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One Community, One School System

            The Red Bank Charter School (“RBCS”) recently submitted an application to the Commissioner of Education (the “Commissioner”) for renewal of its charter for an additional five years.  As evident during the RBCS’s contentious expansion application process, the very existence of the RBCS is dividing our community.  Don’t we, as citizens of Red Bank, want a community in which the diversity of our cultures, races/ethnicities, and social backgrounds are celebrated and valued; a community in which the same educational opportunities are available to all our children; a community in which children and their families get to know one another at an early stage; and a community that avoids duplicative costs?  If so, then we must have a single, unified public school system.

            Unfortunately, the taxpayer-financed RBCS has served only to undermine community cohesion in a number of different ways.  First, there are vast disparities between the schools in terms of the number of students, race/ethnicity, special education students, limited English proficient students (“LEP”), and economically disadvantaged (“ED”) students, as the chart below reflects:[1]

According to Paul Tractenberg, a professor emeritus at Rutgers Law School who has devoted decades looking into the issue of segregation in New Jersey public schools, Red Bank public schools are qualified as “intensely segregated.”[2]  If the RBCS did not exist, this shameful segregation would finally end.  It is no secret that the charter school was founded “to mitigate the effect of white flight.”[3]  Prior to the granting of the initial charter, the Board of Education for the Red Bank District Schools (the “Board”) requested that the Commissioner conduct a hearing to consider the adverse racial impact the RBCS would have on the District Schools.  The Commissioner rejected the Board’s request.  The Board then appealed to the State Board of Education, which found the Board’s arguments speculative given that there was no actual enrollment at that time.  The State Board of Education, however, instructed the Commissioner to review the racial composition of the RBCS’s student population before approving the charter.  According to the Board, there is no evidence that the Commissioner ever conducted the review.[4] 

On October 1, 2001, the RBCS submitted a renewal and expansion application.  The Board opposed the application, arguing, inter alia, that the RBCS was creating a severe segregative effect on the District Schools.  The Board presented the Commissioner with evidence of this effect and requested that he conduct a hearing prior to taking any action on the application.  The Commissioner once again denied the hearing request and granted the renewal application without ever considering the segregation issue.  The State Board of Education affirmed and the Board appealed to the New Jersey Appellate Division.  The court affirmed in part and remanded in part, directing the Commissioner to conduct a hearing to determine whether the lottery, waiting list, sibling preference and withdrawal policy and any other practices of the RBCS were adversely impacting the RBCS’s racial/ethnic balance.  The court further ordered that should the Commissioner find merit in the Board’s claims, he must “develop an appropriate remedy, which properly balances our strong policy in favor of non-segregated schools with our policy of fostering the development of effective charter schools.”[5]  Ultimately, the Board and the RBCS entered into a Consent Order wherein the RBCS agreed, inter alia, to use its “best efforts” to assure that the gender, race/ethnicity, economic status and LEP percentages of students attending the RBCS equated as closely as practicable with the gender, race/ethnicity, economic status and LEP percentages of students residing in Red Bank.  According to the Board, the RBCS, unfortunately, ignored virtually all of the provisions of the Consent Order.[6]

On December 1, 2015, the RBCS submitted an expansion application.  The Board opposed the application, arguing, inter alia, that expanding the RBCS would further exacerbate the existing segregation in the schools.   Agreeing with the Board’s position on the segregation issue, many organizations submitted letters in support of the Board’s opposition.  These organizations include: (1) Latino American Association; (2) Latino Action Network; (3) Latino Coalition of New Jersey; (4) Red Bank NAACP; and (5) Red Bank Westside Ministerial Alliance.[7]   By letter dated February 29, 2016 to the RBCS, the Commissioner denied the RBCS’s renewal application.  Notably absent from the Commissioner’s letter is any mention of the segregation issue.[8]

As history has shown, neither the RBCS nor the Commissioner has any intention of taking any actions to remedy the segregation in our schools.[9]  Denial of the RBCS’s charter renewal would be a simple, quick and long overdue remedy.   

Second, there is a wide disparity between the schools in terms of spending.  In the 2014-15 school year, the RBCS’s total spending per student was $18,726 whereas the District Schools’ total spending per student was $16,607; that is, the RBCS’s total spending per student was a whopping $2,119 more than the District Schools.[10]  Shouldn’t the per-student spending level be the same for all of the public school students living in the very same town?

Third, the Red Bank Borough Public School District is ranked among the 50 most underfunded school districts in the State of New Jersey,[11] and yet it is required under law each year to remit a large percentage of its state aid to the RBCS.  For 2015-16, the District Schools transferred $1.67 million to the RBCS.[12]   RBCS also receives from the State additional funds in the form of “adjustment aid” to hold the school harmless from State cuts.  The District Schools receive no additional funding of this sort.[13]  Understandably, this creates a great deal of animosity in the District Schools community.  

