Fair Schools Red Bank
Social Justice & Fair Funding for Our Schools

FUNDING

Funding

Funding Disparity

Segregation is not limited to demographics: The whiter and wealthier RBCS receives more per-pupil funding than the predominantly poor and Hispanic Red Bank Borough Public Schools

Under New Jersey’s charter school law, charter schools are supposed to be funded at a lower level than the host district’s public schools. New Jersey’s charter school law requires sending districts to provide charter schools “an amount equal to 90% of sum of the budget year equalization aid per pupil.”[1] The RBCS states on its website: “New Jersey Charter Schools are free public schools that are open to all children and typically offer their students more individualized attention, longer school days, longer school years, and innovative programs with substantially less funding than other public schools.”[2] [emphasis added]

But in Red Bank, because of the school funding policies of the administration of Governor Chris Christie, the state of New Jersey has determined that the education of students at the RBCS, who are wealthier and whiter than the Red Bank Borough Public Schools, is worth far more than the education of students at its host district public schools, which are predominantly poor and Hispanic.

According to the NJ DOE’s own data, the per-pupil cost of the Red Bank Charter School has soared to $18,726,[3] or $2,119 more than the per-pupil cost of the Red Bank Borough Public Schools, which is at $16,607,[4] according to the most recent Taxpayer’s Guide to Education Spending.[5]

What this means is that the RBCS can afford things like two teachers in every small class of 20 students. It can afford “boutique fitness” classes, including dance, spin, and cross fit.[6] It can afford to put a public relations firm on retainer for $3,300 a month. [7] And it can afford to give its principal, Meredith Pennotti, two raises in the span of three months,[8] bringing her total salary to $151,964.80,[9] which is nearly $7,000 more than Red Bank Borough School Superintendent Jared Rumage, who now oversees two schools of more than 1,400 students, while Pennotti oversees one school of 200 students.

As the following table shows, the RBCS’s per-pupil cost is now higher than Shrewsbury and Little Silver, making it the most expensive school among the sending districts to Red Bank Regional High School. The RBCS per-pupil cost is so high it exceeds that of the much more affluent Rumson school district, which is $18,320 per student.

*Source: Taxpayer’s Guide to Education Spending

*Source: Taxpayer’s Guide to Education Spending

New Jersey cuts aid to public schools while fairly and fully funding charter schools

The reason the RBCS’s per-pupil cost has risen above that of the Red Bank Borough Public Schools is because the state, under the Christie administration, has held charter schools harmless to cuts in state aid that have devastated public school districts across New Jersey. Under the School Funding Reform Act (“SFRA”), state aid is supposed to be distributed based on district enrollment and student demographics, with a greater funding weight given to students who are poor, have disabilities, or who are English-language learners. However, since 2010, the Christie administration has used the state’s appropriation’s act—which supersedes the SFRA—to determine school funding. According to a report from the State Auditor, the Appropriations Act began superseding all or part of SFRA from 2010 through 2014, “making the distribution convoluted. During fiscal years 2015 and 2016, no data from either year was applied to the formula to determine funding. Consequently, there were significant differences between actual funding and what the SFRA dictates.”[10] The report went on to say that 385 districts in fiscal year 2015 and 365 districts in 2016 would have received more funding under SFRA. The Auditor did not name the districts.

As a result, public school districts across New Jersey have been shortchanged by $8 billion since 2010.[11] Red Bank alone has lost out on $7 million in state aid, making it one of the most underfunded districts in the state.[12] State Senator Jennifer Beck has said Red Bank is 37% below the adequacy standard even as it has experienced a 36% enrollment growth since 2012.[13] In essence, for the last seven years, the Red Bank Borough Public Schools have been challenged to meet the needs of a surge of enrollment, driven by an influx of poor students and English-language learners, on flat state funding. Unlike the RBCS, where there are two teachers for each class of 20, the Red Bank Borough Public School teachers share aides across many classes. For the 2016-17 school year alone, the Red Bank Borough Public Schools have been unable to fund much-needed reading interventionists, content-area teachers, curriculum writing programs, and middle school bus monitors. The Red Bank Borough Public Schools were forced to cut their full-time strings programs three years ago and still only spend $57,618 on sports and extra-curricular activities. There is no money for enhanced middle school athletics, no money for a comprehensive after-school program, and no money for additional playgrounds. Funds for grade-level field trips must be raised separately. And of course there is no money for facility improvements.[14]

But while the Christie Administration has cut aid to public schools, it has sent substantial amounts of Adjustment Aid to charter schools, including the RBCS, to ensure that they are fully funded. For example, in recent years, the State of New Jersey has sent more than $1 million a year in additional Adjustment Aid directly to the RBCS. (This is in addition to the more than $1.5 million of the roughly $3 million in state aid that the Red Bank Borough Public Schools have to send directly to the RBCS.) No extra money is sent to the Red Bank Borough Public Schools. [15]  As a result, funding inequities between charter schools and school districts have increased.[16]

Segregation exacerbates the funding inequities in Red Bank

In Red Bank, the vast demographic disparity that exists between the two publicly funded school systems further exacerbates the funding inequities between the RBCS and the Red Bank Borough Public Schools. According to a report by Julia Sass Rubin, an associate professor at the Rutgers University Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Policy:

“The high percentages of Free or Reduced Price Lunch, Limited English Proficient and special needs students have a direct impact on the Red Bank Borough School District’s finances, since the district must provide services to address those students’ needs. In addition to out-of-district private placements, these services include provision of in-district special education, bilingual education, and access to social workers, which are necessary to help mitigate some of the negative impacts of poverty.[17]

As an example, Sass Rubin pointed to the fact that in the 2013-14 school year, as now, only 4% of the RBCS’s population—or eight students—were LEP, versus 34%—or 409 students—at the Red Bank Borough Public Schools.

