Red Bank Superintendent Jared Rumage, above, said PARCC test results show that students gain skills as they progress through the middle school. Below, charter school Principal Meredith Pennotti at the forum her school hosted Tuesday. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
Twists in the proposed Red Bank Charter School expansion saga in recent days have prompted the borough school district to dial up its attack on the plan.
District Superintendent Jared Rumage said a change in the timeline of the plan’s proposed rollout “amplifies [the] disconnect” between the charter school and the community.
In addition, academic test data released this week shows that district eighth-graders are not only competitive with those at the charter school, but outscored them, he said.
The charter school plan, filed with the New Jersey Department of Education on December 1, still calls for doubling enrollment, to 400 students over three years, beginning in September. But an amendment filed last Friday calls for changes to the staging of the expansion. Whereas the original plan called for adding 120 students in the first year, with 40 more in each of the two following years, the new plan would cut the first-year increase to 60 students, followed by 80 in the second and third years.
Charter school officials made the change public at a forum they hosted on Tuesday. There, school spokesman Kevin King told redbankgreen that the changes were not in response to widespread criticism of the expansion plan. Echoing a press release, he said school officials instead saw the new rollout as both “more manageable” and “in the best interest of the children of Red Bank.”
But the proposed amendment “changes only the pace at which the expansion would be implemented,” Rumage said in a statement released Thursday night. “It does nothing to address the concerns of the District over the expansion request as a whole, which include severe reductions in force, increased class sizes, the elimination of instructional programs, and an additional burden on the taxpayers of Red Bank Borough.”
Rumage has also seized on results of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, tests, released by the DOE on Tuesday.
In its literature touting the expansion, the charter school claims that it “could influence a substantial shift to higher achievement for a significant number of the children of Red Bank.” It also says that it has been “outperforming the district schools by more than 30 percent on NJASK,” the standardized test that was replaced by the PARCCs last spring.
Rumage, however, said the PARCC results show that while the district, on average, underperforms the charter school, district eighth graders outperformed the charter kids in both math and English language arts.
Because the district’s lower grades have far more Spanish-speaking and economically disadvantaged students, “our third graders are not going to be able to match” the charter school’s, he told redbankgreen. But as the district students advance toward high school, they do, he said.
“You have to look at it longitudinally,” he said. “I’m not criticizing the charter school. I’m sure they do a fine job. But they way they’re using the data to say they’re much better is just not fair.”
King did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the PARCC tests.
Both the rollout change and the PARCC developments occurred after the district filed a rebuttal last Friday to the December 1 plan.
State Education Commissioner David Hespe has sole jurisdiction to authorize or reject the expansion plan, and his office has previously said he is expected to decide this month. DOE spokesman Richard Vespucci did not respond to a request Friday morning for information on whether Hespe will consider the PARCC results or demographics in his decision.
Vespucci told redbankgreen earlier this week that “a fiscal impact analysis will be part of the review.”
Here’s the charter school’s application to the DOE: RBCS Amendment Request Dec 2015