Schools and Segregation: Not in Our Town...Any Longer.
Many years ago, a small group of Red Bank parents started talking about how upset they were that the Red Bank Borough Schools were terribly underfunded and terribly segregated, mostly due to the charter school in our small town. For years, a group of us did our best to ignore the negative effects the Red Bank Charter School was having on our borough schools. We hoped these effects would go away, and magically we would be properly funded and less segregated. We worked tirelessly on fundraising, asking for community support (for arts, music, etc.) and doing our own recruiting of parents to help even out the segregation issue. But as time went on, evidence of the negative effects caused by the charter school continued to present themselves—whether it was in annual cuts to our school programs, broken friendships and neighborhoods, or simply being exposed to class pictures from the mostly white charter school. I tried to turn the other cheek and focus on our schools and making them better. I became highly involved in the PTO and working with state politicians on our arts programs and underfunding.
Success was achieved. We restored our strings program with the help of our superintendent and many community partners. We also maintained our valuable elective classes such as Chinese, AVID (college-prep) and Project Lead the Way (engineering). We were making great strides through the leadership of our very smart administration, involved parents, and community.
Then everything came to a head last year when the charter school asked to expand. We were faced with the already existing negative effects multiplying—less funding, deeper segregation. Our community was floored. But we pulled together and rallied around our strong leadership to block the expansion. As we did, we had a chance to educate our larger community even more about the negative effects the charter school has on our district. It was like unpeeling an onion, one layer at a time, and examining the funding model, segregation, student academic achievement, programming, budgeting, school communications, and more. And with each layer, we became more and more astounded and shocked. The data supported our deepest fears: We were indeed living in the most segregated neighborhood in NJ—yes, our “hip town,” our cool little town of Red Bank, NJ, the same Red Bank that Smithsonian Magazine, The New York Times and many others have written about as one of the best small towns in America. This data and information we uncovered was the dirty little secret that creeped below the headlines.
So today as the new school year begins, we find ourselves facing the renewal of this same charter school that has been sucking funds from our district and separating our community for decades. We are pulling together once again. But now it is personal for me and many others, and this is why I am writing. I can’t keep quiet anymore. I can’t lower my voice. I want to scream. It is shameful for me to be a resident and taxpayer of the most underfunded school district in New Jersey that supports a charter school and the most segregated district in all of New Jersey—all of which is caused by the mere fact that we have a charter school.
I am a taxpayer, parent, and involved community member of our little town of Red Bank, and I want the world to know that there are truly serious, everyday effects of a charter school on our small town. I will start with money—there is nearly $1 million in duplicative costs to our taxpayers to support these two school systems. I will mention our rents and taxes increasing year after year to support two school systems with two administrations. Not only are there duplicative costs, last year’s data showed that The Red Bank Charter School gets more money per student than the Red Bank Borough Schools – the number is $16,607 per student vs. $18,726 per Red Bank Charter School student. It is senseless. Next, let’s talk about why we need this school—our public schools are not underperforming. Our schools have sown year-over-year improvement in standardized test scores, and they have learned not only how to highly educate our diverse population but to also offer them things like band, strings, arts, theater, sports, AVID, Engineering, Chinese—all while being the 13th most underfunded district in the state of New Jersey and the most underfunded school district that has to support a charter school. In fact, our 8th grade graduating class standardized test scores are significantly higher in the district as compared with the Red Bank Charter School. Finally, the touchy subject of segregation—segregation by race, ethnic background, disability, financial—the list goes on. We desire one community, one town, one neighborhood where schools don’t separate us.
-Jennifer Garcia, Red Bank resident, Red Bank business owner, taxpayer, parent of three public school students and a member of Red Bank Mayor Pasquale Menna’s Blue Ribbon Commission formed in early 2016 to study the impact of the Red Bank Charter School’s proposed expansion. This appeared in the Asbury Park Press on Sept. 17, 2016.