‘Franklin C.A.R.E.S.’ Citizens’ Group Fighting Proposed Charter School

Franklin CARES graphic

A citizen’s group has taken to Facebook to oppose a proposed charter school in the township.

A citizen’s group has sprung up to oppose a proposed third charter school in the township.

Called “Franklin Community Advocates Revitalizing Our Education System,” or Franklin C.A.R.E.S., the group has launched a Facebook page and an online petition asking David Hespe, the state Commissioner of Education, to deny the school’s application for a charter.

The petition is also targeted to Mark Biedron, president of the state Board of Education and Juan Torres, the interim Somerset County Executive Superintendent of Schools.

In March, a group comprised of the management team of Oak Crest Day Camp and Randal Pinkett, a township resident who in 2005 won “The Apprentice” television program, submitted an application for the Ailanthus Charter School. The group’s application was one of nine earlier this month moved to the second round of consideration by state officials.

If approved, the school, which would draw students from Franklin and New Brunswick, would be able to open its doors for the 2017-18 school year. Ailanthus would be the third charter school located in Franklin.

In its application, the group wrote that its focus would be college prep and “entrepreneurship education.”

The school plans to use “project-based learning” to help students “apply problem-solving skills across the curriculum,” and “Universal Design for Learning” to teach an expected diverse student body, according to the application.

Franklin C.A.R.E.S. contends that a third charter school is not needed in the township, and questions the applicants’ assertions.

The group’s co-founders are John Felix and Michael Steinbruck, both vocal supporters of the public school system.

“Our school district … financially supports two Charters whose curricula have not provided a distinct educational experience for its students, nor has their purported academic prowess proven to be superior to that of the district traditional public schools,” Felix said in an email. “Since the addition of a third Charter will NOT fill an educational void, its approval is not only absolutely unnecessary but fiscally irresponsible, burdensome and paralyzing.”

Charter school funding comes from the district from which students are drawn. This year, Franklin paid more than $9 million to the two current schools, Thomas Edison EnergySmart and Central Jersey College Prep charter schools.

Felix said that the applicants’ concept of “entrepreneurial” education is “scientifically baseless and without any merit. We must reject the consumer-based form of education, particularly when it involves the most vulnerable student cohorts.”

“A third Charter approval will unjustly and negatively impact the public school students, particularly those which Ailanthus founders claim to be its targeted customers,” Felix wrote.

Steinbruck said in an email that he and Felix are leading the Franklin C.A.R.E.S. group “to educate the public on the proposal to add an ill-conceived and unnecessary third charter school here in Franklin Township. We hope to create an open and respectful dialogue with all members of our community so that private interests are brought into the light and are subject to the full scrutiny of the Franklin Township public.”

He said that he has grown “increasingly concerned” about “the threat charter schools pose to traditional public education,” and said that “charter schools in general sap the strength of our public school system by diverting funding away from our current improvement efforts and causing revitalization efforts and programs to be cut instead of bolstered.”

“Franklin C.A.R.E.S. hopes to ensure that parents, who are the number one stakeholder in this struggle, have their voice heard and considered in this decision,” Steinbruck said in the email. “We plan to continue to organize our opposition to another charter school and prevent the approval of this flawed application.”

The Board of Education has also gone on record opposing the school. In April the board passed a resolution asking the state to reject the application.

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