PATERSON, NJ - A rally held in the foyer of Paterson’s Charter School for Science and Technology (PCSST) brought together two entities that are sometimes at odds: Paterson’s charter and public schools. Attended by over 75 local officials, charter and public school administrators, as well as teachers and parents, the 45 minute session focused on unity and the need for adequate funding from the New Jersey state government for all schools.
“We would like to show the community that charter schools are for all Paterson students,” Riza Gurcanli, Lead Person at PCSST, said before the start of the rally. “We invited Superintendent Shafer to speak here today,” he added, offering an indication of the hoped for coordination of efforts between the Paterson Charter School Roundtable, a body comprised of representatives of six local charter schools, and Paterson Public Schools.
Paterson Superintendent Eileen Shafer referenced her 38 years of experience in the urban public school setting, 28 of them in Paterson, in stressing the need for no child to be left behind.
“I am here today advocating for the proper funding for the Paterson public schools budget,” Shafer stated. “This is not one group against another. A pathway for both entities (charter and public schools) can be reached. We are taking this to Trenton. Some students are underserved. None should be disadvantaged. Every child has the right to a good education.”
Senator Nellie Pou told the audience that she, along with Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter and Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, have constantly been lobbying government officials, including Governor Phil Murphy, to increase Paterson’s education funding.
“There are 28,000 students that attend Paterson Public Schools,” Pou said. “That doesn’t even include the numbers of charter school students. Last year the city received $20 million. This year our allotment was decreased to $13 million.”
After the event Pou referenced the disparity of funding to various communities by using the Lakewood public school system as an example.
“Lakewood has 20,000 less students,” Pou said. “This year they received only $2 million less than Paterson. Why is that okay? It isn’t okay. This is the message that we are sending to our governor.”
Paterson School Board President Oshin Castillo smiled as she related a recent experience to the audience. Her encounter with New Jersey’s top elected official revealed the effect that efforts made to shine light upon Paterson’s predicament have not fallen upon deaf ears.
“I recently saw Governor Murphy,” Castillo shared. “I started telling him about the need for Paterson to receive the proper funding and he immediately said, ‘Yes! I know all about it.’”
Leo McGuire, a consultant for strategy and risk management for charter schools in Paterson, Bergen and Hudson counties, and the Bronx, expressed his thoughts on the charter-public school relationship.
“We don’t see this as a public school issue, we see this as a school funding issue,” McGuire said. “Today is a day that we’ve asked the state of New Jersey to look at the funding shortfalls in Paterson. This issue affects both students that attend Paterson public and charter schools that are seeking a better education.”
Bob Guarasci, CEO of Paterson’s New Jersey Community Development Corporation (NJCDC), said advocating for more education funding was, “a fight for all of our students.”
“We never wanted this to be us versus them,” Guarasci said about charter and public schools. “Today we have representatives from both. This is what ‘One Paterson’ looks like. No matter what our address is, no matter what our zip code is, we want walls to be broken down. We are taking this to Trenton, to the next level. The stakes are high but as a team we can do this.”
Among all of the speakers it was, perhaps, 5-year old Karmen Contreras who reminded everyone in attendance why they had really gathered together.
“I learn about science and math,” the kindergarten student at Phillips Academy said after taking the microphone. “We play outside. We study our homework. We go home and we study our snack.”
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