Controversy Continues Over Charter School

first_imgBy John BurtonRED BANK – A meeting between members of the local press and charter school officials seemed to turn up the heat on the antagonism over the school’s expansion proposal.Principal Meredith Pennotti, Board of Trustees Vice President Roger Foss and school business administrator David Block met with four area reporters on Feb. 10 at the Red Bank Charter School, 58 Oakland St., to offer the school’s perspective on its plans.The school is currently awaiting state Commissioner of Education David Hespe’s decision on its proposal to double enrollment to 400 students over the next three years, as well as expanding its facility space.Charter school officials planned to use its own public forum held earlier this month at recently leased 135 Monmouth St. space to “give the press an open forum” in addition to giving community members a chance to be heard, and for the school to announce it would amend its plan to stagger the future enrollment for the town’s benefit, Pennotti said.But given the large number of people in attendance that night, officials thought it would be better to dedicate the bulk of the time to public comments.“We don’t feel like we met that goal,” of giving reporters a chance to ask questions, Pennotti said.But some countered that the press meeting was an attempt to manipulate local media, to sway public opinion given the vocal opposition the charter school has faced since its plans became public last December.“I just keep feeling they keep reporting the same things over and over without anybody requesting they substantiate their claims,” charged Jared Rumage, Red Bank superintendent of schools.Rumage and others have pointed out that the charter school had an opportunity to present their views at a Jan. 22 forum at the middle school and at their own forum as well, where school officials sat silent as community members spoke. Charter school officials at the last minute decided to decline the invitation to appear at the middle school event, leaving Rumage to present the public school’s point of view.The deadline to submit public comment on the charter school’s proposal to the commissioner of education was Jan. 31. Hespe’s decision is expected by the end of February.“We want to do more for the population of Red Bank,” Pennotti said of the school’s proposal. She pointed to her school’s continuing wait list, currently around 90 students. She added that the public school population is growing, with the schools “bursting at the seams.” She believed the expansion might offer some relief to the existing public school facility.The charter school’s application is on the school’s website and on record with the state Department of Education and available to the public.Much of the two-hour session revolved around points that the school has raised previously and countering some accusations from critics – which also have been expressed before.Rumage and others have said charter school students receive more money per student than their public school counterparts. But administrator Brock said that is misleading, given that actual dollars from the school district equates to less money per student than for the charter school students. The charter school receives an additional roughly a little more than $1 million in direct state aid.That, Rumage had countered, doesn’t negate the impact the charter school funding has on the public school district and what this expansion would mean for the public school and taxpayers – an often repeated refrain from opponents of the plan.“If this goes through, they’re failing to address this main concept,” Rumage said, “we will not be able to provide a thorough and efficient education for the kids who are left behind.”“The charter school is supposed to offer an alternative,” Pennotti offered another often repeated refrain of charter school supporters here and elsewhere. She said her school is providing innovative programs in a small school environment and offering families a choice, “That will attract families.”last_img

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