Franklin Township: Public Panel Discussed the Impact of Charter Schools on District

Members of the community gathering for Protect Public Schools, Oppose Charter Growth forum Credits: Malik Lyons
BOE President of Highland Park Darcie Cimarusti Credits: Malik Lyons
Superintendent of Franklin Township Public Schools Dr. John Ravally Credits: Malik Lyons

FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP, NJ - Township residents gathered Wednesday night at Franklin High School for a forum called "Protect Public Schools, Oppose Charter Growth," and at one point tempers boiled over. 

The disagreement didn't last long, and can be seen in video footage below:

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

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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.   

Steinbruck read a statement from Mayor Phillip Kramer saying he "fully supports the Franklin Township Public schools, and supports the moratorium on the expansion of charter schools."

"With regard to Franklin C.A.R.E.S. this is the principal issue we' re dealing with now, but we're really a group of families, supporters and advocates that want to support our public schools in lots of different ways," Steinbruck said. "We may not all agree today, but we may agree tomorrow."

"This discussion is not a Q and A it is intended for the audience like yourself to have a listening basically with the educators, the parent advocates," Felix said... "To give you their views on what the expansion of charter school means for Franklin Township."

"We do not have any strong opposition to parents that choose to educate students at other schools," Felix said. "We do feel however, that from a financial standpoint the township will not be well served with the expansion of charter schools. This township cannot support three charter schools."

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)  and 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.

"This is an economic issue for us budget challenges in this time can be very difficult for us, we have had flat state aide over the years, Ravally said. "For us that is a de facto cut as other increases continue to rise."

The 8,096-student district spent some $9.8 million sending students to charter schools 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.

If the expansion of the charter schools in the district continues that figure can double in three years, according to 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. "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." 

Franklin C.A.R.E.S and the Latino Coalition released a statement earlier this month calling for a federal investigation into the area charter schools and CJCP issued a response. 

CJCP's CEO Dr. Namik Sercan had the opportunity to talk to the audience and urged them to attend an open house at CJCP this Saturday. 

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