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Details of PIACS Lawsuit Emerge

Charter school asking state aid in the amount that is equal to what has been spent in opposition to them be redirected to PIACS.

According to court documents filed yesterday by the the three districts have spent a combined total of $44,810.89 in legal fees fighting the opening of the charter school. Of that total, the South Brunswick School District spent $2,178 on legal fees.

PIACS co-founder Parker Block said the suit is basically a restraining order in an attempt to keep the districts from violating state law.

"It became clear to us that the districts will spare no expense to try and keep the school from opening and to deny parents' rights to enroll their kids," Block said. "This is what we've seen from districts all around the state, whether it's blocking facilities or throwing up legal hurdles."

Block added that it's clear from legal invoices that the districts had their attorneys working on legal issues that are not related to the zoning issue (see attached pdf file).

In response to the lawsuit, South Brunswick Superintendent Gary McCartney, Princeton Regional Schools Superintendent Judith Wilson, and West Windsor-Plainsboro Superintendent Victoria Kniewel released a joint press release today.

"The Princeton Regional School District, West Windsor-Plainsboro School District and South Brunswick School District have acted on behalf of ALL children and ALL taxpayers in reviewing and monitoring ALL charter school applications brought before us over the last several years and will continue to do so in years ahead," the release says. "It is clearly the Boards’ duty to not only be sound stewards of public funds but certainly to also ascertain and insure that children are traveling on safe bus routes, attending schools housed in suitable facilities with appropriate health and safety standards in place and being provided the promised curriculum."

In the court documents filed by law firm Decotiis, Fitzpatrick and Cole, LLP, of Teaneck, on behalf of PIACS, the three districts pursued a rear-guard action to attack PIACS, and expended taxpayer funds in opposition to PIACS in derogation of both their own statutory authority and the Commissioner's legislatively delegated discretion to approve charter schools. The documents stated that these actions "operate to the detriment of children."

A press release sent out yesterday by the charter school stated that PIACS is asking the Department of Education for a reduction in state aid to the districts in an amount that is equal to what has been spent to oppose PIACS. 

According to the court documents, PIACS is seeking to have the forfeited state aid redirected to them, for attorney fees and legal costs, and "for such other further relief the Commissioner deems appropriate."

"That's not an important thing," Block said. "If the (Department of Education) commissioner decides not to invoke that penalty it's not an important issue. But when you knowingly break the law there should be some sort of penalty."

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of PIACS and six parents (two from South Brunswick, two from Princeton and two from West-Windsor Plainsboro) from the three districts who are identified by their initials to protect the interests of their minor children enrolled in the three districts, and to prevent retaliation from the three districts or members of the community.

Block said PIACS received an approximately $80,000 federal start-up grant upon its approval in 2010. He said the bulk of that money was used on engineers, attorneys and planners during the school's failed attempt to open at the St. Joseph’s Seminary on Mapleton Road in Plainsboro in 2010.

"Everything we've been doing is privately funded," Block said. "When (the school opening at St. Joseph's Seminary) didn't happen there was no more money (from the grant).

"It's taken a lot of dedication to privately fund all of the things needed to get the school up and running. A lawsuit is the last thing anybody wants to be spending money on. We want to spend money on desks and computers and teacher salaries. The districts are the ones who started spending money on lawyers."

The suit is seeking relief in the form of an order restraining the three districts from using taxpayer money or resources to oppose PIACS. The suit also seeks a judgement stating the three districts have no legal authority to continue opposing PIACS, and that the three districts have failed to expend state funds in "an effective and efficient manner for the implementation of core curriculum standards."

"This is a statewide problem where not enough of our tax dollars are going into the classroom and this is one example," Block said. "We have 600 districts in this state and there is a lot of redundancy with administration overhead and expenses that are wasteful. There's also a lot of hubris that goes into it, that's based upon the fact that school boards in suburban areas are the political heavyweights, and unless the NJEA gets in their way, they feel they can do as they please."

