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

Friday, July 20, 2012

New Jersey Charter School Circus

Trying to follow charter school news in New Jersey is like going to the circus: spend too long watching Ring Number One and you'll miss what's going on in Ring Number Three.

Cherry Hill:
The organizer of Regis Academy Charter School, denied final approval by state officials, on Tuesday said he’ll fight that decision.
Pastor Amir Khan, in an online letter to the parents of prospective students, said he plans to appeal his school’s rejection by acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf.
“As things stand today, we will be appearing before the judge … sometime this week to have a ruling on our case,” said Khan. “We are confident that things will be in our favor.”
In an earlier letter to the state Department of Education, Khan disputed the agency’s finding that his school made “material misrepresentations” during the application and approval process. He also said DOE officials denied his school due process, arguing Regis Academy officials were not given an adequate opportunity to rebut critics’ allegations. [emphasis mine]
It's like a zombie charter school: it will not die. Remember, Cherry Hill had to set aside tons of money for this charter, even though they neither wanted nor needed it. But sure, this will be great for the town, and all the others who had to budget for Regis: let's drag this out even longer for all of them.

Again, I actually feel badly for Khan: the application never should have gone on for as long as it did. Just another example of how broken our entire charter system is in this state.

In this last year, several Camden charter schools have faced state scrutiny. Only one has been placed on probation.
Four charter schools have not made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in test scores for a few years as calculated through the federal No Child Left Behind process.
Lagging furthest behind is Distinctions in Urban Education Seasons Charter School, which did not improve test scores for several years, though it made significant progress this year. Camden Promise Charter, part of the Camden Charter School Network, and Freedom Academy Charter have each missed test improvement marks for at least three years and LEAP Academy University Charter School also has missed AYP the last two years.
The state recently placed Freedom Academy on probation because of its failure to make academic progress. The middle school could have its charter revoked if its academic performance does not improve and if it does not implement a remedial plan by mid-August, according to a letter from the state sent to Freedom Academy officials in May.
This is the second probation for Freedom Academy. In October 2008, the school was put on probation because of operational issues.
Beyond poor academic performance, charter schools have come under investigation this year for fiscal mismanagement or abuse allegations.
LEAP recently paid back $136,368 to the state Education Department for payments it received for nonallowable expenses during the 2009-10 school year and submitted a plan to correct its problems. [emphasis mine]
Uh, I'm sorry, but wasn't the whole point of expanding charters to bring "high-quaity options" to children "trapped in failing schools"? Seems to me these schools aren't really living up to the hype. Maybe instead we should spend our time fixing our dangerously crumbling public schools instead.

Speaking of fiscal problems, Piscataway:
Education Law Center has joined a lawsuit by Piscataway Township Schools challenging a decision by Acting Commissioner Christopher Cerf to allow charter schools to keep excessive amounts of school funding in their surplus accounts. Piscataway is seeking a reduction in tuition rates it pays for resident children to attend the charter schools so that it can redeploy these funds to provide needed programs for district students. 
NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) regulations authorize school districts to request reductions when a charter school “spends significantly less than budgeted and has accumulated a sizable surplus.” If the State Education Commissioner determines that a charter school has excess surplus – meaning surplus that exceeds 2% of the school's budgeted general fund or $250,000, whichever is greater – he may reduce the charter school tuition rates paid by the local school district, but such reductions are not required. 
During the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years, Piscataway students were enrolled in four charter schools that maintained excess surplus:
• Central Jersey College Prep – $157, 963 in excess funds
• Union County TEAMS – $117, 135 in excess funds
• Queen City Academy – $462,558 in excess funds
• Barack Obama Green – $56, 747 in excess funds [emphasis mine]
Anyone who tells you charters are good for local school districts' finances is selling you a sack of magic beans. Piscataway has to fund excessive surpluses and has no say in the governance or oversight of this school. People have thrown tea into harbors for this sort of thing.

Back to Camden:
A security worker charged with assaulting a special-needs student in April has faced repeated allegations that he manhandled youngsters at D.U.E. Season Charter School, the school founded and led by his mother.
Lawrence Carpenter’s alleged actions at the K-8 school came despite a history of complaints from parents, students and staff to his mother, Principal Doris Carpenter, a Courier-Post investigation shows.
Now, a former Season teacher has sued the school and Doris Carpenter, saying she was retaliated against after complaining last October about alleged mistreatment of students by Lawrence Carpenter. In a letter to the principal, fourth-grade teacher Stacy Sampson described seeing Lawrence Carpenter, the school’s security leader, grab a boy by the collar and “slam him into a wall.”
Her civil suit alleges Lawrence Carpenter, who continues to work at Season, was responsible for a hostile work environment at the school. It also depicts Season as a “dysfunctional school,” alleging it has too few books and desks, and that fourth-graders struggled to count to 20 or to spell a simple word like “talk.” [emphasis mine]
Swell - nice to know we're taking away money from crumbling public schools in Camden so this guy's mom can get him on the payroll.

It's worth pointing out that there's a real question as to whether this teacher has the same workplace rights as a teacher in a public school. Yet another reason the cry that "charters are public schools!" rings awfully hollow.

Finally, Jersey City:
A proposed charter school connected to Bret Schundler, a former Jersey City mayor and former state education commissioner, was given the green light yesterday to open in September.
The BelovED Community Charter School, an elementary school for 360 students, will open its doors in September at 508 Grand St., the former home of the Schomburg Charter School, which was shut this year by the DOE after failing to improve academically.
Named state education commissioner by Gov. Chris Christie in January 2010, Schundler was fired in August 2010 after a department debacle in pursuing hundreds of millions of dollars in federal school funding.
Schundler’s association with BelovED Community was announced in December, when he said his company Charter Facility Acquisition, LLC, purchased the former Greenville Hospital building on Kennedy Boulevard from LibertyHealth System to house the school there.
Schundler said last night that plans to convert the old hospital into a school are on hold while his group seeks a developer. The building, he said, should open as a school in September 2013, and could house two or more charter schools.
Yeah, no profiteering here; it's just crazy to think that anyone is making money off of charters, right?

A reader telles me the new charter will be right across the street from a public school; again, I guess we don't think it's a good idea to take the money Schundler's company is going to make off of this deal and put it back into the schools we already have.

Well, at least Schundler's keeping busy; he got passed over to run Florida's schools for Rick Scott (what, didn't Chris Christie write a nice letter of recommendation?), but making dough off of the burgeoning New Jersey charter industry probably pays better anyway.

Well, my head's spinning - plus it's been 501 days since the charter report was promised to us "as soon as is humanly possible":

I'm sure the report will address all of these issues though, right ACTING Commissioner?

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