By JOHN T. WARD
Red Bank schools Superintendent Jared Rumage called on the borough council Wednesday to aid the district in a bid to shut down the Red Bank Charter School, whose authority to operate is up for renewal.
In a direct challenge that echoed rhetoric from a bitter battle leading up to the school’s charter renewal in 2017, Rumage called for a “unified” borough educational system and the elimination of an institution that he said has fostered segregation for its entire 23-year existence.
“It’s a travesty that we have tolerated school segregation for so long in Red Bank,” Rumage told the council via Zoom during its workshop session.
In a statement to redbankgreen Thursday morning, charter school Head of School Kristen Martello wrote:
As for Dr. Rumage’s comments, he has trotted again a segregation slur against the charter school, which, despite an immense waste of public monies in legal fees, has never been proven. He should focus on bringing the community together instead of trying to thwart his district’s accountability and parental choice in public schools.
Since 1998, Red Bank Charter School has provided our diverse families with an excellent, student-centered educational experience. Now, more than ever, we are providing extra social emotional support to our families to address trauma and learning delays due to a global pandemic. Superintendent Rumage’s call to close our school based on false accusations of segregation during this challenging time is beyond the pale. We have reached out to the Superintendent as we prepare for renewal but he has been unwilling to meet with us to work together to meet the needs of all families in Red Bank.
Rumage’s shot across the bow follows the adoption of a district board of education resolution in August opposing the charter renewal.
That statement claimed that “the demographic and socioeconomic composition of the student body of the Charter district is not representative of the demographic and socioeconomic composition of the Kindergarten to 8th grade population of Red Bank thereby distorting the demographic and socioeconomic composition of the traditional public school’s population.”
On Wednesday, Rumage spoke of “a subject I’ve very passionate about, and that’s the creation of single public school system for the children, families and community of Red Bank.”
Calling the topic one that people sometimes avoid because “they’re afraid it’s controversial,” Rumage said he instead sees it as an “opportunity” to redress “inequities” between the 200-student charter school and the 1,400-student district primary and middle schools.
“I think this conversation needs to be about two things: eliminating structures that promote inequities, and what is really best for Red Bank, New Jersey,” he said. “And for 23 years, the existence of a charter school in Red Bank has resulted in a segregated public school system. The average white population of the charter school over their history is nearly 50 percent; for our school system, it’s just 12 percent.”
Similar disparities exist in the areas of students with economic disadvantages (41 percent at the charter school, and 79 percent at the district); English language learners and students with disabilities, Rumage said.
The figures, he said, were consistent with “a quarter-century’s worth of evidence,” Rumage said, noting that when the charter school opened, its inaugural class was 59 percent white, while the primary and middle schools were 59 percent black.
“I will let you all make your own assumptions about why the charter school opened, but to me, I have my own opinion,” he said.
Having two systems in town also burdens local taxpayers “with $2 million annually in duplicative or redundant educational costs to support this segregated school system,” he said.
A New Jersey Department of Education decision on the school’s pending renewal request is expected in January or February, though the decision may be made before the end of the year, Rumage said, urging the council to act swiftly.
Mayor Pasquale Menna said “the only jurisdiction” the borough government has in the matter is to weigh in via resolution.
In 2016, Menna empaneled an ad hoc “blue-ribbon” committee that led to the council asking the DOE to reject the school’s request for a five-year renewal.
A year earlier, denied, without explanation, the charter school’s request to double its enrollment over three years.
The charter school does not engage in “segregative” enrollment practices, the DOE ruled at the time, and instead “is seeking, ‘to the maximum extent practicable,’ to enroll a cross-section of Red Bank Borough’s school-age population.”
Councilwoman Kathy Horgan, who served on the blue-ribbon committee in 2016, told Rumage she would again support him in his effort to prevent another charter renewal.
“I took a stand on this five years ago,” Horgan said, adding that she had recently reached out to her council colleagues, but had not yet heard back from them.
“If any of you have looked at your tax bill, which was due on November first, you will see that the largest part of your bill is the schools,” she said.
Two school board members, Jennifer Garcia and Sue Viscomi, spoke in favor of the proposed resolution during the public comment portion of the meeting, as did Spring Street resident Lisa McLaughlin, parent of an eighth-grader at the middle school.
If you value the news coverage provided by redbankgreen, please become a financial supporter for as little as $1 per month. Click here to set your own level of monthly or annual contribution.