School Districts Concerned by New Charters
Mandarin-language schools would siphon funding, the districts say; founders of the two schools say the charters will provide parents with choices.
Charter schools are supposed to provide alternatives to failing schools, but increasingly they are being proposed in high-ranking districts, such as Maplewood, where the proposed charter school would include service to West Orange students.
Residents will have an opportunity to learn more at a forum on Monday, May 9, at 7:45 p.m. at Millburn High School.
Two Mandarin-language charter schools have applied for approval:
- Hanyu International Academy Charter in Livingston, which would offer Mandarin immersion to students in Livingston, Millburn and Short Hills.
- Hua Mei Charter School, would also offer Mandarin immersion. It would be based in Maplewood and serve students from the Livingston, Millburn, South Orange/Maplewood, West Orange, and Union school districts. The school anticipates using the former St. Joseph's School on Franklin Street in Maplewood.
Charter school founders say they are not unhappy with the school districts, but they want to offer children a chance to become fluent in Chinese at an early age.
Livingston Republican councilwoman Deborah Shapiro is a founding partner of the Hanyu International Academy Charter in Livingston.
“To compete in the global economy, it makes sense to provide our children – all our children -- with the opportunity to get Chinese language immersion,” Shapiro said. “And, as entrance to the school is by lottery, we hope to draw from all the diverse ethnicities -- thereby further integrating all the diversities into a rich 'whole'.”
Charter school founders in other districts make the same claims and add that they want to provide parents with a choice generally offered only to the wealthy who can send their children to private schools. Public school officials in other districts are concerned that the charter schools will siphon public money away from traditional public schools.
WHAT ROLE FOR CHARTER SCHOOLS?
This report is part of a joint project between NJSpotlight.com (an issues-oriented news site that focuses on policy, politics, and community) and Patch.com to provide both a statewide and local look at the politics of charter schools in many NJ communities, and the tensions that sometimes arise regarding their funding in the age of budget cutbacks.
Statewide: Charter schools in suburbia under debate
East Brunswick: Questioning charter school's right to exist
Gloucester: A home-schooler takes on the school board
Hoboken: Can the public schools compete, by getting better?
Morristown, Morris Township & Morris Plains: Unity Charter may be a jewel, but it's one with costs
Princeton: Everyone's mad about Mandarin
Red Bank: Charter schools face budget woes too
South Brunswick: A debate or a shouting match?
Teaneck: Innovation or duplication?
The debate has created a tense atmosphere in some districts, like Princeton, South Brunswick and East Brunswick.
West Orange Superintendent of Schools Anthony Cavanna was concerned about the potential financial burden on the school district.
"According to the way charters are set up right now, they will drain money from the school district," he said.
"Every child that lives in West Orange that attends a charter school, we have to pay 90 percent per pupil cost. Right now we have three children attending charter schools; every year we pay $33,000 out of school budget for those charter schools," he said. "If we had a significant number of students attending charters, it would be a significant drain on our budget."
School district representatives have petitioned the state Assembly to create a mechanism within charter school laws requiring a public vote to approve such schools. And while applications are rising at record levels, the sweeping legislation promised by Gov. Chris Christie to open up charters further and change the rules of oversight has yet even to be filed, according to a report in NJ Spotlight.
Meanwhile, grassroots organizations like Save Our Schools New Jersey have emerged to urge legislators to give districts the final say on charters, according to Andrea Spalla, a member of the Princeton Regional Board of Education.
“The position of Save Our Schools New Jersey—of which I am a proud member—is the same whether the school district is high-performing or not: Voters in that district, whose taxes will be paying for any proposed charter school and whose community will be affected by the proposed charter school, should have the final say,” Spalla said.
“SOSNJ has been working closely with state lawmakers to change the current charter school law in many ways, but most importantly to require voter approval before any new charter school opens," she said.
Cavanna, though, said a charter school would also provide healthy competition.
"It's an opportunity to improve our West Orange programs so parents have the option of staying in West Orange over going to the charter school," he said.
The proposed charter school that would cater to West Orange students is only K-eighth grade. "The parents would have to make a decision come eighth grade," said Cavanna. "An we have a wonderful K-12 program."
"If it's a level playing field, the West Orange school system will always prevail," he said.