The districts are accused of using taxpayer money to mount a continued and calculated campaign against PIACS and for the hiring of three professionals, including a professional planner and engineer, to provide testimony in opposition of the charter school. The suit alleges that the public effort against PIACS has caused a two-year delay in the school's opening. 

When asked whether PIACS bears any responsibility for a lack of organization and clarity throughout the zoning hearings, Block said the process has been made more difficult by the opposition.

"I think to a certain extent this should be a straightforward case, but the school districts are doing everything they can to make this as complicated as possible, so it's made it more difficult to get prepared for these meetings," he said. "So yes we need to step our game up and we will."

The suit accuses the districts of conducting a negative publicity campaign against PIACS in advance of hearings before the South Brunswick zoning board and using public funds to "foment opposition to the application."

The court documents stated that many of the arguments advanced by the oppostion were false and misleading, and had nothing to do with land use issues.

, PIACS attorney Andre Gruber told the zoning board it was not its place to judge whether charter schools are good or bad, but only to judge the merits of the application.  Gruber then proceeded to say that no public school in the area offers the same type of education that PIACS offers.  Zoning board President Martin Hammer then scolded Gruber, telling the attorney his opening was veering into a dangerous area that would allow the public to question the merits of whether a charter school belongs in South Brunswick by speaking to the education offered by PIACS.

Later in the hearing, former PIACS board of trustee Helena May, who is also owner of applicant 12 P and Associates, testified about how she became involved with PIACS and the merits of the proposed school. Hammer again questioned the direction of the testimony. Hammer chided the applicant for opening up a forum for a debate on charter schools, "that you yourself indicated has no place on this board," Hammer told Gruber.  "I don't understand where you're going with this."

The suit also alleges that representatives from all three districts have made statements to the media that were "misrepresentations and outright falsehoods."

Exhibit I in the evidence PIACS plans to present is an article published in where Dr. McCartney is accused of misrepresenting charter schools.

During that interview, Dr. McCartney was asked to give his opinion on charter schools. From the article:

"I think charter schools are a viable option when public schools are not performing," said South Brunswick Superintendent Gary McCartney.  "When (Gov. Chris Christie) was campaigning for office, his very clear comment was charter schools where public schools are failing and vouchers as a last resort.  I'm dismayed when we're confronted with a charter school opening up and drawing students from three of the highest performing districts in the state." 

The suit states that statutory criteria for the approval of charter schools renders the performance of local districts irrelevant. 

The suit also alleges that Dr. McCartney misrepresented the budgeting process for charter schools in the article on South Brunswick Patch. During the interview, Dr. McCartney was asked about the accountability of public schools versus charter schools. From the article on April 11:

Dr. McCartney added that there is an accountability factor that exists in the public school system that is absent in charter schools.

"There is a difficult and lengthy process that exists for us to put our budget together and get it approved," McCartney said.  "We work hard on that process to gain public approval.  We go to referendum to let the public tell us whether they support it.  On the other hand, each year the folks at charter schools say this is how many kids we have enrolled, so send us your money."

McCartney said the budget process for charter schools excludes members of the community from having any say in the budget or in the decision making process of a charter school's governing board.

"How can New Jersey have such stringent requirements for getting budgets approved in public schools, but there's no process for the citizens in the town where they draw students from to have a say," McCartney said.  "There's also no elective process that places community members on their board of directors like we have with the Board of Education."

The suit states that "charter schools are public entities that are required to conduct their proceedings in public to the same extent as a school district, and the Board of PIACS is, in fact, comprised of members of the community."

From the joint press release issued today by the three districts, the makeup of the boards of education for South Brunswick, Princeton and West-Windsor-Plainsboro versus the board of trustees for the charter school was brought into question.

"As pertains to this particular petition, the Boards are composed of 9 or 10 members, each of whom was elected by the voters," the release says. "It is ironic that a private group of unelected and unaccountable individuals has initiated legal proceedings challenging the right of the Boards to make decisions which the Boards firmly believe are in the best interests of the Districts and the taxpayers."