“The cost of providing bilingual education services to 8 students is substantially smaller, in absolute and relative terms, than the $812,931 that the district spent on bilingual education. Because the Red Bank Borough School District has a much larger proportion of students that require bilingual education and other special services, including these costs in any comparison would further increase the funding advantage that the Red Bank Charter School has over the Red Bank Borough School District.” [18]

Sass Rubin’s analysis showed that in the 2013-14 school year, the RBCS received $4,338 more per pupil than the Red Bank Borough Public Schools.[19] That is substantially more than what is reflected in the NJ DOE’s Taxpayer’s Guide to Education Spending because it takes into account the impact that segregation has on Red Bank’s finances.

Red Bank taxpayers are forced to subsidize school segregation

The Borough of Red Bank is known for many things. Its arts and antique district and trendy shops and restaurants have put it on several lists of “best small towns in America.”[20] It is also known as the birthplace of Count Basie. It was where the civil rights journalist T. Thomas Fortune made his home. Today it’s where comedian Jon Stewart resides, where musician Jon Bon Jovi operates his JBJ Soul Kitchen, and where filmmaker Kevin Smith owns his Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash comic book store. And yes, it is also known as the New Jersey town with the most segregated public school district.

Red Bank residents are powerless to reverse this segregation, and yet they are forced to subsidize it. Red Bank taxpayers spend nearly $2 million a year in duplicative costs to support two public school systems—a predominantly poor and Hispanic public school of 1,400 students, and a much smaller, wealthier and whiter school of 200 students.[21] These duplicative costs include an additional curriculum director, an additional guidance counselor, numerous specials teachers, as well as the RBCS principal Pennotti, who in the span of three months earlier this year was granted two raises, bringing her salary to $151,964.80.

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[1] N.J.S.A. 18A: 36A-12(b)

[2] Available at http://www.redbankcharterschool.com/rbcs/ABOUT%20US/_top

[3] NJ DOE Taxpayer’s Guide to Education Spending, RBCS available at http://www.state.nj.us/cgi-bin/education/csg/16/csg.pl?string=dist_code7720&maxhits=650  

[4] NJ DOE Taxpayer’s Guide to Education Spending, Red Bank Boro, available at http://www.state.nj.us/cgi-bin/education/csg/16/csg.pl?string=dist_code4360&maxhits=650

[5] NJ DOE Taxpayer’s Guide to Education Spending, available at http://www.nj.gov/education/guide/ 

[6] RBCS renewal application (9/15/2016) at 11.

[7] RBCS Board of Trustees minutes for June 28, 2016 meeting, at C6, available at http://www.redbankcharterschool.com/rbcs/BOARD%20OF%20TRUSTEES/Board%20Notes/Minutes/RBCS%20BOT%20June%202016%20Minutes.pdf

[8] RBCS Board of Trustees minutes for April 26, 2016 meeting, D1, available at http://www.redbankcharterschool.com/rbcs/BOARD%20OF%20TRUSTEES/Board%20Notes/Minutes/Minutes4-2016.pdf

[9] RBCS Board of Trustees minutes for June 28, 2016 meeting, D12, available at http://www.redbankcharterschool.com/rbcs/BOARD%20OF%20TRUSTEES/Board%20Notes/Minutes/RBCS%20BOT%20June%202016%20Minutes.pdf

[10] Report of NJ State Auditor (9/21/2016) available at http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/legislativepub/auditor/340115.pdf

[11] Education Law Center school funding data available at http://www.edlawcenter.org/research/school-funding-data.html

[12] The Education Law Center ranks Red Bank Borough among the top 50 http://www.edlawcenter.org/news/archives/school-funding/new-jerseys-50-most-underfunded-school-districts.html with list available here http://staging.edlawcenter.org/assets/files/pdfs/Newsblasts/50%20Most%20Underfunded%20School%20Districts%205-2016.pdf

[13] Letter from Sen. Jennifer Beck to Gov. Chris Christie, January 15, 2016, available at http://www.redbankgreen.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Beck-Hespe-letter-011516.pdf

[14] Red Bank Borough Public Schools 2016-17 Budget presentation at 19-21, available at http://rbb.k12.nj.us/Page/913

[15] NJ DOE Charter Payment Summary; Projected to be $1.22 million for the 2016-17 school year

[16] Rubin, Julia Sass. New Jersey Charter School Funding. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.7282/T3SB47P2 at 20;

[17] Rubin, Julia Sass. New Jersey Charter School Funding at 27.

[18] Rubin, Julia Sass. New Jersey School Funding at 29.

[19] Rubin, Julia Sass. New Jersey Charter School Funding at 29

[20] Smithsonian Magazine (4/30/12) available at http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/the-20-best-small-towns-in-america-of-2012-66120384/?no-ist

[21] Comprehensive Audited Financial Reports for the RBCS and Red Bank Borough Public Schools