supported by the NJCSA would allow universities to approve and oversee charter schools.
“As we grow into a mature sector, multiple authorizers are needed to meet the growing demand to open new charters,” Perez said. “We think that as demand continues, we need to keep a watchful eye on the quality of charters and improved authorizing would provide a vehicle for doing so.”
But isn't funny how the one authorizer we already have in this state, despite the seemingly never ending assistance of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), can't seem to get it's act together?

Just look at the spin the NJDOE put on the decision to give 100 Legacy and other charters an additional planning year.  
We think that all of the schools taking a planning year have the potential to offer a high-quality educational choice for students,” said Carly Bolger, Director of the Charter Schools Office. “However, we believe these schools need additional time to plan and develop, and we will not open a school that we do not believe will be among the best schools in the entire state.(emphasis mine)
And the spin put on the decision to give 100 Legacy and others the green light to open.
“We are deeply committed to ensuring that every student in New Jersey has access to a high-quality public school option that is a good fit for them, no matter whether that is a district, charter, magnet, or vocational school,” said Acting Commissioner Chris Cerf. “We are confident that the charter schools we approved today will provide great options for the children of New Jersey.” (emphasis mine)
Yet just two short months later, a look at 100 Legacy board meeting minutes reveals that this school was not built on a solid foundation, and in fact the judgement of those making the decisions seems faulty at best.  

In the letter from the state to 100 Legacy founder Michael Clark, among several other complaints, Popoff points out that there were concerns about the fiscal management of the school.

The board minutes show that the school was under enrolled by 31 students, meaning the school opened at only 90% enrollment. This flies in the face of non stop claims from charter cheerleaders that there is a never ending demand for charters in Newark.  But I digress...

The discussion of how to fill those seats confirms everything I have ever thought about charters and how they operate. Let's hear what Janus Holder, the 100 Legacy Treasurer, had to say about how those seats should be filled:

Next, Mr. Holder spoke about the components that make up the projected deficit. The largest factor contributing to the deficit is the fact that the majority of the students enrolled come from Irvington, which pays approximately $1,500 less than Newark.
Mr. Holder stated that we need to try to get more NPS students since their per pupil rate is higher, but Newark is saturated with charter schools and parents have many options. Irvington looks to be the best area to recruit students since that municipality has few charter schools so their options are limited.
Hard to pick the worst quote out of this, isn't it?  Is it the sense that Newark is already "saturated" with charters?  Is it that they'd rather pull kids from Newark because they bring in more money and seem frustrated that they can't because there is too much competition? Or is it the resignation that they'll have to try to get kids from Irvington because they have less options so they're easier to ensnare? 

But we're supposed to believe that charters don't cherry pick students.

And as if it's not bad enough to put a price tag on a kid's head depending on which district they come from, how about this one?  100 Legacy was also cited in the letter for failing to "provide required services to special education students." The board minutes also reveal that they were trying to rush to get IEPs for kids before the statewide October 15th enrollment count so more kids with disabilities would be on the books, meaning more money in the bank.

Mr. Holder talked about the funding formula – specifically how to calculate the risk factor and we talked about the number of students with IEP’s. Only 19 students had been identified at this point, but it is believed that there are many more. It would take at least 30 days for a student to get an IEP if the testing and evaluations were just now being initiated. ERESC is contracted to do our evaluations but whether or not they have sufficient staff to fast track evaluations so we could complete IEP’s timely enough for the students’ Special Ed status to be included on the October 15th count is unknown. (I can not put enough of my own emphasis on this)
NACSA and the NJDOE are responsible for this train wreck.  They sell a narrative about accountability in authorizing, and then pretend that closing schools that never should have opened in the first place is somehow noble and good.  

It is criminal that parents and students are sold a bill of goods by perhaps well intentioned but clearly ill-prepared charter founders, and the NJDOE's best solution when everything goes wrong is to close the school and move on. Chris Cerf and his buddy Greg Richmond should have to personally go to this school and speak to the kids and the parents and the teachers that put their hopes and dreams into 100 Legacy.

No Superman for you.

Keep goin' kids, the Commissioner is gonna get
this right aaannny day now, don't you worry...


  1. "the charter was granted before Cerf became commissioner"

    the charter was granted while Cerf was only ACTING commissioner, no?

  2. I don't think so, Cerf was not appointed until December 20, 2010, and the application was approved in 2010.


    I believe it was Rochelle Hendricks in her interim position.

  3. And because she was passed over for the Commissioner of Education job, Rochelle Hendricks was promoted to the august position of Commissioner of Higher Education. She is presiding over the contentious merger of Rutgers, Rowan, and UMDNJ. What is that saying about from the frying pan into the fryer? God help us all!

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. remember Cerf used the address of his "crash pad" in Burlington county to get confirmed as commissioner!