Two other articles published by different news outlets are also on the evidence list. Statements made by West Windsor-Plainsboro Board of Education President Hemant Marathe in the July 22 edition of the West Windsor & Plainsboro News (Exhibit M), and statements made by Princeton Superintendent Judith Wilson in the July 26 edition of the Trenton Times (Exhibit N) are also listed as evidence to be presented by PIACS to illustrate alleged misrepresentations by school officials. 

The suit alleges that the three districts intervened in pending litigation in East Brunswick against the Hatikvah International Academic Charter School, which did not meet the criteria of 90 percent of maximum enrollment prior to opening. The districts are accused of intervening in a case that will not affect them, but where their sole interest is making sure that the Appellate Division applies the most stringent reading of the regulation so it can be used against PIACS.

"Obviously when there's a lawsuit the plaintiff is viewed as the aggressor," Block said. "This is the equivalent of a restraining order because the districts are the ones maxing out attorney hours to stop another public school from opening. Had that not happened, had they not abused their position in the community, we would not have had to have taken this action."

Block said the next zoning board hearing for PIACS may occur in September, but more likely will occur in October as PIACS still has issues they are seeking to address. Due to the fact that PIACS has accused the districts of attempting to encourage members of the public to insert themselves in the zoning process, Block was asked whether filing a lawsuit would have the same affect by galvanizing the community even further in objection to the charter school.

"I think that's already been done, we don't expect the affect of the lawsuit is going to in anyway diminish those who have already come out," he said.

Block pointed out that the three districts chose not to appeal the charter when it was approved in 2010, and instead used an "end-around."

"We're just asking for a restraining order to get them to stop," he said. "We're the ones, the parents and the children, whose rights are being infringed upon and are under attack. I hope people understand that."

In the joint release by the three districts, it is stated that all parties have a right to be heard in the zoning process.

"Ultimately, it is up to the Zoning Board and the Commissioner to make a decision on final approval of this charter school, but the Boards have a right to be heard," the release says. "The Boards will not let this lawsuit or anything else silence that right. The Boards are fully behind and endorse all actions taken by their attorneys in representing the Districts before both the Commissioner and the Zoning Board, and in pending amicus litigation. We are confident that the Boards’ legal authority to take these actions is well supported in law and that the current PIACS petition will ultimately be dismissed."

Block said no timeframe has been established yet for the Department of Education to hear the case, but through correspondance with both the national and state charter school associations, this trial is expected to be a landmark case.

"This is important for us because we're in a heated battle," he said. "We see that this is an important case for both the state and the country."

The PIACS Debate

Click here to learn more about the various aspects of the PIACS program and how it compares to the education offered by the South Brunswick School District.

Click here to learn more about the issues surrounding PIACS and a private school that has been proposed to share the 12 Perrine Road location with PIACS.  The private school, YingHua International School, was founded by PIACS lead founder Dr. Bonnie Liao.

Click here to learn more about the debate surrounding the public's right to vote on the approval of any new charter schools in their community.