Fourth, each year, Red Bank taxpayers pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in duplicative costs of the RBCS, such as administrative salaries, facility and maintenance, debt service and business operations.[14]  It simply does not make economic sense for our little town to have two separate public school systems.  Do Red Bank taxpayers really need to be paying the RBCS principal an annual salary of $151,964.80[15] to oversee one school and 200 students when they are paying less than that to the Superintendent of the District Schools who oversees two schools and 1407 students and can handle another 200 more students?

Fifth, students and teachers at the District Schools have been demoralized by the labels put on them by RBCS.  For example, the RBCS has depicted District School students as “disengaged” and “disenfranchised” from the community.[16]  Not only is this depiction hurtful, but it is untrue.  The District Schools have numerous deep-rooted partnerships in the community.[17] 

As another example, the RBCS has given the District Schools the reputation of being “failing” schools because the RBCS’s standardized test scores “far exceed” those of the District Schools.[18] This, to me personally, is insulting.  I would not send my sons to “failing” schools.  Thanks in all part to the outstanding teachers at the Red Bank Primary and Middle Schools, my sons have excelled at both schools. [19]  My oldest son, I am proud to say, was accepted into, and is succeeding at, the Finance Academy at Red Bank Regional High School.  If my sons’ success at the schools is to be measured by standardized test scores (it should not), then I feel that they have been successful.  Below are their standardized test scores over the years:

Oldest Son

NJ PASS

Grade 1:          Performance Level 3 – Advanced in both Mathematics and Language Arts

Grade 2:          Performance Level 3 – Advanced in both Mathematics (40 points out of 40 points) and Language Arts

NJASK

Grade 3:          Proficient in Language Arts Literacy and Advanced Proficient in Mathematics

Grade 4:          Proficient in Language Arts Literacy and Advanced Proficient in both Mathematics and Science

Grade 5:          Proficient in English Language Arts and Advanced Proficient in Mathematics

Grade 6:          Proficient in English Language Arts and Advanced Proficient in Mathematics

Grade 8:          Science:  Advanced Proficient

PARCC

Grade 7:          Performance Level 5 – Exceeded Expectations in English Language Arts and Performance Level 4- Met Expectations in Mathematics

Grade 8:          Performance Level 5 – Exceeded Expectations in English Language Arts and Performance Level 4 – Met Expectations in Mathematics

Middle Son

NJASK

Grade 3:          Proficient in English Language Arts and Advanced Proficient in Mathematics (300 points out of 300 points)

Grade 4:          Proficient in English Language Arts and Advanced Proficient in both Mathematics (300 points out of 300 points) and Science

PARCC

Grade 5:          Performance Level 4 - Met Expectations in both English Language Arts/Literacy   

Grade 6:          Performance Level 5 – Exceeded Expectations in English Language Arts/Literacy and Performance Level 4 – Met Expectations in Mathematics

Youngest Son

NJASK

Grade 3:          Proficient in English Language Arts and Advanced Proficient in Mathematics (300 points out of 300 points)

PARCC

Grade 4:          Performance Level 4 – Met Expectations in Mathematics and Performance Level 3– Approached Expectations in English Language Arts/Literacy (high end of range, earning 747 points in 725-750 range)

Grade 5:          Performance Level 4 – Met Expectations in both English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics

But my sons, unlike many of the students at the District Schools, are not LEP, ED or minority students.   These students traditionally have lower standardized test scores.[20]  Thus, comparing the test scores of the RBCS’s students, who are 4% LEP, 40% ED, 34% Hispanic, and 52% white to the test scores of the District Schools’ students, who are 44% LEP, 88% ED, 80% Hispanic, and 7% white, is not an apples-to-apples comparison.[21]  As the Board explained in its presentation in opposing the RBCS’s expansion application, the District Schools’ LEP students show a significant increase in their test scores as their language acquisition skills increase over the years. [22]  With respect to ED students, the Red Bank Primary School consistently exceeds its targets.  Although the Red Bank Middle School does not, neither does the RBCS and its shortfall is greater than that of the Red Bank Middle School.[23]  Interestingly, the 2015 PARCC test results showed that the Red Bank Middle School 8th graders outperformed the RBCS 8th graders in both Math and English Language Arts.[24]  This demonstrates that the District Schools students are gaining skills as they journey through the schools.  This is not “failing.”

During the RBCS’s expansion application process, we heard a lot of “school choice” rhetoric.  So I urge you to ask yourself this: Does the “school choice” of a handful of whiter and wealthier parents outweigh the value of community cohesion and the duplicative costs to taxpayers?

