By JOHN T. WARD
Charter school Superintendent and Principal Meredith Pennotti confirmed Tuesday that New Jersey Education Commissioner David Hespe had reversed course on one aspect of his February 29 decision and approved the use of a lottery structured to give socio-economically disadvantaged kids better odds of joining the 200-student school.
In conjunction with their request to boost enrollment, school officials had sought permission to use the weighted lottery to address population disparities between the charter school and the traditional public school.
According to district Superintendent Jared Rumage, 90 percent of the district’s 1,407 students are Hispanic or African-American, compared to 48 percent of the charter school’s students. In addition, he contends, 88 percent of the district’s children are economically disadvantaged, compared to 40 percent of the charter school’s.
Those disparities have led to accusations that the town has “the most segregated” schools in New Jersey, an allegation echoed by a mayoral panel appointed to review the expansion plan.
The weighted lottery — until now authorized for use at only one other charter school in the state, in Hoboken — is expected to begin to address that, though Pennotti has stressed that race and ethnicity are not factors that themselves qualify a student for additional weighting.
Instead, the four criteria are residence in public housing; residence in federal Section 8 housing; receipt of aid under Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program; or receipt of free or reduced-cost lunch at school
Charter school officials learned of Hespe’s reversal in a March 10 letter, which authorized the use of the weighted lottery for the next three school years. Hespe offered no explanation for the earlier rejection of the request. Here’s the letter: RBCS Weighted Lottery Approval 031016
On Tuesday night, the school’s board of trustees discussed plans for the lottery, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 28 at the school. Applicants and their parents are not required to be present.
In the weighted lottery, children whose parents can provide documentary proof of meeting one of the four criteria get three bingo balls entered into a mixing drum, compared to two balls for those not considered disadvantaged.
The impact of the selection process on the school’s makeup could be gradual. The April 28 drawing will fill all 20 seats in the school’s pre-K class for the next school year, as well as vacancies created by students transferring out of grades kindergarten through 8. As of Tuesday, Pennotti said, she had not received notices of any planned transfers.
Lottery winners for whom openings aren’t available will be put on the waiting list for the year, she said.
Addressing complaints of residents who did not receive mailed application forms for the lottery, Pennotti said “an unfortunate error” by a contract printer had resulted in three mailing routes in town getting left off the distribution last month. A mailing to those households is planned for this week, she said.
The school will also hang banners above Broad Street and Shrewsbury Avenue announcing the lottery, she said.
In other business:
• The board approved its budget for the next school year. The document was not immediately made available but will be posted on the school website once it has been sent to the state, Pennotti said. She said the spending plan was relatively unchanged from the current-year budget.
• The board also swore in Michael Stasi, a co-founder of the school, as a trustee, filling the vacancy created by the resignation last month of Janice Havay as a parent-elected member.
• Pennotti confirmed to redbankgreen that, in the wake of the expansion plan denial, a short-term sublease with Prown’s Home Improvements on the first-floor retail space at 135 Monmouth Street had been allowed to lapse. The school has a long-term lease, with the building owner, on space elsewhere in the building, which it uses as a STEM lab and for other purposes