Resolution Calling For Temporary Halt To Charter Schools Sparks School Board Debate
A resolution calling for a temporary moratorium on expanding existing or creating new charter schools in Somerset and Middlesex counties sparked a heated debate at the Jan. 26 Board of Education meeting.
The measure was supported by all board members in attendance, save Pat Stanley, who mounted a spirited argument against it.
The resolution, which board president Ed Potosnak said was going to be considered by other boards of education in the two counties, calls on the state Department of Education to halt the approval of new charter school applications – and applications for expansion of current schools – until the DOE conducts “a full, open and thorough analysis of the potential impact that the expansion and addition of charter schools in Middlesex and Somerset counties will have on each public school district throughout the state” and the results of that analysis can be “shared and discussed with the public.”
The resolution states that charter schools are being approved without any studies of the “segregative” nature of the schools, or of their financial impact on traditional public schools.
The resolution argues that charter schools are not as racially integrated as traditional public schools.
Franklin is the home of the only two charter schools in Somerset County: Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School and Central Jersey College Prep Charter School. A third charter to be located in the township, Ailanthus, is on track to open for the 2018-19 school year.
TEECS was placed under a limited-enrollment plan last year by the DOE over concerns of the school’s lack of diversity.Like traditional public schools, charter schools are funded through property taxes. This year, the district expects to divert about $10 million to the two charter schools.
Stanley said that her objection to the resolution was that it looked to “punish” charter schools, and that its creation did not involve anyone from the charter school community.
“Will there be any discussions with charter school leadership?” she asked, so that the boards of education could :speak with the administrations of he schools themselves and seek their input to the problem. or is it gong to be just one way?”
“We were in Trenton when the state school board was looking at new charter school regulations …” Potosnak began.
“So the answer is no,” Stanley said.
“I’m getting to the answer, but you’re cutting me off and I don’t think that’s very respectful,” Potosnak told her. “When I was there, folks from the charter community were there speaking to those regulations. There were representatives from the New Jersey charter school associati0n, as well as representatives from a nunber of different advocacy organizations.”
“It was a very good conversation,” he said. “These conversations are ongoing. Certainly folks from the charter schools are involved in the complexities of this issue, as well as the challenges that are faced by them.”
“It’s a very complex issue,” Stanley said. She said she’d like to see representatives from the charter schools and district administrators “get together in a room and discuss the issue.”
Calling the resolution “highly charged” and “rhetoric,” Stanley said discussions should be held in each of the sending towns primarily served by the township’s charter schools: Franklin, North Brunswick and New Brunswick.
“The charter schools arose because of the abject upsetment of parents with the public school system over decades,” she said.
“That’s false,” Potosnak said.
“That’s not false,” Stanley shot back. “Here we have charter schools coming up and they’re being recognized by the federal department of education, and we’re punishing them. I think this resolution is too much, it’s too much.”
Stanley noted that CJCPCS last year was named a Blue Ribbon school by the US education department.
Potosnak told her that Franklin has a Blue Ribbon school as well.
Board member Ardaman Singh questioned why Central Jersey would be able to publish a full-color mailer to send to parents when the district can barely afford to print black and white fliers. Potosnak later noted that traditional public schools are not allowed by law to print such materials in color.
Singh also said the charter schools do not have the accountability of the public schools.
“I really sincerely hope we can bridge the gap and bring our students back,” she said. “There are a few students who came back this year and the previous year.”
Board vice president Nancy LaCorte noted that the district sends more than $770,000 a month to the two charter schools.
“It costs a lot to run public schools,” she said. “Money that is gong to the charter schools is money not in our schools.”
“These schools didn’t arise out of nowhere,” Stanley said, “there was a need for them. They should be able to defend themselves, since the schools are paid for by the parents’ tax dollars. I’m looking for fairness to the taxpayer, and that they should be able to send their child to the school in which they think their child is going to thrive.”
LaCorte also said that when she looks at the web sites of the charter schools and looks at their pictures, she does not see diversity reflected in the student population.
“Charter schools are supposed to be in a community that cannot fulfill the needs of the district,” she said. “I think in Franklin Township, we are definitely fulfilling the needs of the district.”
“That’s good, but the point is everybody should be represented,” Stanley said.
Potosnak said the charter school system has been established at the state level to be adversarial with the traditional school districts.
“As members of the community, we have to rise above that and look at it in the perspective of what is in the best interests of our students,” he said. “It is not in the best interest of or students to expand charter schools without understanding the impact that they have.”
Asli Cebe, a former township resident and CJCPCS’s community outreach coordinator, defended her school.
She said that she designed the flier that Singh referenced, adding that a school can send out those types of materials “if you have a good business department.”
She also questioned how the school could show great diversity when it is limited to 48 students per grade level.
Central Jersey currently has an application before the state DOE to double their grade-level enrollment.
“I just really want you to speak the truth,” she said. “You are Board of Education members, you have to speak the truth.”
“We have our information publicly available on our web site, and we have very proud parents and students,” she said “I think we should be helping each other.”
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Copyright 2017 The Franklin Reporter & Advocate