RED BANK: BECK WEIGHS IN ON CHARTER PLAN

rbcs 121515 2The charter school campus on Oakland Street, above, abuts a commercial building on Oakland Street in which the school recently leased space for current and possible future use. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

HOT-TOPIC_03State Senator Jennifer Beck has asked the New Jersey education department to either fully fund Red Bank’s public schools or reject a proposed doubling of enrollment at the Red Bank Charter School.

In a letter sent to Commissioner David Hespe Governor Chris Christie on Friday, Beck says that allowing the charter school expansion to go ahead without a commensurate increase in funding for the district would “require Red Bank taxpayers to absorb an enormous tax increase and potentially leave public school students with less educational opportunities.”

beck burnham 1 010114Beck with Councilwoman Cindy Burnham in 2014. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

rb march 011316 5Citing a statutory requirement that charter schools be “held harmless” even as state aid to districts is cut, and another that requires districts to share a portion of their revenue “up front” with charters, Beck said a green-light for the RBCS proposal “would devastate an already significantly under-funded school district, and clearly place a huge new tax burden on approximately 12,000 residents of this 1.6 square mile Borough.”

Here’s the full letter: Beck Hespe letter 011516

In an application to the New Jersey Department of Education on December 1, the charter school asked for permission to double its enrollment over the next three years, to 400 students.

With her request, Beck — a borough resident and former councilmember — joined the six-member council as the latest elected official to claim dire consequences for the two-school public district if the charter school plan is allowed. On Wednesday, the council unanimously adopted a resolution asking to delay a decision on the charter school endeavor.

The resolution asks that the charter plan “not be approved at this time.” It also asks that the plan not be approved “unless and until… the state is willing to fully fund” the district school, which has been underfunded by several millions of dollars due it under state law in recent years. Here’s the resolution: RB Resolution 12-26

That vote came after nearly 200 parents, children and school employees marched on borough hall in biting cold weather to oppose the charter plan. The board of the public district last month voted to “take all legal action necessary to oppose” the charter expansion, which it maintains would siphon huge sums from district funding, prompting tax increases and shrinkage in services.

Separately, Mayor Pasquale Menna has named seven residents to a “blue-ribbon panel” to assess the impact of the expansion on the town. That body is scheduled to begin deliberations behind closed doors on Monday.

Education Commissioner David Hespe has sole authority to approve or reject the plan, and must do so by February 1. A department spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on Beck letter and other recent developments Friday afternoon.

Charter school Principal Meredith Pennotti also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Here’s the charter school’s application to the DOE: RBCS Amendment Request Dec 2015