Education

Montclair Public Schools' Chief, Mayor and NJ Elected Leaders Host Rally Against Montclair Charter School

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MONTCLAIR, NJ - The superintendent of Montclair Public Schools will emcee a rally against the proposed Montclair Charter School along with numerous elected officials on Wednesday, September 14.

Montclair Superintendent Ronald Bolandi has teamed up with Montclair Board of Education members, Montclair Mayor Robert Jackson and the Township Council along with a host of local, Essex County and State Elected Leaders to oppose the proposed Montclair Charter School.

The public is invited to participate in the picnic and rally which will be held from 4:30 pm to 6 pm, at the Montclair High School amphitheater at the corner of Park & Chestnut Streets in Montclair. If it rains, the rally will be held in the high school auditorium.

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On the agenda, speakers will include Senator Nia Gill, Assemblyman Thomas Giblin, Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver and Freeholder Brendan Gill along with Mayor Robert Jackson and members of the Montclair Township Council. 

Over the past few months, a growing number of parents in opposition have spoken at the state and local Board of Education meetings, signed petitions and written letters, to no avail. The application submitted by the Montclair Charter School/ French Language Immersion Charter School also known as the Fullbright Academy Charter School, has continued to advance.

As a last push to demonstrate to deciding state officials, the rally has been planned as an opportunity to celebrate Montclair’s public schools at the start of the school year and to oppose the establishment of a French immersion charter school. The cross-section of elected officials on the agenda may also demonstrate the widespread amount of community opposition to the application.

Leaders in neighboring towns of Glen Ridge and Bloomfield have also joined forces with the Montclair Board of Education, as Montclair School District leaders state that the charter school will have the effect of siphoning off two to five million dollars from the school district’s budget and adversely impact the racial diversity of the school district. Surrounding towns have come forward to support Montclair in their efforts for fear that the approval of a charter school will have a negative impact on their towns, as well.

Councilman-At-Large Robert Russo, who has also served as Mayor and Deputy Mayor Emeritus, wrote a letter to New Jersey Education Commissioner David Hespe expressing his concerns.

He said, "I think I know the feelings of our taxpayers better than any elected official when I say that we cannot afford the cost of an additional charter school, which we do not need and do not want."

Superintendent Bolandi and the Board have also written a series of letters to Hespe outlining their objections to the proposed charter school which they maintain will take millions of dollars away from the daily operation of district programs and undermine the district’s long-standing desegregation plan and magnet schools. Bolandi even attended the State Board of Education Meeting to express his concerns.

Freeholder Brendan Gill, who is on the agenda to speak, wrote a letter to Hespe and also sponsored a resolution before the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders citing Essex County's recommendation to reject the Fulbright Academy application to establish a charter school in the Township of Montclair. 

“I join the Montclair Public School District in opposing the Fulbright Academy Charter School Application for a ‘90/10’ French Immersion k-4 to k-8 school,” Gill wrote in a letter to Commissioner Hespe. “Montclair should not suffer school cuts, higher taxes, and increased school segregation to support an immersion French school that is not educationally necessary for the district.”

Gill touched upon several points in his letter to Hespe, citing increased segregation, higher taxes, less resources for public school programs and services.

Gill wrote, "If approved, MPSD would have to pay millions to Fulbright to conduct [a] NJ school in French for a very limited number of students. Our district would lose $525,000 for 50 charter students, $2,625,000 for 250 charter students and $4,725,000 for 450 students. (Actual loss numbers are higher once lost state and federal aid is added.) Meanwhile, MPSD’s fixed costs to educate the bulk of 6,700 students would remain the same. To maintain current services, taxes would have to be raised even at higher rates than current increases."

Gill continued to explain that increased segregation may occur with the existence of a proposed charter school, "MPSD serves approximately 6,700 diverse students under a desegregation order, which resulted in the creation of a magnet system. Enrollment data show that NJ charters increase racial, socio-economic, and special needs segregation, contrary to Montclair’s desegregation order. Fulbright lists personnel from the HoLa Charter School in Hoboken, NJ as advisors. Hoboken, the ACLU and the ELC are suing HoLa for exacerbating segregation in that district."

He adds that Fullbright Charter School's claims in their application were misrepresented, saying, "...that immersion will result in higher test scores are false and refuted by its own application, which misuses and misrepresents data. District data show 90% of Montclair High School’s students attend college."

With the announcement of Hespe's departure, it is unknown as to whether a decision will be made before he leaves his post. NJ State Education Department officials could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.

A vast array of community groups and organizations such as the Montclair NAACP will also be participating in the rally. 

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