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Charter Reform Rally Draws Residents from Many Towns [Video]

Citizens from Millburn, West Orange, Montclair, Maplewood and South Orange gathered to oppose the Hua Mei Charter application and call for charter school reform.

Residents from Maplewood, South Orange, Montclair, Millburn and West Orange piled into the main hall at the Maplewood Community Center on Friday evening to demand reform to charter school approval and control in New Jersey.

The rally was centered on the application of the , a Mandarin-immersion school proposed to be located in Maplewood that would draw from the South Orange-Maplewood School District and West Orange School District.

“We have never ever had before the idea that a charter school would be placed in a well-performing school district,” New Jersey State Senator Richard Codey told reporters following the rally.  “It was always understood it was only for failing districts.... All of a sudden (New Jersey Governor Chris) Christie comes in, these 'boutique' charter schools pop up.”

Codey went on to say that a charter school should “reflect the diversity, educationally and every other way, of that school system.” He, along with 27th District Assemblyman John McKeon and Assemblywoman Mila Jasey are (S-2243/A-3852) advancing through the New Jersey Legislature, aimed at giving local voters control of the charter school application process, including the establishment or expansion of a school.

“I’d like to see our towns have a vote,” McKeon said prior to the rally. “We vote for our board members and we vote for the (school) budget, the only budget voted on by the public. It seems to me just counterintuitive that we wouldn’t have to vote for something so important and profound as to take money away from our public schools to go to charter schools.

Residents applauded their elected officials and held signs opposing the Hua Mei charter school. 

"I'm not opposed to this school," said Millburn resident Jill Kimelman. "I'm opposed to charters being established without local vote. We have to protect what we've already built. We have to make sure we can afford it." Kimelman noted that there are charters that are funded by private foundations that do not draw funding from public coffers.

Maplewood Deputy Mayor Kathy Leventhal voiced her strong opposition to Hua Mei and other charters for both financial and educational reasons.

"For both the town's budget and the school district's budget, it has been very difficult to balance the needs of education or service priorities with the available funds within the 2% cap. To have funding leave diminishes what we can provide to our students."

Outside the rally, was the sole charter supporter. He stood near the entrance to the community center handing out fliers and speaking to the press.

"I like the public schools in West Orange," said Kraemer, a Columbia High School graduate (CHS '84) and native of Maplewood. Kraemer said he has three children in third grade in West Orange public schools. But despite his positive experience with public school education, Kraemer said, "There are still areas in need of improvement, and healthy competition could move us from good districts to great districts and give students unique educational opportunities."

Cynthia Cumming of West Orange felt differently.

"If this charter school is passed, this is just the start of a series of people who want to fund their private schools with public school funding." Cumming said that the West Orange School District budget had lost $9 million in state aid in the past two years and that the loss of another $324,000 (the projected cost of Hua Mei to the district in its first year) was unsustainable. "And that's just to start! What people are not understanding is that if the money stays in the school district, we can do more with it." Cumming also cited the added cost of busing the charter school students out of district.

A decision on the Hua Mei Charter by N.J. State Acting Commissioner of Education Christopher Cerf is expected by Jan. 17.

KLF January 11, 2012 at 06:45 PM
Jutta: Your answer above about the funding "allotment" again misrepresents the economics of the issue. Please look up the term "marginal cost." As long as you are answering questions, I'd love to know your answer to this one: Do you believe that if $10k travels with a child to a charter school, that the school district then reduces its costs by $10k? And if so, please itemize the savings. I can't even come up with $1k in savings. The only savings I can think of is a small amount on the district's water bill from somewhat fewer flushes of the toilet.
Susan1 January 11, 2012 at 07:55 PM
(big sigh). Jutta, I'm saying it again - the money is NOT allocated to any child. The tax base of the town is fixed; every property owner pays taxes to the school, whether they have children in the schools or not. If a home is sold to a new family, the taxes STAY THE SAME, whether that family sends children to the schools or not. If a child goes to private school, the taxes on their home still go to the public schools. No change. The per student average is just that; it is an average derived from taking the total school budget and dividing by the number of students. This number can fluctuate depending on people moving in and out of the district. It has little bearing on reality. The only time the incoming funds are reduced is if the district has to write a big old check to a charter school. And then there is no cost savings to the district, which screws the remaining kids out of things taxpaying parents want. Why is this so hard for you to understand?
Stephanie Kennedy January 16, 2012 at 05:07 PM
AMEN.
Alberto Fernandez January 19, 2012 at 09:10 PM
We should apply the same to property taxes. Total budget divided by total number of residences to derive the per household property tax. As with the education budget those not using the system subsidize those that do- so apply it to taxes so that one size property in on part of Maplewood or South Orange doesn't subsidize a property tax in another side or location of a different size.. Its all a way to redistribute wealth on old thinking and formulas. Seems this is reaching the same end.
Gary Englert February 10, 2012 at 04:49 PM
@ Annalise Silivanch: Not to degrade your school in any way, shape manner or form but, from an economic standpoint, your assertion is extremely myopic. Removing three children from the West Orange Public Schools did not result in a penny's worth of savings to the district or any reduction in fixed overhead. What it did do is remove $33,770 from the district's general fund and likely caused the imposition of new and additional additional transportation fees (for the three students) to and from Unity Charter School. "Savings" to the sending district is not the argument charter schools should or could be making.

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