Marty Abschutz August 11, 2011 at 05:40 PM
Mr. Block indicates the appearance before the Zoning Board should be a straight forward case. I can't believe that he and I agree on something related to this application. My version of the quote would continue, "... but PIACS and the applicant have demonstrated very little understanding of the process, been terribly unprepared at the two hearings and wasted valuable time of the Zoning Board. That is the principal reason they are not able to open in September 2011."
Charlie Valan August 11, 2011 at 06:35 PM
This Lawsuit is nothing more than PIACS' effort to cover-up their incompetence during the process itself and push the blame on others. What a disgrace!!! Nothing like smoke and mirrors to try to defuse a situation. Also, it's good to know that the 2,000 signatures and the efforts of the private citizens of the townships of South Brunswick, West Windsor and Princeton were also cheap magicians tricks. It was an illusion...... it just never happened. We were all employees being paid by the school districts. It also amazes me that for all the support that PIACS claims, they have but 2 families from each district named in the suit. That's barely "class action", but OK...... My favorite part is the financial gains from the children of the school district they're seeking. For Parker Block to make a habit out of talking about the "financial protest", he's never one to shy away from seeking out and making it about money. Glad he's ready to hurt the 2,000 children his "miracle of science" school won't accept. Keep exposing yourself for what you are. All you're doing is making the opposition come at you in greater numbers......
Lisa Rodgers August 11, 2011 at 06:55 PM
Block said PIACS received an approximately $80,000 federal start-up grant upon its approval in 2010. He said the bulk of that money was used on engineers, attorneys and planners during the school's failed attempt to open at the St. Joseph’s Seminary on Mapleton Road in Plainsboro in 2010. "Everything we've been doing is privately funded," Block said. "When (the school opening at St. Joseph's Seminary) didn't happen there was no more money (from the grant). $80,000!!! of Federal Money!!! Who is spending taxpayers money??? SB spent....$2,178.00.......Singapore Math at its best!
Joe R August 11, 2011 at 06:59 PM
>>"..but through correspondance [sic] with both the national and state charter school associations, this trial is expected to be a landmark case."<< So Block is getting plenty of support from the charter school associations. This is obviously bigger than PIACS or Block and that with encouragement from these national and state charters which are funded by very deep pockets, Block feels very emboldened to go ahead with these vicious suits. Not to mention he probably has the support of the charter-friendly Christie-Cerf administration. Block et al are definitely trying to set a precedent for national consumption. I hope he does not get away with this black mail but who knows how it will turn out?
Steve in Kingston August 11, 2011 at 09:58 PM
$2,178 of my tax money wasted...and I am sure that is just the beginning!
Ron L August 14, 2011 at 08:18 AM
Look, I think charter schools are a great idea. Now, do I think South Brunswick or Princeton or alot of other districts need them? No. I have watched" Waiting For Superman" 3 times and every time I feel like their has to be something more we can do for these poor children who all they really want is a decent education. Yet, they have to attend these very low performing schools in these districts that have been ignored way to long. The teachers they deal with have no accountability what so ever! They can care less! Those are the towns that dearly need charters with teachers that will be accountable in every step of the way. You people know what towns and district need them. I don't have to lay them out for you. Leave SB and other blue ribbon districts alone.
Joe R August 14, 2011 at 01:29 PM
"Waiting For Superman" is a vicious propaganda screed that distorts the truth. Charter schools are not the answer, even for failing school districts. They are a bad idea for America but there is huge corporate money behind charter schools and school vouchers. Most of the politicians, Obama included, are on board for this disaster. The charter movement will not leave SB and the other successful districts alone because the plan is to dismantle our public educational system in favor of a privatized system. Charter schools have been compared to regular public schools on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009, and have never outperformed them. Charter schools (overall and on average) are no better than the regular public schools, even the big inner city ones. There are more failing charter schools than there are great ones.
Steve in Kingston August 14, 2011 at 01:55 PM
Joe R you left off a key fact .....there are more failing public schools than great ones! (please do not reference a blue ribbon won by a SB school over 10 years ago)
Charlie Valan August 14, 2011 at 02:05 PM
