Rallies Aimed at Charter School Reform to be Held Tuesday
Three rallies in South Brunswick, Highland Park and Millburn are intended to push the state legislature to pass bills that would allow a local vote before a charter school is approved.
A series of rallies throughout the state will be held on Tuesday by the grassroots organization Save Our Schools to demonstrate bipartisan support for proposed reforms to the charter school law and to push for their adoption by the state legislature.
One of those rallies will be held in South Brunswick in front of the Municipal Building at 7 p.m. prior to the Township Council meeting, where the council is expected to vote on a resolution in support of Senate Bill S2243, which would require voter approval before any charter school is approved in a district.
"We're hoping for a couple hundred people from South Brunswick, Plainsboro, West Windsor, Princeton and Hillsborough to show up and let their voices be heard," said Save Our Schools member Lisa Rodgers, of Monmouth Junction. "We met with (State) Sen. Bateman (R-16) about co-sponsoring the senate bill and he gave us his word that he would. He won't be in attendance due to a prior commitment, but he did send us a statement to read at the rally."
Rodgers emphasized that Save Our Schools is not anti-charter school, but would like to see local approval as a requirement before a charter is granted.
"It's important for residents to have a say because it's the citizens and taxpayers who are paying for these schools," Rodgers said. "These bills would give us a voice, because we have no voice as individuals on these schools. The Department of Education has the power to grant a charter school and push it through using our tax dollars, so we're asking for our basic rights as citizens to vote on how our tax dollars are utilized.
"There are members in the Save Our Schools organization who have children in charter schools, so we aren't against charters, but what we think should happen is that every town should have the ability to look at and determine whether or not a charter school will improve our current public schools."
At the end of May, the state Assembly Education Committee approved four bills aimed at charter schools. One of those bills, A3852, sponsored by Education Committee Chairman Patrick Diegnan (D-18), would require voter or board of education approval before charters could open in any school district.
The Assembly Education Committee also approved bill A2805, sponsored by Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein (D-14), which would require voter approval prior to the establishment of a new charter school.
The New Jersey School Board Association also passed a new policy that states charter schools should have voter approval before opening and that voters and school boards should have input into charter school decisions.
In an NJSpotlight.com forum, New Jersey's Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf acknowledged that what he called “boutique” charter schools, like those offering language immersion programs, might not be needed in suburban districts that are “humming along.”
Cerf also questioned whether the harm such charters could cause to the sending districts outweighs their potential to enhance educational offerings.
“I think you really can have a very serious debate, the outcome of which is unclear, as to whether that rounds out the portfolio or impairs the success of the overall district,” Cerf said.
PIACS is currently eyeing four undisclosed locations in Princeton and the West Windsor-Plainsboro area as a temporary location for the school. A PIACS spokesman told Patch in a recent interview that the school would not be opening at a proposed location in South Brunswick in September due to difficulties in obtaining zoning board approval for the facility located at 12 Perrine Road.
Rogers added that the three Save Our Schools rallies are intended to "push legislators to stop dragging their feet," and to pass the two separate bills aimed at charter schools:
- Bill A3852/S2243, requiring local approval for establishment of new charter schools, and
- Bill A3356, ensuring charter schools have financial and educational transparency and accountability; and demographically represent their communities.
"If there are people who are not sure what this is all about and they need some clarification, then this is the best available opportunity to speak to people and learn about the issues," Rodgers said. "All we're asking for from Trenton is some kind of local control."
South Brunswick Mayor Frank Gambatese said the Township Council resolution in support of the charter school bills stems from the belief that citizens should have the right to vote on anything that draws from their tax dollars.
"It just makes sense that if a charter school is going to come into a township, then the citizens or school board should have a say somewhere along the line, whether they agree with it or not," Gambatese said. "We're not familiar with school problems and we don't have the knowledge to say whether these schools are good or bad because we're not educators. But if nothing else, the people paying the bills for these schools should have some say."
The three Save Our School rallies will be held concurrently at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at:
- South Brunswick– in front of the Municipal Building (540 Ridge Road, Monmouth Junction). The rally will be followed by the Town Council vote on the resolution to require local approval for new charter schools. In case of rain, the rally will be inside the Municipal Building.
- Highland Park– playground of Bartle Elementary School (435 Mansfield Street). In case of rain, the rally will be in the school's gym.
- Millburn -- playground of Taylor Park (Main Street). In case of rain, it will be at the Bauer Center in the park.
Sponsors of the reform legislation expected to be in attendance at rally includes Senators Barbara Buono and Shirley Turner and Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan.