By JOHN T. WARD
The two sides in the recently renewed tussle over the future of the Red Bank Charter School crossed swords in the form of press releases Monday.
First, the Latino Coalition of New Jersey issued a release decrying the school’s use of nearly $40,000 to pay an outside firm for public relations.
That was followed by a press release, issued by that firm on the school’s behalf, questioning the coalition’s standing.
The skirmish followed last week’s filing of a Civil Rights complaint with the federal Justice Department by the Latino Coalition and the newly formed Fair Schools Red Bank. They allege pervasive “segregation” of the public schools as a result of the charter school’s enrollment policies, as well as disparities in funding that they contend the New Jersey Department of Education has failed to address.
Here’s the complaint: civil-rights-complaint-111516
The charter school denies the segregation claim, and says its 199-student population is diverse and representative of the borough’s school-aged population.
Here’s the Latino Coalition’s release:
Red Bank Charter School Spending Thousands to Send Positive Message about Segregated School
The Red Bank Charter School is spending nearly $40,000 a year of taxpayer money on a public relations campaign to fight against “perceived segregation” by the facility, which is the subject of a Federal Department of Justice complaint by the Latino Coalition and Fair Schools Red Bank.
Details of the media campaign by the school were revealed as a result of a recent Open Public Records Act request by a parent in the Red Bank Borough Public Schools. In an April 8 letter, Jaffe Communications, which was eventually hired by the charter school, argues that “a public relations program must quickly and consistently put to bed claims of perceived segregation.” The letter to School Principal Meredith Pennotti and the contract with Jaffe Communications are attached to this press release.
“This segregated charter school is spending taxpayer money to convince local parents that the school is not segregated when all the data indicates that it is,” said Frank Argote-Freyre, Director of the Latino Coalition. “The school does not reflect the community it is supposed to serve. It is whiter and wealthier than the Red Bank Borough Public Schools and receives more than $2,000 more per pupil. Those are established facts—not ‘falsehoods,’ as Jaffe claims in the letter.”
According to the civil rights complaint, the student body of the Red Bank Borough Public Schools is 81 percent Latino, while at the charter school only 38 percent are Latino. About 89 percent of the children in the Red Bank public schools qualify for free and reduced lunches, an indicator of poverty, while at the charter school only 41 percent do.
The Latino Coalition and Fair Schools Red Bank have asked the New Jersey Department of Education to deny the Red Bank Charter School’s application for a charter renewal.
Red Bank Borough Public School parents say they are acutely aware that their district, which serves the vast majority of the borough’s pre-k through eighth grade children, has been shortchanged by more than $7 million in state aid over the past five years. There is no money in the public school budget to fund a PR campaign—especially one designed to deceive the public, as the charter school’s plan appears to do.
“The entire community knows that the Red Bank Public Schools open their doors to every child, not just the select few,” said Erik Perry, a public school parent and one of the organizers of Fair Schools Red Bank. “It’s a shame that the charter school, with all its financial resources, chooses to spend its tax dollars this way.”
Earlier this year, the Latino Coalition partnered with parents and the Red Bank Borough Public Schools to successfully oppose the expansion of the charter school. The Coalition was founded in 2003 to promote civil rights and political empowerment of Latinos and the working poor.
Here’s the correspondence cited above: rbcs-jaffe-112116
And here’s the charter school’s press release, issued by Jaffe Communications:
Charter school Superintendent Meredith Pennotti has previously said a “small group that seems bent on further dividing the community” was behind the Justice Department complaint, which she called “meritless.”
Argote-Freyre, director of the Freehold-based Latino Coalition, last week told redbankgreen that the group typically fights for minority rights in the legal process and housing issues, and got involved in the charter issue after talking with a number of Hispanic Red Bank parents who said they had never been informed about their right to apply for the school’s enrollment lottery.
He said backing for the charter shutdown effort includes “a sizable number of folks who are public and others who are supportive but don’t wish” to be named.