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Hua Mei Charter Reapplies — Without Millburn, Livingston & Union

Mandarin-immersion school would be based in Maplewood and draw from the neighboring West Orange school district as well as South Orange-Maplewood. However, Millburn, Livingston and Union are now not included.

An application to open , a Mandarin immersion charter school, is among the 42 applications for new charter schools filed by this week's deadline, according to NJ Spotlight. The New Jersey State Departement of Education will decide on the applications by mid-January.

However, Millburn, Livingston and Union are no longer among the "in-district" school districts from which Hua Mei would draw. According to lead applicant Jutta Gassner-Snyder, the in-district towns for this application are South Orange-Maplewood and West Orange.

Just last month, were approved as the state charter school office adopted a more rigorous review to determine the strengths of the proposed programs. — as well , another school that would have been based in Livinston and also have drawn students from Millburn and West Orange — did not meet the new criteria.

The applications of Hua Mei and Hanyu International created in , and where school officials and residents felt they financially threatened their successful school districts that already under tight budget constraints because districts would have to provide 90 percent what the state provides per pupil for those who opted for the charters.

Charter school proponents have argued that school districts would to pay for those pupils anyway and that they are still keeping a portion of the costs. In addition, they say, parents should have more options within public schools.

New Jersey currently has 80 charter schools in operation, serving close to 30,000 students. Another 25 are slated to open next fall. Four of those were approved by the state in the last round of applications.

When the applications were turned down last month, Acting Commissioner Chris Cerf said that it has been his experience that "with additional guidance and time to plan, applicants who were not approved have been able to resubmit successful applications.”

"As founders, we collectively share a dream and a passion to bring about educational innovation and choice into the public school district, to empower students to achieve their potential, build self-confidence, and develop a global vision to be ready for the challenges to come in the 21st century," wrote Hua Mei lead founder Gassner-Snyder this afternoon in an email.

Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D- Essex), who respresents the 27th District covering most of the towns with school districts that would be affected by Hua Mei, expressed concern on Wednesday over the 42 applicants seeking approval from the DOE. 

In a release, Jasey stated, “Charter schools have an important role to play in the education of our state’s children, but more clarification and accountability are necessary,” said Jasey. “It is absolutely imperative that the application process be rigorous and that we review what charters are accomplishing in comparison to traditional public schools.  We need to support effective charter schools, close those that are failing and promote collaboration between charters and traditional publics,” added Jasey. 

Jasey is also a primary sponsor of l.  The measure has passed the Assembly and is awaiting consideration in the Senate.

Carlos Perez, the President and CEO of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association, said that when the state denies an application, the schools often receive feedback on why it was not approved.

"Using that information, the school should decide whether it’s worth reapplying or if there are issues they feel they can work on to improve their operation,” Perez said. “If a school is just submitting the same proposal and addressing the issues raised by the authorizer, then they need to be denied again.

Being denied the first time, often helps the founders of a school, he said.

“We are the point where we have a much better understanding what works and what doesn’t in a charter school. We cannot afford to have schools open and learning on the job while children are sitting in the classroom and their parents are expecting the best." 

Save Our Schools NJ, which has pushed for stricter oversight of charter schools and for voter approval of schools in their districts, used the applications as an  opportunity to urge the Senate to approve legislation that would do those things.

"The new round of applications is a reminder that local communities in New Jersey have absolutely no voice in the charter school approval process," said Julia Sass Rubin, a co-founder of SOS NJ, whose daughter attends a charter school. "Our broken charter school law is leading to conflicts and lawsuits in local communities and draining resources as those communities must mobilize repeatedly to fight off unwanted new charter schools. ...

"There is bi-partisan support in the legislature and among the voters to reform this law," she said. "Seventy-three percent of New Jersey residents want local approval of new charter schools. Why isn't the New Jersey Senate listening to the people?"

Stephanie Kennedy October 20, 2011 at 01:57 PM
South Orange school district is not in need of this any more than Millburn, Livingston and Maplewood. Don't we already pay enough taxes without the addition of more taxes? I agree -- someone please make Hua Mei go away!!!
Stephanie Kennedy October 20, 2011 at 02:04 PM
I agree with Concerned Resident and I, too, feel that this can be done after school hours such as is done with Hebrew School and the like.
KLF October 20, 2011 at 02:11 PM
It's all a political calculation. They know that Christie does not want to piss off his rich supporters in Short Hills and Livingston. But the applicants are figuring that the governor doesn't have too many supporters in Maplewood-South Orange, so the Christie administration has nothing to lose by approving the application there. Here's my suggestion: Someone has to fund a well designed survey of parents in the district to determine the interest in the Mandarin-immersion charter school. the whole idea of charter schools is that they are supposed to be a local movement arising from parental demand. If an unbiased survey shows that there is overwhelming demand for the school, so be it. However, if it shows that there is no or little demand, then how can Trenton claim that there is a need? It would be a very strong tool in the fight (if the survey does show that there is no demand).
Susan1 October 20, 2011 at 02:37 PM
@ KLF: The founders don't care about those facts. There are about 45 signatures on the Hua Mei petition (some from founders, spouses of founders and repeat names). There are over 800 on a petition to fight the school. They had an information session in Maplewood and 7 people showed up. There is NOT a large demand for this school. The founders don't care. Jutta Gassner-Snyder is a devotee of Chinese medicine who has publicly stated that she wants her kid to learn Mandarin. Her agenda is pretty clear. I'm not sure a funded study is necessary, since I don't think it would stop small groups of people like this.
Thirty Four October 20, 2011 at 02:59 PM
It will not stop these people, but it will give Cerf and Christie a pause. People in SOM district should have a letter writing campaign. Have some core people to help write individualized letters for those who want to oppose but don't know how to start. Send individualized letter with personal opinion to Cerf, Chrisie and Codey (and perhaps senate leaders) on the opposition. That will be a very effective tool. Also organize meetings like Millburn did and use the opportunities to invite media and recruit more people to write their own letter to those people.
LDSF October 20, 2011 at 03:09 PM
NJBOE approves it, it should be funded by the state.  Dropping the ball to local district to create the war is such a low hand.  Christie knows about where is the $$$.  He won't fight the rich.  The reality - While the Mandarin speaker can say 'bit-ch" in English, I mean a bit of ch (Chinese) in short form, English speaker doesn't know how to say 'pig-headed' in Mandarin.  Just a response to a comment.  It is not just about parental demand.  It is also economic & cultural factors. Avoidance is not a solution.  If the demand is there, people can't stop others from applying for it.  I doubt there will be enough applicants. But the founders can still promote/ manipulate the demand.   People has no idea that major marketing jobs have required Mandarin a must in the west coast.   The global market is not stable anyway. No comment.
Julie October 20, 2011 at 03:43 PM
I was one of the mom's who led the campaign against these schools in Livingston. If anyone would like to contact me I can help you with your fight in so-mapplewood and WO. You can reach me @ saveourschoolslivingston@gmail.com.
Concerned Livingston Mom October 20, 2011 at 07:11 PM
I too, agree. Local residents need to have a say in how their tax dollars are spent. I have said it before, and I will say it again. There is NO NEED and NO WANT for these charter schools in this area. It will only siphon our much need education dollars AWAY from our award winning public schools. I understand that Hua Mei would like to open a Mandarin immersion school and they have every right to do so. If there is the want and the need that they say there is, then open a PRIVATE school. That way, if people want to send their children, they can pay to do so and NOT take money away from the public school budget.
sosonj October 20, 2011 at 09:03 PM
The public school system is one of the distinguishing traits of this country and one of the great successes of this state. Boutique schools are not the great melting pot of this country or this state.
Stephanie Kennedy October 20, 2011 at 09:20 PM
I agree. This can be done by opening PRIVATE schools and those who are interested, can send their children their at THEIR cost, as is done with Hebrew Schools. Just saying . . .
Save Our Schools NJ October 21, 2011 at 12:54 AM
The fact that Millborn-Short HIlls and Livingston are not sending districts doesn't mean they will not be eligible to have children attend this charter, if it is approved. It just means the numbers will be capped at 10% and they do not have the ability to object formally to the application or appeal it afterwards. The NJ DOE may have suggested this strategy to several re-applying schools, including Hua Mei and Tikum Olum, which did not list Highland Park on its most recent application. This reduces the apparent community resistance, enabling the DOE to approve the school. Once the school opens, it can draw upon non-sending districts such as Highland Park, Livingston, and Millburn-Short HIlls.
Thirty Four October 21, 2011 at 02:44 AM
Is that true? Show me the official document related to that. If town & school officials cannot formally object. Can residents still object even though we are outside of the sending district? If not a sending district, will our district need to pay 90% per pupil plus transportation too? Julie, if what SOSNJ said is true, seems like we have a harder work to do this time. Patch Editors: Could you investigate SOSNJ's claim on ability to draw up to 10% from district like Livingston and Millburn? I think it is the press job to dig into this issue and inform all affected residents whether they are within the sending district or not. Especially the implication of non-sending districts. People need to get clarification.
Mary Mann October 21, 2011 at 02:56 AM
Thirty Four, The Hua Mei founders have told me that a charter can draw students from anywhere. The in-district districts, however, have priority. If the school does not meet enrollment quotas from the in-district districts, then students from outside the district can apply. I need to check and see if this is on a first-come, first-served basis or some sort of lottery. Will call DOE tomorrow. But you can certainly call as well!
Stephanie Kennedy October 21, 2011 at 03:06 AM
To add insult to injury, will South Orange/Maplewood be required to foot the bill for students from outside districts to attend a charter school when we are already paying our own outlandish real estate and school taxes?
Thirty Four October 21, 2011 at 03:34 AM
Thank you. We should also get a clarification on who pay the bill for students outside of the host districts.
Mary Mann October 21, 2011 at 03:59 AM
No, each student's home district contributes to the charter, if the student is accepted.
Thirty Four October 21, 2011 at 04:23 AM
So even if the local vote bill is passed, we are still not out of the water. Our school BOE don't get a say. Our town don't get a say. Our citizen don't get a say. Yet, our taxes still get drained out? The 10% cap is quite high. The target of 234 students for Hua Mei would be able to recruit 23 students from Livingston, 23 students from Millburn, 23 students from Union, etc. Each town needs to add more than $200,000 a year to the budget without any say. I thought charter could be a good thing in some cases, but the more we look into, we can see so many more wrong things with the charter school law in NJ. This really is a sneak attack. Livingston, Millburn and Union residents should be informed of this. NJSpotlight should take a case and look into the consequence to each town up to the 10% cap. I'm sure more than 90% of residents don't know this.
Save Our Schools NJ October 21, 2011 at 10:45 AM
Everyone who testified at the recent Senate Education Committee hearing (except DOE employees) agreed that NJ's charter school law is really broken. Schools are approved exclusively at the Commissioner's preferences, based on recommendations of outside reviewers who are charter school advocates. The public is not allowed to know who those reviewers are or to see the ratings individual schools received. The NJ DOE then works with rejected schools to help strengthen their applications for the next round. If a school is approved against the community's wishes, the sending districts can appeal the decision only to the Commissioner who granted it. The non-sending districts must still pay for any students who attend the school, including transportation, yet they have NO right to appeal or object to the application. This incredibly undemocratic process seems like something from a totalitarian regime vs. the US. This is tearing apart communities and absolutely must be reformed to give local control back to the voters. The Commissioner of Education should not be deciding how our children are educated or forcing local communities to pay for schools that they do not want.