And Steve........ Stop using OTHER failing school districts as the cornerstone for getting a Charter School in these successful School Districts and stop insisting that the Blue Ribbon won 10 years ago and the current rankings have NO MERIT and NO VALUE. Put Charter Schools where they're needed, not where there not. What are you missing here? This is what I'm talking about your misguided, massaged information, and turning content into false discussion pieces............
Steve in Kingston August 14, 2011 at 02:14 PM
Sorry Charlie.....yesterday's home runs DO NOT count in today's game. Let's all keep looking at that old, faded and tattered blue ribbon and try to convince ourselves that it's still the old glory days.
Charlie Valan August 14, 2011 at 02:21 PM
And you once again prove my point. Ignore the TOTAL quote I had (only discuss Blue Ribbon). But don't worry about today's rankings either Steve. Because ignoring that has become habit for you. Or you'll just try to play Larry King instead and slam that as well. But even if our School District re-certified, I'm sure you'd find SOMETHING to knock the Blue Ribbon program. Because over the years I'm sure you will clearly demonstrate how our schools performances have TUMBLED since that certification. How our geniuses from 10 years ago are morons today. How the teachers in these school districts have been replaced by the bowels of society and how we have become a factory for the destruction of the United States........... Please Steve, now it's just become so trivial it's embarrassing......... I know this isn't the Yankees Steve. It's about Children and Education. And we have everything to be proud of here!!!
Steve in Kingston August 14, 2011 at 02:41 PM
Charlie if you were really for the "children" instead of protecting the status quo and fading performance of the American education system you would see that your efforts and that of the anti-school choice movement will be one of the key factors in the further decline of our children's future. So hold your head up and walk proud Charlie, walk proud!
Charlie Valan August 14, 2011 at 02:46 PM
And what does that have to do with South Brunswick, West Windsor and Princeton??? What are we talking about here??? No one is critical of Charter Schools....but where they're needed. What do you not understand? Stop trying to save the United States throught South Brunswick. Would you have fought World War II from South Brunswick???
Steve in Kingston August 14, 2011 at 03:06 PM
"Stop trying to save the United States through South Brunswick." You cannot be serious! Charlie, we are the United States. If we take your advice and that of your anti-school choice movement we all fail. Don't expect the local, state or federal government to solve the impending collapse of our educational system. In fact, if parents don't get involved and take back control of our children's education we are doomed to be a second rate world power. What you fail to see Charlie is that this is a beach head of the global war for economic stability and progress. But don't worry Charlie, walk proud with the other anti-school choice followers (teachers unions, inefficient school boards, etc.) you still have your Blue Ribbon.
We want our democracy back August 14, 2011 at 03:08 PM
Charlie, I recommend not feeding the troll anymore. For all we know, Steve doesn't live in Kingston or anywhere in South Brunswick. He could be the head of the Charter School Association, or a hedge-fund billionaire devoted to public schools destruction. Or he could just be a cranky and irrelevant old man who spends his time pushing his extreme ideology on the world. In any case, he is irrelevant and any time you spend responding to his lies and insults is time you could be spending much more productive. There is nothing wrong with US public schools. What is broken is our willingness to accept outrageous levels of poverty in this country, much higher than those of any other developed country. If we adjust for poverty, our students outperform every other country in the world in their performance on international tests.. Individual parental choice is a marketing gimmick to make the privatization of public education more appealing. There is no individual choice when it comes to public goods, whether schools, roads, or safety. If you don't like the options, work to change not destroy them.
Steve in Kingston August 14, 2011 at 03:24 PM
Democracy? By your post you should could change your name to "we want our socialism". The reason so many people are poor is due to the failure of the public education system and lack of parental responsibility and involvement. Based on WWODBs post it looks like some of those behind the anti-school choice movement are die hard socialist....scary for the country and our children.
Joe R August 14, 2011 at 03:26 PM
I agree with We Want Our Democracy Back, well said. The film, "Waiting for Superman," was made by a self-described liberal, Davis Guggenheim. In the Finnish educational system, much cited in the film as the best in the world, teachers are—gasp!—unionized and granted tenure, and families benefit from a cradle-to-grave social welfare system that includes universal daycare, preschool and UNIVERSAL healthcare, all of which are proven to help children achieve better results at school. Finland's child poverty rate is about 4% while the US's is more than 21%.
