Jennifer Garcia's Op-Ed was originally published in the Asbury Park Press, Sunday, March 19 2017
The commissioner of the state Department of Education recently decided to allow the Red Bank Charter School to operate for another five years. While that was disappointing news for the Fair Schools Red Bank Organization, we immediately organized to testify at the hearings of the Senate and Assembly budget committees. A key part of our battle is fair funding, and we are used to setbacks.
We also are used to being criticized by members of the public, who claim we are somehow envious of the charter school and question our motives.
Why are we doing this? The process started several years ago as a group of parents began to recognize that programs were being cut from the Red Bank borough schools, programs that originally attracted us to the schools. One day it is the violin program, the next it is track and field, then afterschool robotics. Then it is our much-needed summer program, and the list goes on. What has caused all of these programs to go away? It was the state funding model
The state hasn’t fully funded the Red Bank borough public schools since 2009. Sadly, after a few years of discussions and fighting for fair funding alongside our representatives, we realized that the Red Bank Charter School was receiving full and fair funding. According to the most recent Taxpayer’s Guide to Education Spending, which is published by the state Department of Education, Red Bank public schools receive $16,607 per student, while the Red Bank Charter School receives $18,726 per student.
We also realized that the charter school takes 50 percent of our state aid each year to serve its 200 students, as well as $1 million more to ensure that it receives full funding under state law. We also recognized the impact this has on our local taxes because of the $2 million in annual duplicative costs that it takes to operate both school systems.
Our campaign for fair funding led us to discover that Red Bank is home to the most segregated school district in New Jersey, with a charter school that has far more white students and far fewer poor students and English-language learners than the borough public schools. We were horrified.
At that moment, we thought this could be the key to what would bring us together. By pointing out the segregation, maybe we could unify the schools. That way we could do more for the greater good of the community. All students who attend publicly funded schools would receive the same amount.
That moment was short-lived. The Red Bank Charter School applied for an expansion in 2016 shortly after we uncovered the enrollment and funding inequities. But after strong advocacy from Fair Schools Red Bank against the expansion, the state rejected the application.
After we successfully blocked the expansion, we decided it was time to oppose the charter renewal. Civil rights groups also were concerned. In addition, we found that the charter school had violated a 2007 consent order requiring the district to address segregation in the borough public schools. But the numbers have stayed the same or gotten worse since then.
The U.S. departments of Education and Justice opened an investigation in 2017 in response to our civil rights complaint, which pointed out the segregation, both financial and demographic, and that the conditions put in place by the consent order were never followed. Despite all of this, state Department of Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington granted the charter renewal without any sanctions or conditions. We can’t help but feel that Harrington slammed the door on Red Bank families.
The federal Department of Education is still investigating segregation in the Red Bank schools, and the ACLU has notified the state Department of Education that it would appeal its decision to renew the charter. Some charter families must feel the humiliation of this scrutiny on their children’s school. They must recognize that the conditions of the consent order were blown off by their administration. Where is the accountability, not only to Red Bank as a community, but to their own families?
Fair Schools Red Bank encourages Red Bank families and taxpayers to make sure all Red Bank schools have full and fair funding.
Jennifer Garcia is a small business owner and parent of three public school students in Red Bank.
The state of New Jersey's Commissioner of Education, Kimberly Harrington, recently renewed the Red Bank Charter School's charter. The ACLU of New Jersey, the Latino Coalition of New Jersey, and Fair Schools Red Bank announced plans to appeal the decision in court.
"The more than 1,400 public school families represented by Fair Schools Red Bank are disappointed with Acting Commissioner Harrington’s decision,” said Wayne Woolley, a member of Fair Schools Red Bank, which advocates for an end to discriminatory practices in the school district. “Although today is not the day that school segregation draws to a close in Red Bank, our organization is grateful for the ACLU’s willingness to fight on behalf of our children and we believe firmly that justice will ultimately prevail to allow every child in our community equal access to all public education opportunities."
According to a Consent Order signed by the Red Bank Charter School in March 2007, the charter school agreed that starting with the 2007-08 school year, it would use its “best efforts to assure that the applicants entered into the lottery are in the same proportion of Caucasian, African-American and Hispanic Limited English Proficient students as reside in the Borough of Red Bank.”
In addition, the charter school agreed to “use its best efforts to assure that the gender, race/ethnicity, economic status and limited English proficient percentages of the students attending the Charter School equate as closely as practicable with the gender, race/ethnicity, economic status and limited English proficient percentages of the students residing in the Borough of Red Bank.”
The most recent U.S. Census estimates from the 2011-15 American Community Survey estimate that the school-aged population of Red Bank is 51% Hispanic, 30% white, and 19% black. In addition, the most recent U.S. Census count from the decennial census show that in 2010, the school-aged population of Red Bank was 53% Hispanic, 30% white, and 14% Hispanic.
Red Bank Public Schools Oppose
Charter School Renewal
For Immediate Release: December 5, 2016
Frank Argote-Freyre, Director – 908-670-0552
Lazaro Cardenas, Deputy Director – 732-500-7864
Wayne Woolley – Fair Schools Red Bank – 732-804-6782
The Red Bank Public Schools declared their official opposition to the expansion of the Red Bank Charter School [RBCS] in a formal letter and presentation to the state Department of Education recently obtained by the Latino Coalition of New Jersey [LCNJ].
