Friday, August 12, 2011

NJ's Charter School Wars

Princeton International Academy Charter School (PIACS), which has been fighting for approval of its Mandarin-immersion school, has filed suit against Princeton, West Windsor/Plainsboro, and South Brunswick school districts, claiming that the traditional districts are waging “a guerrilla war financed by public dollars.” According to a press release issued this week,
the school districts have vigorously opposed the efforts of PIACS and diverted tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars intended for the education of school children to pay for consultants and lawyers to oppose efforts to secure a facility in South Brunswick, the site of the planned school. While parental interest in the school is high, the school districts have disseminated false and inflammatory statements about the charter school to the community and have pledged to use any available means to prevent PIACS from opening, all at taxpayer expense.
In other words, these traditional public school districts are funding litigation against PIACS through taxpayer dollars that would otherwise go to instruction or other educational purposes. Much of the leadership of this anti-charter movement comes through the auspices of a group called Save Our Schools-NJ, and clearly it's got traction in these tony neighborhoods. It's understandable: Princeton currently shells out $4,368,915 (according to DOE data) to Princeton Charter School, which educates 344 of Princeton's K-8th graders.

(The DOE database also says that there are 3,281 kids on Princeton Charter School's waiting list, which is just about all of Princeton Public Schools' enrollment. Maybe Princeton Public Schools, the birthplace of SOS-NJ, is just getting ready for the proposed bill, backed by SOS-NJ, which would require that any charter school submit every child's name to a lottery, regardless of parent interest. Nothing like getting ahead of the game.)

The suit gets to the heart of a piece of the fiery NJ debate about charter schools: should these nontraditional public schools be restricted to towns with lousy schools, or should charter schools be available to all students, even in high-achieving districts? Part of the debate has more to do with job protection rather than education. SOS-NJ is, after all, an affiliate of Parents Across America, which is (stay with us here) funded by NEA, the national teacher union. No big surprise there. Charter schools are permitted to hire non-unionized teachers, so NEA and its NJ affiliate NJEA have a vested interest in quashing NJ's charter school movement.

According to Planet Princeton, the superintendents of West Windsor/Plainsboro, Princeton, and South Brunswick issued a joint statement:
“As pertains to this particular petition, the boards are composed of 9 or 10 members, each of whom was elected by the voters, the superintendents’ statement reads. ” 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.”
It's an interesting strategy on the part of PIACS: should taxpayers have to foot the bill for attempts by school boards and districts to stymy charter school growth? Should litigation of this sort be subject to a voter referendum, just like SOS-NJ would like to require for the establishment of a new charter school? Stay tuned.


Julia said...


This is incomprehensible, even for you.

"SOS-NJ is .. an affiliate of Parents Across America, which is ... funded by NEA, the national teacher NEA and its NJ affiliate NJEA have a vested interest in quashing NJ's charter school movement."

If you are trying to discredit Save Our Schools NJ by falsely claiming we're a NJEA plant vs. a grassroots organization, why don't you say it more directly?

The logic in your post is torturous at best.

We chose to affiliate with Parents Across America (PAA) because we share their goal of bringing parents into the fight to protect public education. PAA has many grassroots affiliates like Save Our Schools NJ.

Since Save Our Schools NJ is all volunteer and doesn't have a budget or a staff, what exactly are you implying?

These constant attempts to discredit us with lies should be beneath you, but I guess they speak for themselves.

Mary Beth said...

I'm confused by the premise of this post. You start by saying that PAICS filed a lawsuit against the school district. Then you say:

"these traditional public school districts are funding litigation against PIACS through taxpayer dollars that would otherwise go to instruction or other educational purposes."

It seems to me that the school districts are spending taxpayer dollars to RESPOND to litigation filed BY PIACS. So the folks who are wasting taxpayer dollars would be -- stay with me, Laura -- PIACS, by filing a frivolous lawsuit.

I love it when charter school proponents suggest that the people who are

Teacher Mom said...

That's funny last time I checked SOS-NJ was a grassroots organization the encourages Parental involvement and bringing the parents' voice to the discussion about education and education reform. Affiliated with Parents Across America yes. NOT affiliated with ANY union though union members often join because they believe PARENTS need to have their voices heard. Now let's be honest. Most of the affluent communities HAVE said NO to charters because it would mean pulling money OUT of the public school system, and PARENTS would like to have a say in where THEIR tax dollars are being spent.

LMR said...

Laura, All school districts maintain a budget line for legal fees for any litigation. The firm that S.B. uses is shared by Princeton and WW-P districts and has for over 10 years. The law firm is paid $165/hr for ALL 3 districts, thus SB so far as spent $2300. The BOe has a duty to be 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. So far PIACS has failed in front of the ZONING BOARD to present a school that provides the basics for a school. One example: 2 classrooms had no fire exits, there is no nurse's room and sick children will be in the SAME room as the health children as they are being taught. These are just 2 examples of how poorly this school has presented itself. I am a mother of 2 and have no dealings with NJEA, so how dare you present this article without gaining all the facts. This is a perfect example of media twisting the information to favor one side. I would hope the next time you present an article you provide information from the otherside as most decent journalist do.

Mary Beth said...

What ever happened to the America where you helped your neighbors? Where you sent your son to mow an elderly neighbor's lawn, or joined up with friends to cook a month of dinners for someone who just had a baby? The American where you knew the guy who worked at the hardware store and the lady behind the deli counter? Whatever happened to the America of strong communities?

