By JOHN T. WARD
The Red Bank school district has quietly but officially called for the non-renewal of the Red Bank Charter School‘s official sanction, district Superintendent Jared Rumage confirmed Tuesday.
In an October 13 letter to the New Jersey Department of Education, Rumage told acting Commissioner Kimberley Harrington that the existence of the charter school “greatly inhibits the ability of our schools to meet our goals” and imposes an “unfair financial burden” on both borough and state taxpayers.
“The small community of Red Bank Borough can no longer afford to support two separate school districts,” the letter continues, “and based any objective comparison, we no longer have the need to do so.”
Here’s the letter: rumage-letter-101316
Rumage said he sent the letter without fanfare. “It’s not like I’m running down the street shouting that the charter school should be closed,” he told redbankgreen.
But he said he did not want silence by the district to be interpreted as a tacit endorsement of the charter school’s request for another five years of operation. In addition, Rumage said the district board made clear earlier this year that “it’s time to have a discussion in the community about the viability of maintaining two school districts.”
Charter school opponents contend the school gets $2,000 more per pupil per year in funding than the district, which has the additional challenge of educating more socio-economically disadvantaged students.
And last month, two groups —the newly formed Fair Schools Red Bank and the Latino Coalition of New Jersey — called on the federal Justice Department’s Civil Rights division to investigate what it termed pervasive “segregation”of the borough’s public school children resulting from charter school enrollment policies, as well as by its very existence.
The complaint says that borough taxpayers “are powerless to reverse this segregation, and yet they are forced to subsidize it,” spending nearly $2 million a year in duplicative costs to support two public school systems — “a predominantly poor and Hispanic public school of 1,400 students, and a much smaller, wealthier and whiter school of 200 students.”
The charter school maintains that its enrollment reflects the school-age population of the town, which Rumage and the two groups dispute. Charter supporters also maintain that closing the school would not significantly alter the racial and ethnic makeup of the district’s two schools.
Charter school principal and Superintendent Meredith Pennotti responded to the letter with a prepared statement to redbankgreen that said, in part:
Pennotti, who has questioned the Latino Coalition’s standing to represent Red Bank parents, has invited its executive director, Frank Argote-Freyre, to tour the school. Argote-Freyre told redbankgreen he has accepted the invitation, but in a letter to Pennotti, wrote, “Our major concern is not with your management of the school but with the fact that you provide nothing unique in terms of curriculum or services and that your student population does not fairly represent the demographics of the student population in Red Bank.”
No date for his visit has been set.
The Department of Education is expected to decide the renewal question by February 28.