By JOHN T. WARD
A standing-room crowd of more than 400 filled the Red Bank Middle School auditorium to oppose a proposed doubling of enrollment at the Red Bank Charter School Thursday night.
The turnout, on a rainy and foggy night, surprised organizers, which they said reflected wildfire concern that the expansion, if approved by the state Department of Education, would occur at steep financial cost to the two-school borough district and taxpayers.
“I have two kids in the primary school, and I don’t want them to be hurt,” said Marion Street resident Genilda Shinners. “And I don’t want my taxes going up, either.”
More than 400 attendees filled the hall. Afterward, organizer Judy DeHaven, at right below, spoke with Councilwoman Linda Schwabenbauer and Councilman-elect Mike Whelan. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
The aim of the event, organized by husband-and-wife Wayne Woolley and Judy DeHaven, of Mechanic Street, was to encourage parents to voice their opposition to the proposal, under which the charter school seeks to double enrollment over the next three years, to 400 students.
Attendees, some of them listening through headphones to a Spanish translation, were also urged to sign a petition asking state education Commissioner David Hespe to deny the charter school request.
“You do not need to be a citizen to sign the petition,” Woolley told the audience. “You send your kids to this school, you have a voice.”
Woolley, a father of two middle school girls, told the audience that he and district officials were “not opposed to the charter school. But we are opposed to it getting any bigger.”
Officials fear that the $1.56 million the district is required to forward to the charter school this year will also double, without a commensurate increase in state aid. That would likely result in staff reductions, cuts to in-school and after-school programs, and cause the school tax — which rose nearly 13 percent this year — to soar further.
In the charter school application to the DOE, filed on December 1, Principal Meredith Pennotti said she anticipated “public discord” over the proposal.
She also acknowledged the plan, if implemented, would and impose “financial hardship” on the district from which the charter school sprang in 1998, though the application does not attempt to quantify that hardship.
The doubling is needed to redress the “status quo” of what Pennotti termed “significant” disparities in academic performance between the charter and borough district students. Growing the school, she wrote, “could influence a substantial shift to higher achievement for a significant number of Red Bank children.”
District Superintendent Jared Rumage, who blasted Pennotti’s rhetoric without naming her at a board of education meeting Tuesday, went after it again at the rally.
“I am saddened that it is nearly 2016, and an old, old story has perpetuated the myth” that the district schools are not up to snuff, Rumage told the gathering. “It is time for it to end.”
On Tuesday, the district board unanimously authorized its attorney to “take all legal action necessary to oppose” the charter school bid.
Three borough council members — Cindy Burnham, Linda Schwabenbauer and Ed Zipprich — as well as Councilman-elect Mike Whelan, attended the rally, which lasted less than 20 minutes.
Here’s the charter school’s application to the DOE: RBCS Amendment Request Dec 2015