Education

Christie to Somerset Residents Opposing Charter School Expansion, 'Write Me'

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Gov. Chris Christie Credits: Malik Lyons
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SOMERSET, NJ - Gov. Chris Christie visited the Center for Great Expectations last month and held a mini press conference for those invited to cover the event. 

TAPinto Franklin Township asked Christie how he felt about the current expansion of charter schools in Franklin Township, and he gave his opinion. 

"People that are concerned about it in this town tell them to write me, because I don't understand their concern," Christie said. 

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In Franklin, there are currently two charter schools operating, with a third due to open soon. 

There are five charter schools in Middlesex and Somerset counties, including two that operate in Franklin Township. Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School (TEECS), and Central Jersey College Prep (CJCP), both schools serve students from Franklin, North Brunswick, South Brunswick and New Brunswick.

Ailanthus Charter School is scheduled to open September 2018 and serve students from Franklin and New Brunswick.

Related articles:

New Brunswick BOE Joins Call to Halt Charter School Growth

UPDATE: Central Jersey College Prep Charter School Holds 2017-2018 Lottery

In January, the Board of Education introduced and passed a resolution calling for the New Jersey Department of Education to conduct a full analysis of the potential impact of the expansion of existing and addition of new charter schools in Middlesex and Somerset County and their impact on public schools in their respective districts.

"It's disappointing to see the Christie administration expanding schools that don't serve the demographics in our community, they are simply wrong for rewarding poor performance with expansion and it will lead to further segregation based on ethnicity, ability and language proficiency," Board of Education President Ed Potosnak said. "Christie's DOE is in a rush to get as many of these schools approved before his term ends, so out came the rubber approval stamp."

In February, township residents gathered at Franklin High School for a forum called "Protect Public Schools, Oppose Charter Growth," to discuss the impact of charter schools. 

The forum was moderated by co-founders of Franklin Community Advocates Revitalizing our Education System (C.A.R.E.S.) John Felix, and Michael Steinbruck. 

Superintendent of Franklin Township Public Schools Dr. John Ravally, Kim Gordon, McAfee Road School Teacher Kim Gordon, Ph.D. candidate Mark Weber, BOE President of Highland Park Darcie Cimarusti, and former parent of Thomas Edison EnergySmart charter school Nishita Desai made up the panel.   

"Governor Christie over the last 7 years, has done two things, he has given us all less money, and more charter schools," Cimarusti said during the panel. "Governor Christie took a can of gasoline and then lit a match and tossed it, and is sitting back watching all this happen. So the folks who have their kids in charter schools have to sit back for a minute and look at it from this perspective. Yes, we understand that this idea of school choice is out there and all parents should be able to choose where they send their children to school, but there are consequences." 

In March, CJCP was approved for expansion. CJCP currently enrolls 480 students in grades K-2, 6-12, and with the expansion will increase their enrollment to 1,320 serving students from K-12. The school serves students from Franklin, North Brunswick, and New Brunswick. Student tuition from other districts will be paid by the sending district. 

"This enrollment expansion will allow CJCP to meet the continual increase in demand for enrollment from parents in the communities we serve. It will also allow us to open a new satellite campus in New Brunswick, where we will be able to educate an even more diverse student population.," Sercan said. "CJCP is committed to continuing to work collaboratively with the local school districts to ensure that all of our public school students are given the best possible opportunities to succeed academically."

Franklin Township's 8,096-student district spent some $9 million sending students to charter schools (TEECS and CJCP) in this year’s $148 million budget, according to 2016-2017 budget information on the district’s website. That accounts for about 6 percent of the total district spending plan. That number is expected to double in the next five years. 

The concern is taxes can only be levied at 2 percent per year, and charter school payments will have a negative impact on the districts budget. 

Ravally said the public funds used to operate charter schools in the township put a strain on the district's budget, during a school budget meeting in April. He also said supporting growing programs and preparing facilities for grade reconfiguration while staying within the revenue limits will be a challenge and has always been a challenge.

"We have flat state aid for five consecutive years, which is a defacto cut, and a 16 percent reduction in preschool aid which obviously is a cut," Ravally said. "And then an increase in expenditure of about 20% for charter school tuition ($9.8 million). So those are all things that make it really difficult for us to reach those goals."

Last month, Potosnak announced parents with children attending the district's preschool program will be receiving a refund thanks in part to a grant the district applied for earlier this year. 

“Thanks to the initiative of our Supervisor of Early Childhood Development, Kathleen Damore, we have applied for and been awarded additional aid through a grant from the New Jersey Department of Education, Division of Early Childhood Education and Family Engagement,” Potosnak said. 

The expansion of the program was part of the Board of Education’s 2016-2017 budget goal. The district was originally charging parents $590 per month to help offset costs of the program. The program is a full day five-day program.

Many local residents and town officials also argue charter schools promote segregation.

"The demographic breakdown of students by race/ethnicity, income and disability is damning and puts our public schools at an economic disadvantage no matter how Christie and his dwindling followers try and skew the numbers," Steinbruck said in an email statement. "These charters promote segregation and their faux lotteries are discriminatory. No parent should endorse this practice in Franklin or anywhere else. We need to stay united with our families, teachers, and administrators and continue to strengthen Franklin as a community and continue to make it a great place to attend real public schools."  

Both CJCP and TEECS have denied allegations of segregation. 

According to the Department of Education 2014-2015 numbers, CJCP's student demographics are; 47.5 percent Black/African-American, 12 percent White, 20.3 percent Hispanic, 19.6 percent Asian, .3 percent American Indian, .3 percent two or more races, and 39.2 percent economically disadvantaged, 7 percent students with disabilities, and 0% English language learners. 

According to the Department of Education 2014-2015 numbers, TEECS' student demographics are; 71.3 percent Asian, 13.5 percent, 10.5 percent Black, 4.4 percent Hispanic, 0.3 percent American Indian, 4 percent students with disability, 5.7 percent economically disadvantaged and 2.4 percent English language learners. Click here for more details. 

All nine Franklin Township Public school demographics can be found by clicking here

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