By JOHN T. WARD
For the second time in a month, members of the Red Bank school community plan to rally again Wednesday night to oppose a proposed doubling of enrollment at the Red Bank Charter School.
This time, they’re planning to march from the middle school to borough hall for a semimonthly council session, where a resolution will be introduced asking the state Department to tap the brakes on the charter school endeavor.
The charter school recently leased portions of a a building formerly leased by Prown’s Home Improvements on Monmouth Street. The property abuts the school’ home on Oakland Street. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
Councilwoman Linda Schwabenbauer told redbankgreen the resolution will ask Education Commissioner David Hespe to extend the comment period on the proposal beyond the current deadline of January 30. Hespe has sole authority to approve or reject the plan, which would double charter school enrollment to 400 students over three years.
Schwabenbauer said the resolution has bipartisan support, and does not take sides, but rather is only about giving the town and others more time to prepare a careful response. She also referenced Mayor Pasquale Menna’s plan to put together a “blue-ribbon panel” to quickly review the charter proposal, saying the DOE deadline would leave the committee with little time to work.
“The time period [for comment] was so short,” she said. The charter school proposal “wasn’t even on the table until December 1,” when it was made public.
Supporters of the borough school district fear that approval of the expansion would cause fiscal havoc for the two-school district and taxpayers.
Superintendent Jared Rumage said he welcomes the resolution, just as he does Menna’s suggestion, because it offers an opportunity to dispel misinformation about the schools. “We just want the real story about our schools out there,” he said.
He added that the council must understand the impact on taxes if the charter plan goes ahead.
“If it’s approved, there’s no going back,” he said, whereas the charter school could reapply again in the future if the consensus is that the current plan is problematic.
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.
Rumage said district parents, members of the nonprofit Red Bank Education Foundation and other supporters plan to assemble at the middle school at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday for brief remarks before walking together to borough hall for the council’s 6:30 p.m. meeting.
A flyer circulated by organizers bills the event as a “march against” the charter school expansion and asks participants to make signs and banners to protest it. At borough hall, “We will address the Council and request a unanimous resolution be passed in opposition to the expansion of the charter
school and any new taxes that will now or in the future be required to fund it,” the flyer reads.
An online petition asking Hespe to deny the charter school request has garnered more than 500 signatures.
Here’s the charter school’s application to the DOE: RBCS Amendment Request Dec 2015