By JOHN T. WARD
Red Bank Mayor Pasquale Menna hopes to assemble a “blue-ribbon panel” in coming days to quickly assess what he called “one of the biggest elephants in the room:” the Red Bank Charter School’s controversial expansion plan and its impact on taxpayers.
Menna announced the initiative at Saturday’s borough government reorganization, telling a packed room he hoped the seven-member committee would “articulate the issues, the consequences, and the financial impact” of such an expansion for taxpayers.
Under the plan, submitted to the New Jersey Department of Education last month, the pre-K-through-8 charter school, on Oakland Street, proposed a gradual doubling in its number of classes, to two per grade, and the number of students, to 40 per grade, starting as early as next September with grades pre-k through 4.
Full implementation would increase total enrollment to 400 by the 2018-’19 school year, according to the filing.
Menna said he wanted to assemble a group of “professionals in the fields of” education, social science, economics and business — but not employed by or on the board of either the charter or district schools — to evaluate the plan. He said the committee would meet “in strict confidence” to come up with a report within 30 days “on the issues and consequences” of the charter plan winning approval from state education Commissioner David Hespe, who has sole authority to approve or reject the application.
Councilwoman Kathy Horgan would chair the panel, Menna said. Charter school Principal Meredith Pennotti and district Superintendent Jared Rumage would also be members, he said.
“I think the silent majority and also this council will be better served if unaffiliated professionals who are our residents… would give us the parameters of that discussion,” he said.
Pennotti didn’t reply to redbankgreen’s requests for comment on Menna’s initiative. Rumage, who told redbankgreen Menna informed him of the proposal minutes before the reorganization, said he’s “open to any opportunity to showcase our schools and to discuss why this is a bad idea for Red Bank and for the children of Red Bank.”
“I think there’s a lot of misinformation and untruths in their proposal,” he said.
Rumage has complained that the charter school has unfairly mischaracterized the relative performance of the district schools as part of its rationale for the expansion. He also said approval of the plan would have “devastating consequences” to the the borough district, which is required by law to help fund the charter school. Under the current budget, the district will transfer $1.56 million to the charter school this year, and Rumage expects that sum would double if the plan is approved.
As of Wednesday morning, Menna had received four responses, he told redbankgreen.
The timing of the Menna endeavor is “paramount,” said Rumage, because the district has to file its rebuttal comment on the proposal with state education Commissioner David Hespe by the end of January. Hespe is expected to decide by the end of February.
Here’s the full text of a press release the borough issued Monday:
The application for expansion filed by the Red Bank Charter School with the Commissioner of Education not only creates a long term and possibly challenging relationship with the Red Bank Public School System, but imposes some long term planning and financial issues squarely in the forefront of public discussions for the Borough of Red Bank. The Governing Body has traditionally advised both bodies to reach some consensus for the benefit of all the children of Red Bank.
It seems that the application before the Commissioner is being fast-forwarded and both educational institutions are preparing their respective positions.
The Governing Body must be adequately prepared to meet and address this challenge since it potentially may have consequences for every taxpayer and property owner in Red Bank. In order to advise the Governing Body, I have created a Blue Ribbon Committee to be comprised of Red Bank residents who are (1) retired or current academicians; (2) economists; (3) educational professionals/administrators not affiliated with either the RBPS or the RBCS; (4) sociologists; (5) business/finance professionals; and (6) qualified residents unaffiliated with either institution; and residents.
Seven members will be selected for the Committee. In addition, the Superintendent of the RBPS and the Principal of the RBCS shall serve as ex ufficio members. It will be chaired by the Council Liaison for Education and Technology, Councilwoman Kathleen Horgan.
Time is of the essence since the decision by the Commissioner may be made in 60 days.
Therefore, interested individuals are invited to email their interest and resume or CV very quickly. Applications for membership will be taken by email until Friday, January 8, 2016. Email the interest to: [email protected]
Here’s the charter school’s application to the DOE: RBCS Amendment Request Dec 2015