RED BANK: P.R. BATTLE OVER CHARTER SCHOOL

rbcs 032216 2The charter school’s five-year renewal request is pending with the state Department of Education. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

HOT-TOPIC_03The two sides in the recently renewed tussle over the future of the Red Bank Charter School crossed swords in the form of press releases Monday.

First, the Latino Coalition of New Jersey issued a release decrying the school’s use of nearly $40,000 to pay an outside firm for public relations.

That was followed by a press release, issued by that firm on the school’s behalf, questioning the coalition’s standing.

The skirmish followed last week’s filing of a Civil Rights complaint with the federal Justice Department by the Latino Coalition and the newly formed Fair Schools Red Bank. They allege pervasive “segregation” of the public schools as a result of the charter school’s enrollment policies, as well as disparities in funding that they contend the New Jersey Department of Education has failed to address.

Here’s the complaint: civil-rights-complaint-111516

The charter school denies the segregation claim, and says its 199-student population is diverse and representative of the borough’s school-aged population.

Here’s the Latino Coalition’s release:

Red Bank Charter School Spending Thousands to Send Positive Message about Segregated School

The Red Bank Charter School is spending nearly $40,000 a year of taxpayer money on a public relations campaign to fight against “perceived segregation” by the facility, which is the subject of a Federal Department of Justice complaint by the Latino Coalition and Fair Schools Red Bank.

Details of the media campaign by the school were revealed as a result of a recent Open Public Records Act request by a parent in the Red Bank Borough Public Schools. In an April 8 letter, Jaffe Communications, which was eventually hired by the charter school, argues that “a public relations program must quickly and consistently put to bed claims of perceived segregation.” The letter to School Principal Meredith Pennotti and the contract with Jaffe Communications are attached to this press release.

“This segregated charter school is spending taxpayer money to convince local parents that the school is not segregated when all the data indicates that it is,” said Frank Argote-Freyre, Director of the Latino Coalition. “The school does not reflect the community it is supposed to serve. It is whiter and wealthier than the Red Bank Borough Public Schools and receives more than $2,000 more per pupil. Those are established facts—not ‘falsehoods,’ as Jaffe claims in the letter.”

According to the civil rights complaint, the student body of the Red Bank Borough Public Schools is 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.

The Latino Coalition and Fair Schools Red Bank have asked the New Jersey Department of Education to deny the Red Bank Charter School’s application for a charter renewal.

Red Bank Borough Public School parents say they are acutely aware that their district, which serves the vast majority of the borough’s pre-k through eighth grade children, has been shortchanged by more than $7 million in state aid over the past five years. There is no money in the public school budget to fund a PR campaign—especially one designed to deceive the public, as the charter school’s plan appears to do.

“The entire community knows that the Red Bank Public Schools open their doors to every child, not just the select few,” said Erik Perry, a public school parent and one of the organizers of Fair Schools Red Bank. “It’s a shame that the charter school, with all its financial resources, chooses to spend its tax dollars this way.”

Earlier this year, the Latino Coalition partnered with parents and the Red Bank Borough Public Schools 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.

Here’s the correspondence cited above: rbcs-jaffe-112116

And here’s the charter school’s press release, issued by Jaffe Communications:

Red Bank Charter School Hispanic Parents Say Latino Coalition Does Not Represent Them
RED BANK — Nov. 21, 2016 A group of Hispanic parents whose children attend Red Bank Charter School today said they were never contacted by an organization that purports to speak for Latino residents in Red Bank.
The parents said they have never heard of the Freehold-based Latino Coalition, nor have they ever been contacted by the organization to gauge their opinion about the school system in Red Bank.
“I want it to be known to the entire Red Bank community that the many Latino parents at Red Bank Charter School fully support the school,” said Felipa Pastrana, a Mexican immigrant who has twin daughters in second grade at Red Bank Charter School. “We have never heard of the Latino Coalition. I’m am insulted that they claim to represent Latinos in Red Bank when they are not even from here.”
Lourdes Hernandez, who moved from Veracruz, Mexico, to Red Bank 16 years ago, said she is thrilled with the education her four children received at Red Bank Charter School.
“In the time I have lived here, I have never once been approached by an organization called the Latino Coalition,” Hernandez said. “This group has no right to speak for me or any of the other Latino parents at the charter school, or the many Latino parents who are on the waiting list to attend the charter school.”
Faine Vazquez, who has lived in Red Bank in since 2003, said she has never heard of the Latino Coalition.
“Let me tell you that this group does not speak for me or the other Latino parents who attend the Red Bank Charter School,” said Vazquez, who has a daughter in seventh grade at Red Bank Charter School. “This group never asked my opinion or anyone anyone else I know in the Latino community before they joined a complaint filed against the school that my 12-year old child attends.”
Rodolfo Ramirez, who left his native Costa Rica when he was 18, said he settled in Red Bank to join other friends and family. He said he worked hard, learned the language, and became a permanent resident of the United States.
“As a Hispanic immigrant, the most recent events in our nation are very upsetting to me, but my town has always been a safe place for people like me to live and improve their lives,” Ramirez said. “That is why I am so troubled to hear people using such negativity to divide our town. I wish I could believe that they have the best of intentions for our Hispanic community, but it is clear that they are using the term “segregation” to create a hostile environment.”
Ramirez said it is unfortunate that these false claims of segregation take away from all the good that the Red Bank Charter School is doing.
“Red Bank Charter School has multicultural events that welcome all students as well as those who don’t attend the school,” Ramirez said. “My children are still young but have been involved in many projects through the school that give back to the community, including volunteering, making donations, and participating in special days of service.”

Charter school Superintendent Meredith Pennotti has previously said a “small group that seems bent on further dividing the community” was behind the Justice Department  complaint, which she called “meritless.”

Argote-Freyre, director of the Freehold-based Latino Coalition, last week told redbankgreen that the group typically fights for minority rights in the legal process and housing issues, and got involved in the charter issue after talking with a number of Hispanic Red Bank parents who said they had never been informed about their right to apply for the school’s enrollment lottery.

He said backing for the charter shutdown effort includes “a sizable number of folks who are public and others who are supportive but don’t wish” to be named.

 

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