Save Our Schools NJ October 21, 2011 at 10:46 AM
The local control bill applies to any community that would have children at the charter school, not just the official sending communities, so it would give control back to local residents.
Darcie Cimarusti October 21, 2011 at 01:00 PM
Thirty Four and Mary: I am from Highland Park, and we have been struggling with these issues related to charters for some time. I have done extensive research on these issues. Let me share some of what I know to be true. First, yes, charters are supposed to get 90% enrollment from their "sending districts" i.e. the districts on the application. If they do not get 100% enrollment from those districts they can then pull from other districts. At GBCS in New Brunswick they pull kids from their 4 sending districts as well as 12 others!! HP is a "sending district" so we are responsible for tuition plus transportation, no matter what the cost. We pay over 200,000 for 18 kids to attend that school, and 36,000 to transport them. Yes, thats 2,000 per kid for busing! To add to the insult of this, we gave up busing for our own students 5 years ago. We have no say about busing the kids to a charter though... We also lose 5 kids to Hatikvah in East Brunswick. We have found that 2 of them NEVER attended out public schools. They enrolled only to immediately "transfer" to Hatikvah, so we are footing the bill for kids that never even sat in a public school classroom. We WERE NOT included in the Hatikvah application, it was only approved for East Brunswick. The founders were unable to get their 90% enrollment from EB (EB is currently in litigation with the DOE to address this) and from what I understand Hatikvah was granted permission to take kids from HP.
Darcie Cimarusti October 21, 2011 at 01:06 PM
Also, since we are not a "sending district" for Hatikvah, we are only required to provide "aid in lieu of transportation" which is about $900 per student. For the 5 kids who attend Hatikvah we are billed $78,378 or $15,675 per student. On top of that we pay 4,500 for their transportation.
KLF October 21, 2011 at 01:15 PM
This is outrageous! If this is really part of the law, a constitutional lawyer needs to pick this up and fight it. This is really taxation without representation! The input of residents of Millburn and Short Hills cannot be taken into consideration, BUT those taxpayers STILL may have to foot the bill?! Not only must this be illegal, it is unbelievably underhanded and sneaky. Absolutely blood-boiling.
Laura Griffin October 21, 2011 at 01:35 PM
We are looking into this right now. Will update ASAP.
KLF October 21, 2011 at 01:45 PM
This is exactly what I fear with happen. Families so inclined to send their children to a Mandarin-immersion school will move to Millburn (or Livingston, or Maplewood) with the INTENTION of never sending their kids to the local district schools, but instead enrolling them in the charter school on the taxpayers' dime. There is nothing in the law to stop that. Perhaps we should also advocate for a legal reform that would require a student to have been enrolled in the local district school for at least two years before being eligible for the charter. Otherwise, how would parents know that the local district school does not meet their child's needs?
Stephanie Kennedy October 21, 2011 at 02:26 PM
In Verona they have been teaching Mandarin Chinese in public schools for years, This offered as an elective course, together with Spanish, French or Italian, without the need for a charter school, and Verona has high ratings for their schools, at no additional cost to the local citizens.
Brian Hurrel October 23, 2011 at 01:55 PM
Wow, I had no idea how broken these charter school regulations were. Unbelievable.
Stephanie Kennedy October 23, 2011 at 04:58 PM
I am not certain whether you are now talking about a a Mandarin Immersion School or a Charter School, as the conversation appears to be intermingled. However, in Cedar Grove there is a Mandarin School, which is located in a Buddhist Church, where families send their children to learn Mandarin Chinese.
Concerned Livingston Mom October 23, 2011 at 05:39 PM
It is a mandarin immersion charter school.
Stephanie Kennedy October 23, 2011 at 06:03 PM
I misunderstood the whole concept and my input is of no consequence. Apparently, this has nothing to do with a private school or an after school program, nor offering Mandarin Chinese in our public schools as they do in Verona and other townships.
Daria Knarvik October 27, 2011 at 12:30 AM
I remember a time when SO/M was one of the most progressive school districts in the state and Columbia was always one of the top 5 high schools. Let's start thinking globally folks.....for our kids' sake.

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