Ailanthus Charter School Approved, State Delays Potential Opening By One Year

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Township resident Randall Pinkett is part of the founding group behind the proposed Ailanthus Charter School.

What would be the third charter school in the township – and all of Somerset County – was approved Sept. 30 by the state Department of Education.

But in approving the Ailanthus Charter School application, the state DOE added a planning year, which means the school would not be eligible to open until September 2018. Three other charter schools approved by the state are eligible to open in September 2017.

That delay was called a “victory” by the president of the township Board of Education, which has been waging a battle to get the school’s application denied.

The school will still have to pass the DOE’s preparedness review, which “determines whether the approved charter school applicants have the academic, fiscal and organizational components in place to ensure high quality educational outcomes for all students,” according to the DOE web site. That review will be conducted in July of 2018.

The school was proposed by a 7-member group including the management team of Oak Crest Day Camp and a township resident who in 2005 won “The Apprentice” television program. It is slated to be located at the Oak Crest Day Camp, which was recently vacated by another of the township’s charter schools, the Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School.

Among the Ailanthus founding group is township resident Randall Pinckett, a business consultant who won season four of Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice” reality program. Other township residents  in the group are Mukesh Patel, CEO of the Juice Tank, a township-based technological business incubator; Jonathan Gold, owner and director of Oak Crest Day Camp on Cortelyous Lane, and Melissa Sherman, a pediatric nurse with Summit Medical Group.

The school’s focus, according to its application, would be college prep and entrepreneurship studies. Its founders expect to attract students from the township and New Brunswick.

Read more about the planned Ailanthus Charter School here, here and here.

Plans call for the school to enroll 60 students each in Kindergarten and 1st Grade in its first year, 60 students each in Kindergarten through 2nd Grade in its second year, 60 students each in Kindergarten through 3rd Grade in its third year and 60 students each in Kindergarten through 4th grade in its fourth year, for a total of 300 students by the fourth year, according to the application.

The school board and some residents have opposed the approval of a third charter school in the district since the application was first submitted. They argue that Franklin is already bearing its share of charter schools in the township – both of Somerset County’s charter schools are located within its borders – and that those charter schools already siphon more than $9 million from the school district’s budget.

The board recently modified its policy on athletics participation to ban charter school students – with some exceptions – from participating in middle and high school athletics programs, starting with with the 2017-18 school year.

School board president Ed Potosnak said the state mandating a “planning year” for the Ailanthus school “is a victory for our families.”

“By delaying the Ailanthus Charter School an entire year the NJ Department of Education is acknowledging the severe deficiencies in their application, as it was not well planned,” he said. “We intend to continue to oppose this third charter to protect students from what would certainly be a train wreck. It is unfortunate the DOE did not deny the application outright, but with this pro-charter administration it is not surprising they would bend over backwards to give them an extension, and taxpayer funded tutors to help with basic planning, in hopes of approving as many charters as possible before Governor Christie’s term ends.”

Potosnak said the township’s two existing charter schools – Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School and the Central Jersey College Prep Charter School – “should be really worried because if Ailanthus opens, it is likely one will be forced to close in short time.”

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