Dated: 11/9/2016

Roseann Dal Pra

 

[1] Red Bank District Schools’ Board of Education (“Board”)’s Presentation to the Commissioner, Executive Summary, available at http://rbb.k12.nj.us/cms/lib5/NJ01001817/Centricity/domain/109/hespe/ExecutiveSummary.pdf.

[2] John Burton, Segregation in Red Bank Schools: How it Happened and What Can be Done, The Two River Times (Feb. 19, 2016), available at http://tworivertimes.com/segregation-in-red-bank-schools-how-it-happened-and-what-can-be-done/.

[3] Roger Foss, Vice President of the RBCS Board of Trustees, February 10, 2016 Press Conference.  Audio of quote: https://vimeo.com/155288308.  Full recording of press conference, http://www.redbankgreen.com/2016/02/red-bank-charter-officials-defend-plan/#more-102350.

[4] Board’s Legal Response (1/28/2016), at 9-10, available athttp://rbb.k12.nj.us/cms/lib5/NJ01001817/Centricity/domain/109/hespe/LegalResponse.pdf

[5] Board’s Legal Response (1/28/2016), at 11-13; In re Grant of Renewal Application of the Red Bank Charter School, 367 N.J. Super. 462 (App. Div. 2004).

[6] Board’s Legal Response (1/28/2016), at 13.

[7] Board’s presentation to Commissioner, available at http://rbb.k12.nj.us/Page/893.

[8] Commissioner’s denial letter (2/29/2016), available at http://www.redbankgreen.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/RBCS-Denial-Letter-022916.pdf.

[9] The Commissioner has an affirmative duty to continuously monitor the student composition of the RBCS and to remedy any segregative effect on the District Schools.  Board’s Legal Response (1/28/2016) at 8.

[10] Taxpayers Guide to Education Spending, available at http://www.state.nj.us/education/guide/2016/district.shtml.  In fact, the RBCS spends more per student than the other sending districts to Red Bank Regional High School.  In 2014-15, Little Silver’s total spending per student was $17,767 and Shrewsbury’s total spending per student was $18,454.  The RBCS even spent $406 more per student in 2014-15 than did Rumson.

[11] New Jersey’s 50 Most Underfunded School Districts, available at http://www.edlawcenter.org/assets/files/pdfs/Newsblasts/50%20Most%20Underfunded%20School%20Districts%205-2016.pdf.

[12] Board’s PowerPoint Presentation.

[13] Julia Sass Rubin, Ph.D and Edward J. Bloustein, New Jersey Charter School Funding, at 20 (Rutgers Univ. Oct. 30, 2015).

[14] Board’s Presentation to the Commissioner, Fact vs. Fiction, available at http://rbb.k12.nj.us/cms/lib5/NJ01001817/Centricity/domain/109/hespe/FactvsFiction.pdf.  In 2015, duplicative costs amounted to $851,000.

[15] 6/28/2016 RBC Board of Trustee Meeting Minutes, available at http://www.redbankcharterschool.com/rbcs/BOARD%20OF%20TRUSTEES/Board%20Notes/Minutes/RBCS%20BOT%20June%202016%20Minutes.pdf

[16] RBCS Amendment Request, available at http://www.redbankgreen.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/RBCS-Amendment-Request-Dec-2015.pdf.

[17] Board’s Presentation to the Commissioner, Executive Summary, available at http://rbb.k12.nj.us/cms/lib5/NJ01001817/Centricity/domain/109/hespe/ExecutiveSummary.pdf, and PowerPoint Presentation, available at http://rbb.k12.nj.us/cms/lib5/NJ01001817/Centricity/domain/109/hespe/BlueRibbonPanel.pdf.

[18]  John Burton, Red Bank Charter School Proposes Expansion, The Two River Times (Jan. 14, 2016, available at http://tworivertimes.com/red-bank-charter-school-proposes-expansion/.

[19] I have three sons who fall within the 7% white population at the District Schools and who never “fled” to the RBCS.  They all attended the Red Bank Primary School and attended/are attending the Red Bank Middle School.  My oldest son is currently a Freshman at Red Bank Regional High School, my middle son is a 7th grader at the Red Bank Middle School, and my youngest son is a 6th grader also at the Red Bank Middle School.

[20] John Mooney, PARCC Exam Results for NJ Magnify Achievement Gaps Linked To Income, Race (NJSpotlight Nov. 5, 2015), available at http://www.njspotlight.com/stories/15/11/04/parcc-exam-results-for-nj-magnify-achievement-gaps-linked-to-income-race/.

[21] Board’s Power Point Presentation.

[22] Board’s PowerPoint Presentation.

[23] See footnote 17.

[24] 2015 PARCC Test Results, available athttp://www.nj.com/education/2016/02/parcc_2015_test_results_see_how_your_nj_school_sco.html

Erica Borkowski