Thursday, December 1, 2016

Latino Parent Voices Are Ignored in Red Bank as NJEA Muffles Expansion Plans

Leaders of the New Jersey Education Association often profess disdain for public charter schools. But how far will they go to stop expansion of a popular school that, in response to parent demand, seeks to double its enrollment?

For illumination, look no further than the public school wars in Red Bank, a small town by the Navesink River in Monmouth County. This is the home of Red Bank Charter School, founded in 1997, just two years after N.J. passed its first charter school law. Last year the school  proposed to expand capacity from 200 to 400 students. That proposal kindled the full fury of NJEA union representatives who made it their job to foment community dissent through a campaign that charged the tiny charter with deliberately increasing school segregation.

NJEA won. The Christie Administration rejected the expansion proposal. Now NJEA is gloating about its role in the theatrics. And the celebration  hardly ends there: two groups, one called “Fair Schools Red Bank” and the other called “Latino Coalition” have filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice requesting forced closure of Red Bank Charter School (RBCS) on the grounds that its presence is producing segregated schools.

Red  Bank is a relatively diverse town (according to the 2010 census, 63% of residents are white and 35% are Latino) but the K-8 school district is mostly Latino and low-income. In fact, only 9.3% of  Red Bank Middle School students are white. The rest go to  Rumson Country Day School, where Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy sends his kids, Ranney School (tuition at both is about $30K per year) or parochial school. In fact, twenty years ago when RBCS first applied to the State for a charter, one premise was to reduce“white flight." Currently 11% of traditional district students are white and 50% of RBCS students are white; Black student distribution is even (between 10% and 11% at both) and Latino students comprise 78% of district students and 40% of RBCS. Many more students in the two district schools qualify for free and reduced lunch than in the charter.

To address this economic disparity, the charter expansion application proposed a weighted lottery that would increase the number of economically-disadvantaged students so that charter demographics would eventually mirror Red Bank's school-age population.

In spite of this remedy proposed by RBCS -- which has already been implemented even though the expansion was rejected  --  NJEA leaders went full bore, lobbying legislators, organizing opposition, and spending member dues money. .Here are a few quotes from an NJEA article boasting about the union triumph.

  • "NJEA UniServ Field Representative Lorraine Tesauro supported RBBEA [Red Bank Borough Education Association] involvement, bringing NJEA resources to bolster the local association’s needs."
  • "The PTO, administration, and the local association paid for lawn signs with the inspirational message “Dream Big – We’ll help you get there.'
  • Members of RBBEA attended events in force and provided support to parent groups as well as creating and implementing association-led actions. 

Much of the action appears orchestrated by the president of RBBEA President Carol Boehm. “She and her members,” the article notes, “organized a rally with police escorts...chanting ‘Charter expansion, what do we say? No way, we won’t pay.’ Each week,brought a new action orchestrated or supported by Boehm and her members.” Here’s Boehm:
We needed to be very careful about how many teachers were speaking, and how many teachers were out in the forefront. We didn’t want the political nature of this to be perceived as teachers just looking out for their jobs. We strategically placed members as a silent majority. Fifty to 100 members were present at parent run meetings as well as holding their own.” 
But of course  this is all about union leaders looking out for jobs, or at least union leaders looking out for stable dues revenue. Why else fight against an alternative public school that is committed to repairing student demographic disparities? Why else fight against choices for the many families who sit on RBCS’s waiting list?

Now that expansion prospects are quashed, the endgame appears to be to shutter the school in order to achieve integration. But this premise is flawed when one considers the actual demographics of Red Bank Borough and Red Bank Charter School.

In other words, shutting down RBCS wouldn't change district demographics.

Here's another way to look at it:

RBCS Principal Meredith Pennotti invited the Latino Coalition Director Frank Argote-Freyre to visit and talk directly to Latino parents but he never responded.

However, a publication called Red Bank Green reported this:

Felipa Pastrana, a Mexican immigrant who has twin daughters in second grade at Red Bank Charter School, said “I want it to be known to the entire Red Bank community that the many Latino parents at Red Bank Charter School fully support the school.”
 Lourdes Hernandez, who moved from Veracruz, Mexico, to Red Bank 16 years ago, said she “is thrilled with the education her four children received at Red Bank Charter School.”
And what of formal complaint? Ms. Pastrana said, “We have never heard of the Latino Coalition. I’m  insulted that they claim to represent Latinos in Red Bank when they are not even from here.” Ms. Hernandez says, ““This group has no right to speak for me or any of the other Latino parents at the charter school, or the many Latino parents who are on the waiting list to attend the charter school.”

NJEA hasn't formally weighed in on the civil rights complaint yet, those who worked closely with the NJEA to kill the charter expansion are also leading the fight to close the charter school. Perhaps a better use of their time would be to listen to the parents they pretend to represent.

(This piece was originally published at Education Post.)


RB public parent said...

This article has so many inaccuracies and is so misleading it’s hard to know where to start.

