RED BANK: DISTRICT CALLS FOR CHARTER END

rbcs 032216 2The charter school’s five-year renewal request is pending with the state Department of Education. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

HOT-TOPIC_03The 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.

rbcs-diversity-120616-1A graphic prepared for the Red Bank Charter School on the impact of combining the two districts. (Click to enlarge)

“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

Given the district’s vehement opposition to the charter school’s failed effort earlier this year to double enrollment over three years, its opposition to the five-year renewal might seem to have been a given. But Rumage’s letter was unknown to charter school officials before Monday, a spokesman told redbankgreen.

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:

Closing Red Bank Charter School would do little to change the racial imbalance of Red Bank School system, nor would it do anything to change the fact that the state has not properly funded — not only Red Bank — but 80 percent of the school districts in New Jersey. However, closing Red Bank Charter School would be detrimental to the 200 students whose families chose the school for its education offerings as well as limit opportunity for the other 100 students on the waitlist hoping to realize that same choice. Our school has been at full capacity ever since it opened with a robust waiting list.

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.