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Third Charter School Founder Seeks Application Withdrawal

A member of the founders’ group for the proposed Ailanthus Charter School has told the state that they want to withdraw the school’s application. 

Ailanthus had been approved, but was in the midst of a second, one-year planning stage to prepare it to receive its charter and for its proposed September 2019 opening.

Ailanthus would have been the third charter school in Somerset County, all of them located in Franklin Township.

The school was to be located on the Cortelyous Road campus of the Oak Crest Day Camp, and the camp’s owner and some employees were to be on the school’s Board of Directors.

The camp buildings were the previous home to the Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School, which has since relocated to Pierce Street.

In an April 12 email to Allie Cobb, from the state Department of Education’s Office of Charter and Renaissance Schools, Jonathan Gold, a member of the original founders’ group, wrote that he “would like to officially withdraw our application to open the charter school. I am not sure exactly what other steps I have to take. I do not believe we can get it all done in time.”

In a June 14 email to the FR&A, Gold said that “there are no plans to resubmit at this time.”

Ailanthus was approved in 2016 for a one-year planning year, and was originally slated to open in the 2018-19 school year, admitting 120 children in grades Kindergarten and 1 from Franklin and New Brunswick.

The state was looking for more documentation on the founders’ educational plans prior to granting it its charter, according to documents reviewed by the Franklin Reporter & Advocate.

In May 2017 another issue cropped up that raised a red flag over the school’s opening.

In a May 31, 2017 letter to Danielle Griffith, then the school’s “lead founder,” Katherine Czehut, the director of the DOE’s Office of Charter and Renaissance Schools, wrote that plans to locate the school at Oak Crest – which is owned by Gold, who was proposed to be on the school’s Board of Trustees – seemed to violate the state Schools Ethics Act because it “would result in a direct financial involvement between a board member and the proposed charter school.”

Additionally, Czehut wrote, the proposed board was comprised of Oak Crest staff, “which might reasonably impact the board’s objectivity regarding matters related to the financial arrangements between the proposed charter school and the board member’s facility.”

In his email to the FR&A, Gold said that he still owns the property, “however I had resigned from the board after initial approval to avoid any conflict of interest.”

In November 2017, the school’s founders received approval to delay the school’s opening for another year, to the 2019-20 school year.

The reason given was to allow Ailanthus’ founders more time to submit requested documentation.

The Ailanthus school engendered opposition from the moment it was proposed. The Board of Education unsuccessfully sued to have its approval revoked, and a citizen’s group also sprang up to oppose it.

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