I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Monday, February 6, 2012

"Rigorous" Charter Reviews?

When the charter for Regis Academy in Cherry Hill was approved, ACTING NJ DOE Commissioner Chris Cerf assured us it had to be one of the very best of the best:
 “The most important bar that any applicant must clear is demonstrating that the school has a very high likelihood of providing an excellent education to its students,” said Acting Commissioner Cerf.  “Through our rigorous review process, we became confident that these four schools will offer students a great education on day one of the school year.  The Department will work with applicants who were not approved in this round but demonstrated potential to continue to develop their application for consideration in future rounds.  It has been our experience that with additional guidance and time to plan, applicants who were not approved have been able to resubmit successful applications.” [emphasis mine]
Wow, sounds tough. Except that when the Cherry Hill school district looked at the application - after filing a freedom of information-type (OPRA) request - it turns out things weren't quite as "rigorous" as Cerf led us to believe:
In Cherry Hill, as in many suburban school districts, funding for public education comes primarily from local property taxes. Yet our local taxpayers have had no say in whether a charter school can open in our district. The decision to approve the Regis application rested entirely with the Acting Commissioner of Education. 
In attempting to determine why this charter was approved, we filed an OPRA request for the application review sheets; the DOE denied our OPRA request, but later released the review sheets to our solicitor as part of the official record on appeal. Here’s what we found: Three reviewers reviewed the application, giving scores of “Meets the Standard,” “Approaches the Standard,” or “Does Not Meet the Standard” in 14 categories. Three reviewers, 14 categories, for a total of 42 indicators. Regis’s application was deemed to meet the standard in just 20 of the 42 possible indicators. That’s a score of 47.6%. Shouldn’t a charter school application be subject to at least the 80% standard that school districts must achieve in the NJQSAC review? [emphasis mine]
Sorry, Cherry Hill: it appears the rules aren't the same when you've got good political connections.

Hey, I've got an idea: maybe if you got some of your board members to sit behind Chris Christie at his next taxpayer-funded political rally town hall - you know, like Regis's founder, Amir Khan - you could submit substandard reports too!

I'm sure it's just a happy accident that Regis's clearly deficient application to open a charter in a town that neither wants nor needs it got approved while others did not. Nothing to see here folks; move along...


Deb said...

Along with holding Assemblyman Wolfe accountable for his 'no' vote on 1877 citing the careful scrutiny of applications this past round, we must also hold the DoE accountable for this fiasco. Cherry Hill is up in arms and for good reason. But everyone in the state should be because if the DoE does it to Cherry Hill, they can do it to any of our communities as well. That is a final charter, that regardless of a local vote, should NEVER be granted.

Anonymous said...

Our local committeman Mark Weber has been after this. I don't know...

Anonymous said...

There is a serious feeling of living in a dictatorship. There is simply no check and balance to this system. We are being ordered to pay for something that, no only is it unwanted, this school sounds BAD for the children in our community. And, there isn't anyone that can stop this commissioner.

Deb said...

Unfortunately, the Appellate court ruled that it did not feel it has the authority/justification to overrule the Commissioner in the recent case of Hatikvah Charter school versus the BoE of East Brunswick. The facts were not in question so much as that the court felt it did not have enough cause - that the Commissioner has great latitude and discretion. That one is being appealed to the NJSC. We will see if they hear it. But as of now, there are few people - if any - with the unfettered authority (to mess up children's lives) that ACTING commissioner Cerf has in these matters....Can someone remind me again why local control would be a bad idea!?!?!