I know this isn't the America of "It's a Wonderful Life" anymore. But here's what I wonder about people who think that any charter anywhere is better than any traditional public school: Why is it all about what one parent wants for his or her own individual child? Why does it make you a craven defender of the status quo to object to the idea that public schools should provide anything any random parent thinks is a good idea for their own individual child?

Why am I a pawn of some teacher's union if I say that in a time when state and local budgets are under more stress than they have been since the Great Depression, school districts -- even "tony" ones -- can't afford to do everything every individual parent wants for their own individual kid? And if that district is one that generally performs well, how do you morally justify the notion that some kids should get a Mandarin immersion education and some kids should not have full-day kindergarten?

Why does ONE parent's -- or 30 parents' or even 300 parents' -- "choice" ALWAYS trump providing the greatest good for the greatest number of students? Why is it that a school district with 4000 students should beggar 3,700 of them to give some small percentage some boutique education?

I'm not a teacher, not married or related to a teacher and I don't live in Princeton, although I do live in a suburb. I think good charter schools have a role to play in reforming education in this country. But if you are fortunate enough to live in a community with good schools, why should your school board support using your neighbor's tax dollars to subsidize your whims about your child's education? Frankly, this argument seems to reject some of the very values that we as Americans still hold dear.

darcie said...

Wait, wait, this is a fun game! Let me try!! Laura Waters writes an anti-union EdReformer blog. She has garnered enough attention to write opinion pieces for NJ Spotlight. One of those opinion pieces was highlighted by the ed reform blog redefinEd (stay with us here) which is run by venture capital entrepreneur John F. Kirtley. So, Laura Waters is being paid by ed reformer venture capitalists to attack teachers unions! I knew it! No big surprise there.

Deb said...

Rather than trying to cast shadows of doubt on a group of grass root activists, perhaps Laura, you might spend your time looking at the incompetence within the Department of Education. If they were doing a good job at evaluating charter school applications, listening to the concerns of the public and following up on charter schools that have opened, SOSnj and the Boards of Education would not have to spend the time doing jobs that belong to the DoE.

sgj said...

Any public school choice/offering needs to be allowed in a district as long as these public schools can show demand in the community. As of now, the charter schools most debated find themselves in suburban districts where enough parent demand exist to fill the school seats. This should be enough of a reason for any school district and so called "grass root organizations as SOS" to back down, and let these parents' right to have their children educated in the public school of their choice prevail!!! As for PIACS and other immersion language charter schools, they represent an educational movement which has long been advocated by the NJ Dep of Education, and Minister of Education, Arne Duncan. The question only remain, why have NJ school districts not implemented proper language education for their students especially when this provides substantial cognitive benefits? "Tight school budgets" can not be blamed for this gross oversight in failing to provide proper 21st century education in early childhood to NJ school children rather pragmatic bureaucrats and administrators happy with the status quo. I commend the founders of PIACS and other charter schools to stand strong, in order to bring about innovation to our public school system.

winterlude22 said...

The public school districts should pay close attention to what is happening with the emergence of charter schools, specifically, language immersion charters in the suburbs. Parents, not administrators or 'experts' are responding to what they feel is a crucial need in order for their children to become competent, global citizens. Pair this with the overwhelming cognitive benefits of bilingualism for all students across the learning spectrum --- it is win-win for everyone, on so many levels. In Englewood,NJ (Bergen County), the public elementary schools are all 50-50 Spanish immersion and have just implemented a Mandarin component --- to great enthusiasm and success. These are obviously people with the vision and wherewithal to implement these programs for children district wide, so what are we waiting for? Not enough money? This is not a good enough excuse to turn away from innovation in education. And with Senator Lautenberg and Representative Holt (NJ) proposing $50 million for K-12 world language initiatives in NJ public schools, soon there will be no more excuses. Are we disagreeing about the value of bilingualism for our children? I think not. So let's negate the charter school argument and make it so that every child in our districts have forward-thinking education that includes the goal of bilingualism in Spanish and/or Mandarin.

Kay said...

As a student in one of these three districts, I can safely assure you that PIACS is completely and utterly unnecessary. Our schools provide excellent world language instruction within the context of a normal public high school. We don't need to implement "immersion" as winterlude22 implies, especially as that immersion would take away money from everything else in the school. Why should children sit through worse math, history, science, English, and elective courses because a few selfish people want special Mandarin immersion for their children? Why should thousands of kids suffer cuts to their extracurricular activities and lose their favorite teachers because of a comparatively minuscule demand for a different type of curriculum? How is that fair? Moreover, how is it that a charter school, which is essentially a private school leeching money off of public taxpayers who don't even endorse it, can be allowed to open in one of the highest achieving areas in the state? West Windsor-Plainsboro and Princeton in particular are home to some of the best public high schools in New Jersey, and it's absolutely ridiculous to let a private institution ruin something as good as this. If you let charters spring up where the school system doesn't need them, soon all of the good schools will become mediocre and all of the bad schools will either a) become worse because of money lost to charters or b) remain mediocre. In effect, you would destroy New Jersey education.

PIACS is an awful group led by selfish individuals who simply want to brag about their administrative skills. They have no interest in the good of the children, and as our districts are already suffering from state cuts and the bad economy, PIACS would prove an even greater parasite now than in the past. I hope the ruling bodies crush it out of existence as soon as possible.