We want our democracy back August 14, 2011 at 03:41 PM
A child's academic performance is 60 percent a result of family factors, primarily those related to poverty. If a child is hungry or has lead poisoning from being exposed to lead-paint, her ability to learn is severely impaired. About 20% of a child's performance is related to the quality of her school and another 20% cannot be linked to any specific causal factors. Rather than pushing for the US to lower our outrageously high poverty levels, like the rest of the developed world has, public school opponents argue that it's all the fault of our schools. That's like blaming oncologists because more cancer patients die than dermatology patients. It's stupid and cynical and will do nothing to address the underlying problem -- high levels of poverty.
Charlie Valan August 14, 2011 at 03:44 PM
Steve...more and more you ignore what we're fighting about. You can't win the war ignoring the problem. The problem isn't here. Go move to where the problem is and fight those systems. Everyone isn't a problem Steve. Typical protester you are. Find a problem and brand it a society....
Steve in Kingston August 14, 2011 at 04:38 PM
Charlie are you saying that the anti-school choice movement is so intolerant of alternative views that they think the non-believers and pro-school choice should just pack up our children and move out of town? What drives you to choose political and union interests over that of the children of South Brunswick?
We want our democracy back August 14, 2011 at 04:48 PM
Charlie, please don't feed the troll. You're just giving him the energy to keep writing this drivel.
Steve in Kingston August 14, 2011 at 04:57 PM
When they cannot win an argument on merit why must some resort to personal attacks?
Charlie Valan August 14, 2011 at 05:27 PM
Democracy.... I hear you and thank you for your support and I also appreciate the things you have to say. As for Steve.... Well you consistantly try to take statesments and craft them into fools gold. It's transparent and over the past few weeks, everyone can now see it. If you sneezed and I said, "God Bless You", you'd accuse me of bringing religon into society in general. I know where my opinion stands. I know where public schools are failing. Go find the school districts that should be scolded and fixed. Where Charter Schools would be blessed for what they bring. That's the difference Steve. You knocked what you called a Socialist opinion before. You sir and your opinions are more socialist then anyones. A land where everything falls under one frame of fixing. I will keep fighting and trust the system to do the right thing.
Steve in Kingston August 14, 2011 at 05:44 PM
Oh you are right Charlie!!! How can I have been be so blind! You, the teachers union, the pay-to-play politics, the ineffecient ,bloated school board and all of the other the anti-school choice folks have that pretty Blue Ribbon!!! PS "fighting and trust the system to do the right thing"? It sounds like you are fighting to protect an old ineffecient system that is no longer sustaiable.
Charlie Valan August 14, 2011 at 06:00 PM
And how many people are on the PIACS Board..... Steve, please. It's getting harder to see the end in your efforts for foolishness. You keep side tracking the discussion for your own individual agenda issues, no different than Parker Block and his group. The greatest right we have in this country is the right to choose. And you want these folks to have a pass. You want our dollars stolen to "feed their system". Yet you sit there and fight the other system. You have lost any and all grip with even what you're fighting. And that's why I can keep on commenting and you can keep coming back with same verbiage....the same words.... "Blue Ribbon, Corruption,...." Absolutely foolish....and so comical. You're a debaters dream..... Wish you could ever find anything positive in your terrible outlook of the world. I looked back at all your past opinions on Patch. I encourage others to do the same. Amazing.
Steve in Kingston August 14, 2011 at 06:11 PM
Charlie, either its a technical problem or an editing issue but your last few posts are all garbled and nonsensical. Maybe when you fix it we can understand what you are posting.
Charlie Valan August 14, 2011 at 06:37 PM
Democracy, Joe R., Ron L, LMR....he's all yours. Now he's run out of even stupidity on top of the nonsense he's been spitting out. Nothing left to say. Don't think he can ever be credible. Not that he ever was....Democracy, I think you're right. For all we know, he is Parker Block.
Steve in Kingston August 14, 2011 at 06:42 PM
Charlie...better look into the problem again....it seems to be getting worse. The only things visable in youir posts are slander and personal attacks. Hope you fix it soon!
Joe R August 14, 2011 at 07:06 PM
Charlie, thanks for fighting the good fight and for your intelligent and well reasoned opinions.

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