First, it’s completely inaccurate to allege that the Red Bank teacher’s union spearheaded any effort in Red Bank to block the attempt by the Red Bank Charter school to expand or helped to file a civil rights complaint against the school. Yes, our teachers – our hardworking, wonderful teachers – supported the efforts of parents to BLOCK THEd EXPANSION, as all of the evidence that Ms Waters cites shows. Nowhere in the quotes by union officials does it say that the union led the efforts, and yet she continues to stick to this story line. Let me ask a question: Why is it so hard for charter school proponents to believe that public school teachers are caring and hardworking … and public school parents are caring, engaged in their schools, and fight for their kids? Ms Waters assertions are just patronizing and gross. Red Bank public school parents are very engaged. Yes we solicited the help of teachers and residents, but PARENTS led the effort against last year’s expansion. None of the effort to block the expansion was funded by the NJEA. And the NJEA is in no way involved in the civil rights complaint. Where is Ms Waters’ evidence to the contrary? She has none because none exists.

RB public parent said...

Now let’s talk about the numbers. Where does Ms Waters get hers? The NJ DOE hasn’t released 2016-17 enrollment numbers yet, but those from 2015-16 show that RBCS is 50% white, 39% Hispanic and 10% black, while Red Bank public is 7% white, 81% Hispanic and 10% black. Also I think Ms Waters should check her Census data. And finally, Red Bank charter officials and parents love to make this claim that if you were to close the charter school and all of the students went to the public schools, the demographics wouldn’t change much. It’s a very interesting mental exercise but it in no way proves that segregation doesn’t exist. In fact, it may do more to prove that segregation does exist – by proving how drastically different the demographics are between the two schools. It would be more interesting if Ms Waters could provide stats on the demographics and number of prek-8 kids who attend private and parochial schools. But again, evidence is lacking.

RB public parent said...

I also love how Ms Waters doesn’t even mention the stats for LEP kids and those who qualify for free-and-reduced lunch. Red Bank charter had only 4% LEP kids and 41% who qualify for free-and-reduced lunch while Red Bank public had 38% LEP kids and 89% who qualified for free-and-reduced lunch. Of course she doesn’t want to mention the widening gap in LEP students over the last 10 years. But how can she indicate that the Red Bank Charter School’s weighted lottery was a success without providing evidence to back it up? Red Bank Charter’s principal Meredith Pennotti was quoted in the Asbury Park Press saying that of the 10 preK spots open to non-siblings for the 2016-17 school year, only 20% were economically disadvantaged. So in its first year its vaunted weighted lottery, there is absolutely no evidence that it worked to increase the number of poor children at the Red Bank Charter School. If it had, wouldn’t the NJ DOE and Red Bank Charter be crowing about the results? But hey- why let a pesky fact get in the way of your story?

Also did it ever occur to you WHY the NJ DOE directed the Red Bank Charter School to hold a weighted lottery? Could it be because the percentage of poor children doesn’t reflect the school-aged population of Red Bank? Hmmm…..

RB public parent said...

Also Ms Waters makes a big deal about all these supposed middle school students who attend Rumson Country Day and Ranney. How many Red Bank kids attend those schools exactly? Or the parochial schools nearby? Please tell me. The fact is – and this is a fact – there are more like several dozen, not several hundred. And why does it matter where Phil Murphy sends his kids – he’s not a Red Bank resident. Then again, Ms Waters has no idea about Red Bank – she lives clear across the state. So maybe she got confused? Another fact: The Red Bank public school students show growth year after year in standardized tests as they move up through the grades. Many overcome tremendous language barriers and poverty. In contrast the Red Bank charter school students, who enjoy two teachers in every class and an extended school day, do not demonstrate similar levels of growth as they move through up through the grades. Of course Ms Waters knows that – she links to the Red Bank Middle School PARCC results, but not the Red Bank Charter School

RB public parent said...

Also I personally find it offensive that Ms Pennotti and a handful of charter parents think it’s the job of the Latino Coalition to reach out to the administration and parents of the Red Bank Charter School. If the Red Bank Charter School was doing such a terrific job with outreach in Red Bank, wouldn’t the school be reaching out to the leading civil rights organization in our area? The campaign to discredit the Latino Coalition is beyond insulting. Along with the Latino Coalition, the Red Bank NAACP and the Westside Ministerial Alliance, among other civil rights organizations, all objected to the expansion of the Red Bank Charter School on the basis of the segregation that it causes in Red Bank. Are Ms Waters and the Red Bank Charter School planning to disparage those other civil rights groups too?

RB public parent said...

Here’s another question: The Red Bank Charter School has put a Newark PR firm, Jaffe Communications, on retainer, spending $3,300 a month in taxpayer dollars. Under its contract, which was approved by the unelected and unaccountable Red Bank Board of Trustees, Jaffe is supposed to be helping parents write op eds, as well as train “an army of media-savvy members” to counter any negative reports about the Red Bank Charter School. Could Jaffe have a hand in this very op ed? I have no proof of course, just as Ms Waters has no proof in anything she writes about the Red Bank schools. But it’s an interesting question nonetheless!

Also I would love it if Ms Waters would address a key part of the civil rights complaint – which is that the Red Bank Charter School gets more than $2,000 per pupil than the Red Bank Borough Public Schools. Aren’t charter schools supposed to be funded at 90% of the per-pupil cost of public schools? Why is this not happening in Red Bank? Charter schools are supposed to be cost effective, and yet in Red Bank as in other places they are a drain on taxpayers. Of course to acknowledge the financial disparity may mean she would have to admit the civil rights complaint has some merit.

Anne Kelterborn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NJ Left Behind said...

Thanks for reading and commenting. My answers are here: