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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.

Stephanie Kennedy January 08, 2012 at 05:59 PM
In accordance with what Cynthia mentioned above that West Orange already has a model ESL state program; an award winning Mandarin language program funded in part by the Chinese government for grades 8-12 and in furtherance of my comment above concerning the hiring of teachers to teach Mandarin Chinese in our public schools, I cannot understand the need for a boutique Chinese immersion charter school at this time.
Jim January 08, 2012 at 10:20 PM
Mary Mann, I still say that to use one's real name in a forum of this nature that elicits the kind of passion and vitriol we see here is to invite personal retribution by those who may not share your view. AOL has an interesting concept here at the Patch. Local news, local discussion, etc. But it is only as good as the ideas that flow here.
Mary Mann January 08, 2012 at 10:24 PM
I have suspended five users from this thread. The rules are simple: stick to the issues. No personal attacks. Sometimes that line is fuzzy and I've been trying to give people a little wiggle room, but I will suspend a user if that user is warned and then continues to attack others. I know this is a heated subject — what could be more important than education? — but I appreciate all of you who have kept to issues. Let's have a conversation that we can be proud of. We can disagree without being disagreeable.
Mary Mann January 08, 2012 at 10:27 PM
Portmanteau, You make an interesting point.
Cynthia Cumming January 08, 2012 at 11:11 PM
There's still time to voice your concern to Acting Commissioner Cerf if you have not already done so. He is expected to make a decision over the next week or so. Chris Cerf Acting Commissioner New Jersey Department of Education 100 River View Plaza P.O. Box 500 Trenton, NJ 08625 Telephone (609) 292-4450 Fax (609) 777-4099
Marian Raab January 08, 2012 at 11:19 PM
And Cerf's e-mail is: commissioner@doe.state.nj.us If you phone, (609) 292-4450, PRESS 3 for the Charter School Office We need and appreciate ALL the support we can in this last couple of weeks leading up to Cerf's final decision--thanks so much!
Susan1 January 09, 2012 at 02:47 AM
Thanks for doing that, Mary. You said it perfectly.
Cynthia Cumming January 09, 2012 at 05:41 AM
I agree with Mary and the Patch's research. If people use their real names when posting, it adds more credibility and civility to the discussion.
Annalise Silivanch January 09, 2012 at 03:29 PM
Since we need more existing charter school families in this discussion, I'll volunteer. NJ charter schools receive little to no money from the state or district for their facilities. Meanwhile, transporting parents (myself included) receive a reimbursement for gas/driving expense that might only cover half their total costs. A charter school family seeks a teaching/learning model that better suits their child. They may desire more personal involvement in a school's daily operation (--our charter, Unity Charter School, offers a far greater opportunity for daily parental involvement, even in the cafeteria--). Charters understand that their community includes parents, and many utilize the cultural, professional and artistic skills of parents to create a rich environment. Our school offers a social/emotional/nutritional approach that speaks to the newest research on executive functioning and how it can support lifelong learning. Charters also often have lower student-to-teacher ratios. All this on less overall per-student funding than traditional districts. Just because most suburban families bought happily into their school district, please remember that some families seek a choice and would prefer that their options not to proactively squashed by taxpayers. Lets not allow our frustration with school funding (and fear) to squelch innovation. Our daughters to love going to school each day, and I'd like each child to share that joy.
jutta Gassner-Snyder January 09, 2012 at 03:40 PM
Thank you Annalisa for sharing your experience and perspective with us. If you have a moment, please take a look at our web site: Huameicharterschool.org, and click on the "support hua mei button", and please sign our petition and email commissioner Cerf in support of Hua Mei. Thank you again for your time
Cynthia Cumming January 09, 2012 at 04:00 PM
Where is the Unity Charter school located, and what does your town pay for your child to go there?
J S Beckerman January 09, 2012 at 04:20 PM
It's quite simple. I do not want to pay for your child's boutique education nor would I ask you to pay for one for my child. If it is that important to you, there are after-school programs and private schools. It is your choice, but do not ask me to pay.
Right of Center January 09, 2012 at 04:39 PM
I'll bet you have no problem asking any educated children to pay for your social security when they grow up and you retire.
Stephanie Kennedy January 09, 2012 at 04:49 PM
@Rite of Center - Let's save the nastiness and stick with the program!
jutta Gassner-Snyder January 09, 2012 at 05:02 PM
please stop misreprensting the school funding issue - you sound like an extension of the inappropriate propagandy the BOE has distributed- you and the school distirct are NOT paying for the school; the per-student allotment is tied to the student - not to you or the district; the per student allotment travels with the student to his or her choice of public school within the district. Our children deserve to be educated in a public school setting which provide them to gain 21st century skills and a global exposure - all of this is currently lacking in the elementary school setting. Back in 2009, President Obama urged the educational community to educate our children with a global mind set in place. Our current public schoold districts have ignored this -Hua Mei will achieve 21 century skills and a global mindset aside from mastering the NJ recommended curriculum.
J S Beckerman January 09, 2012 at 05:11 PM
Jutta: Hua Mei is nothing more than you selfishly asking me to pay for your child's Chinese language program. Note that I choose not to do so. Why don't you and your friends hire after-school tutors?
Cynthia Cumming January 09, 2012 at 05:12 PM
Ms. Snyder... if the per student funding comes from my property taxes, then we indeed are paying those dollars from our school budget to send our children to your charter school, and how you could rationalize that in any other way is unacceptable. Of the two supporters for your school, even the one with grade school children has no plans to pull his children out of the West Orange school district. West Orange provides Spanish for K-12; French, Italian and Mandarin for 8-12, including AP Mandarin for 11-12; and boasts of student population from 54 different nationalities and languages. We are already doing very well with a global mind set. Perhaps you could reconsider moving your school to a school district which is failing and could benefit from the charter school experience you offer. There are several in Essex County that come to mind, but West Orange, South Orange and Maplewood are not them.
Cynthia Cumming January 09, 2012 at 05:17 PM
Additionally, in reviewing the Hua Mei website,where are the resumes of the founders and proposed staff, and where is a copy of the application filed with Mr. Cerf?
Marian Raab January 09, 2012 at 05:49 PM
Hi Jutta, Thanks for getting back on the Patch boards. I really appreciate you taking the time to post here. I've asked you this in previous threads and you have still not answered me. So I ask again: Why have both of Hua Mei's applications to the state NEVER included an Abbott district? Your second application to the BOE once again appears to discriminate based on race and socio-economic status. The towns it proposes to serve this time around (Maplewood, South Orange and West Orange) are contiguous to Irvington, Orange, East Orange and Newark. All of these urban districts are specifically encouraged to establish charter schools under the statute. N.J.S.A. 18A:36A-3(b). All are District Factor Group A, urban, Abbott districts with high incidents of poverty and a large proportion of minority students. However, your second application does not include these high-poverty districts that are for some students, within two miles, or walking distance, from Hua Mei's proposed location at the old St. Joe's school. Why don't the children of Irvington, Orange, East Orange and Newark also "deserve to be educated in a public school setting which provide them to gain 21st century skills and a global exposure" [sic] ???
jutta Gassner-Snyder January 09, 2012 at 07:04 PM
Hi Marian - i certainly didn't mean to ignore you but your question has been answered by us on several occasions already; we have answered this question to Brian Osborne and Mila Casey in person- in a nutshell, we would have loved to include bordering districts with lower socio-economic status but we were unable to attract a "qualifying founder" from any of these districts. What is a qualifying founder? Someone who lives in the district and has children or someone who teaches in the district, and is willing to commit time and effort to a charter school initiative. One of my offices is located right at the boarder of Maplewood, Union Township and Irvington, and I serve a great number of folks from these towns; despite our efforts and good relationship with many folks from a lower socio-economic town, we were unable to find a qualifying founder who had the time to help out. I hope this will answer your question otherwise please feel free to call me.
Thirty Four January 10, 2012 at 05:21 AM
As a founder of the Hua Mei, do you support the legislation of having local votes (direct votes by voters or votes by elected representatives) as part of the charter application process, rather than the current process of one-man decision? Explain your reason.
Marian Raab January 11, 2012 at 01:02 AM
Jutta, The combined populations of Newark, East Orange, Orange and Irvington, NJ are more than 425,000. I find it completely preposterous that you could not find one SINGLE person in those 4 districts to agree to be a qualifying founder of your "Boutique" Mandarin-immersion charter school. Especially when you seemed to have NO problem finding qualifying founders listed from outside the proposed region on your application to the DOE from the following towns: Livingston, Morristown, Madison and Millburn, NJ--along with Bushkill, Penn!
Cynthia Cumming January 11, 2012 at 02:55 AM
I still have yet to see ms snyder's resume or the proposal. And why wouldn't Newark or Irvington or other low performing districts not being considered... Or they just had no interest?
Gary Englert January 11, 2012 at 06:21 AM
@ Cynthia Cumming: I agree; Hua Mei's website is deficient as it provides absolutely no information about its founders. With a little research, it appears that Ms. Gassner-Snyder's background is as a practitioner of "traditional Chinese medicine" (though neither an MD nor PhD) and, while that may explain her passion for this initiative, I can't find any evidence of her having any specific expertise in education.
Marian Raab January 11, 2012 at 03:58 PM
And so we don't have to rally every six months to stop "Boutique" charter schools like Hua Mei from opening in our communities, please sign this important petition supporting LOCAL control of the charter-school approval process. Thanks everyone for all your support! http://www.change.org/petitions/new-jersey-communities-want-local-control-over-new-charter-schools-2
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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