The Latino Coalition and Fair Schools Red Bank, an organization of Red Bank public school parents, filed a segregation complaint with the federal Department of Justice last month. Both organizations have called on the state to revoke RBCS’ charter. According to the federal civil rights complaint, the student body of the Red Bank public schools are 81 percent Latino, while at the charter school only 38 percent are Latino. About 89 percent of the children in the Red Bank public schools qualify for free and reduced lunches, an indicator of poverty, while at the charter school only 41 percent do. In addition, RBCS receives $2,000 more per pupil than the rest of the school district.
In a letter to NJ DOE Acting Commissioner Kimberley Harrington, dated October 13, 2016, Red Bank Superintendent of Schools Jared Rumage, said the charter school places an “unfair financial burden” on the taxpayers of Red Bank.
“Moreover, the Red Bank Charter School does not offer any unique opportunity or instructional programming beyond what our Borough schools offer,” according to Rumage’s letter, obtained through an Open Public Records Act request. “For years, the Red Bank Charter School has tied their identity and justified their existence by spreading a false narrative – that the Red Bank Borough Public Schools are disengaged and failing. Now that the true story has been revealed, it is time to re-evaluate the need for the Red Bank Charter School. The small community of Red Bank Borough can no longer support two separate school districts, and based on any objective comparison, we no longer have the need to do so.” The letter and the school board’s 12-page presentation to the NJ DOE, highlighting its academic successes, is included with this press release.
Earlier this year, the Latino Coalition partnered with parents and the Red Bank School District to successfully oppose the expansion of the charter school. The Coalition was founded in 2003 to promote civil rights and political empowerment of Latinos and the working poor.
Testimony to the NJ State Board of Education, 7 September 2016
Good afternoon. My name is Wayne Woolley and I am a Red Bank taxpayer. I am also the parent of two high honor roll students at the Red Bank Public Schools.
I appeared before this board in January to voice my heartfelt opposition to a proposal that would have allowed the Red Bank Charter School to double its enrollment to 400 students.
Fortunately, for all of the residents of Red Bank, Commissioner Hespe denied that request.
However, the conduct of the charter school leadership over the past year has left many people in Red Bank questioning the need for a second taxpayer-funded school in a community of just 12,000 residents.
The community’s dismay with the Red Bank Charter School began when the school released financial impact statements that flew in the face of numbers crunched by the Red Bank Borough School Board, its Borough Council, the borough auditor, as well as analysis conducted by state Senator Jennifer Beck.
No one, it seemed, was willing to believe that a school that accounts for nearly $1 million a year in duplicative costs – and which spends $2,000 per pupil more than the borough’s public schools – could possibly be saving tax dollars.
And that’s because it’s not. Red Bank has awoken to the fact that in our town at least, school choice simply means higher taxes.
The charter school’s per-pupil spending, which exceeds that of Rumson, a far more affluent community, is not the only thing that’s outsized.
Two months after the expansion was denied, the unelected charter board of trustees granted a pay raise retroactive to July 1, 2015 to the school’s principal, Meredith Pennotti. She now makes just over $146-thousand dollars a year to lead a school of 200 students. That’s about 2-thousand dollars a year more than the borough’s school superintendent Jared Rumage, who leads a school system that serves more than 14-hundred students.
It doesn’t end there. In July, the charter school signed a one-year contract that will pay 33-hundred dollars a month to Jaffe Communications, a Newark-based public relations firm. That’s on top of the renewal of a $5,000 annual communication’s contract with a firm led by one of the school’s parents. That’s 45-thousand dollars worth of PR a year. As a communications professional, I can assure you that’s a lot. And as veteran educators, you’re aware that under almost any interpretation of the state administrative code, no public school district would dare to spend that much on PR. The Red Bank Borough Public Schools spend exactly zero dollars.
Don’t get me wrong. The Red Bank Charter School’s image could use a boost. After years of arguing that its existence was justified because it outperformed the public schools, that’s no longer the case. Last year, the public school eight graders outperformed their charter school counterparts on both the Language Arts and Math Portions of the PARCC test. The Red Bank Public School kids that took the Algebra I PARCC finished with a higher average than their counterparts in Rumson, Fair Haven and Princeton. Meanwhile, the charter school has seen six years of declines in standardized test scores.
And let’s recognize that the Red Bank Charter School serves a student body that’s far whiter and more affluent than the public school.
The existence of the charter school has created the most segregated school system in New Jersey in Red Bank.
A weighted lottery conducted by the Charter School in April did little to change that. Only 20 percent of the 109 non-sibling applicants for that lottery applied as economically disadvantaged.
It’s not surprising, considering that the charter school made no effort in its first 17 years of existence to make the broader community even aware of its existence. They did, however, go out of their way to make sure that people who look like me knew about the lottery.
In February, Roger Foss a member of the charter school’s board of trustees spoke at a news conference and outlined why the school was created and why he considered it a success. He didn’t focus on academic achievement, nor did he elaborate on any special need the school fulfilled. Instead, Mr. Foss said that the Red Bank Charter School was created to prevent white flight from Red Bank and it had succeeded.
What does that say about a school when the best argument to be made for its existence is that it keeps white people who are uncomfortable with sending their kids to school with brown children from leaving town?
Next Friday is the deadline for the Red Bank Charter School to request a five-year renewal of its charter. Frankly, one of the school’s own trustees made a good case for why it should be denied. A school that exists to prevent white flight has no place in this country in 2016. It has outlived its usefulness.