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

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Charters In NJ: One Disaster After Another

Oh, dear:
A controversy over a proposed charter school in Cherry Hill may soon be settled - in New Jersey Superior Court.
The Regis Academy charter is scheduled to open in September, but its operator, the Solid Rock Worship Center, is $20,000 behind on the rent and missed a Jan. 3 deadline to buy the property from Holy Eucharist Parish for $2.9 million. The property encompasses the church and the proposed school.
This week, the parish asked the court's landlord-tenant law division to evict Solid Rock and grant a "Judgment for Possession" of the site in the 100 block of West Evesham Road.
"They haven't been able to come up with the money," Camden Diocese spokesman Peter Feuerherd said Friday. "This is about a real estate deal that didn't work. They didn't fulfill their commitment to come up with $2.9 million, and we're in the process of dealing with the situation."
Anyone who spends five minutes looking at this story will quickly come to the conclusion that Solid Rock needs the per-pupil funds charter schools get from the state so it can pay itself rent. That rent money was going to fund the purchase of Solid Rock's new property, and it was going to come from the towns of Cherry Hill, Voorhees, Somerdale, and Lawnside - towns that have excellent schools and do not need Regis Academy to "save" their kids from low-performing schools.

At this point, even the pastor of Solid Rock admits that the demand from the community for his services is very, very low:
Surprised by news of the court action, the Rev. Amir Khan, pastor of Solid Rock, said Friday that he received a lender's verbal commitment for the funds two weeks ago and will have a written commitment by next week.
Solid Rock, a nondenominational, predominantly African American congregation, will pay the full purchase price plus the back rent at settlement, the pastor said.
"Technically, I have nothing until I have the written commitment," said Khan, who still expects to close the deal with the parish and is moving ahead with enrolling students in the charter school.
"We'll have 250 [students] at our school," he said. "We already have 80 applications and two to three a day coming in."
The only reason Regis may be getting more applications is that the state granted the desperate charter the right to recruit kids from outside of the original four school districts it was supposed to serve. But in spite of their ad campaign featuring coupons (no, seriously, they used coupons), Regis is turning out to be a bust. It's the four sending districts, however, that are paying the price: they have been unable to properly budget for their own expenses, even though they have outstanding schools, because they have to keep funds in reserve that may or may not go to Regis.

Darcie Cimarusti has much, much more on this; it turns out Regis can't even meet the simplest reporting requirements from the state.

Which begs the question: why didn't anyone pick this up in the first place? It was painfully obvious that Regis was a ploy by Solid Rock to capture school funds to pay its mortgage. Why didn't anyone point this out before approving their application?

The answer is obvious:

Khan has appeared multiple times on stage with Chris Christie, despite the fact that Christie denied knowing him - even when Khan was sitting right behind him! Khan is a member of the Black Ministers Council, a powerful lobbying group with ties to Christie that has a stellar track record of getting its charters approved (despite the fact that their president seems to have problems following the laws regarding school governance).

It's worth pointing out that the DOE had previously given instructions to its reviewers not to look too carefully at the financials of charter applications:

Carly Bolger, the former Deputy Commissioner, ran the review process, and apparently no one was very happy with the job she did. Here we can see why; did she give her reviewers the same instructions to back off when they reviewed the financials in the application for Regis? Had a reviewer with a background in school finance actually scrutinized the application, the conflict of interest here would have screamed out.

But, apparently, no one bothered to do that; does anyone doubt why? It's become increasingly clear that, under the Christie administration, educational policy has become completely politicized. Which is why, despite my misgivings, A1877 - a bill that allows voters to approve charters in a referendum - must be passed. The current DOE simply can't be trusted.

One last point: the only reason Regis is being scrutinized is because a group of dedicated citizens, working with their local school boards and teachers, stood up and told the state "Enough." Parent and school advocates like Darcie Cimarusti, Rita McClellan, SOS NJ, the students of Cherry Hill, and others are demanding that the state stop this nonsense and give them back their schools.

They are an example for us all.


Anonymous said...

Yesterday, I noticed a flyer for Regis Academy taped to the window of the local mini-mart across the street from the church property. More advertising wizards hard at work!

jfm14 said...

Jazzman, thank you for bringing our fight to light. We appreciate your support. I am lucky enough to be working with Rita and Darcie on this each day with the full support of our teachers and administration. We continue to try and bring this farce that DOE has going to light. The more we know, the more learn, the more we fight for our kids, our schools and our property values. We moved to Voorhees because of the public schools and my kids have had some of the best teachers in NJ. I will fight each day for my kids and the teachers that love to teach them and fill their lives with security, knowledge, confidence and respect.

Deb said...

On the topic of Amir Kahn paying his bills:

Philadelphia Inquirer, October 12, 2011:

"But the opening of the larger charter school is essential to the church's plan to buy the land from the diocese, he [Amir Kahn] said.

"We were anticipating the charter school to get additional income to carry us," he [Amir Kahn] said."

From the Courier Post the same date:

"But he [Amir Kahn] has also been involved in a dispute with the Diocese of Camden, from which Solid Rock rents the former Holy Rosary Parish site for its church complex, for non-payment of taxes. Under a court-mandated agreement, Solid Rock is to be paying for the months in arrears - a number of them, at $15,000 per month, but has yet to do so, diocese spokesman Peter Feuerherd said."