Planet Princeton, a highly-regarded news platform run by former Star-Ledger journalist Krystal Knapp, is in a Facebook contretemps with Julia Sass Rubin, founder of Save our Schools-NJ, the state's anti-charter/anti-accountability organization. The online paper has an article on a civil rights complaint filed by the NJ Latino Coalition, the same group that filed the same complaint against Red Bank Charter School, claiming that the public charters enroll disproportionately low numbers of Latino students.
I covered the Red Bank complaint here, which was filed with eager assistance from NJEA. At the time several Latino parents commented on the complaint:
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.”
The Princeton civil rights complaint, Knapp reports, is based on the claim that Princeton Charter School (PCS), one of the first charters established in New Jersey after the passage of the 1995 charter school law, is segregated by race, income, special needs, and English Language Learners. White students are proportionately represented and the K-8 school has a higher percentage of Asian students than the traditional district. Students enroll through a random lottery. In December PCS petitioned the state to allow an expansion of 76 students from its current 350 and committed to change the random lottery to a weighted one in order to shift enrollment demographics to reflect Princeton's student body. However, this petition sparked blowback because the district is concerned about the fiscal toll of tuition payments. which this year came to $3,210,172.
According to the latest figures available from the NJ DOE's Taxpayers Guide to Education Spending, the annual cost per pupil in the traditional district is $24,634 and the annual cost per pupil at PCS is $20,737. Both are well above what the state considers "adequacy." Both the district and the charter have excellent student outcomes, by the way. This, after all, is Princeton, where 30% of households have incomes over $200K and the median sales price for homes is $787K.
Larry Patton, head of PCS, called the complaint "baseless" and noted that the Latino Coalition never bothered to speak to PCS representatives or parents. Echoes of Red Bank, right?
The factual and fair Princeton Planet article enraged Ms. Rubin, who is deeply involved in the fight against PCS. She is also a spokesperson for a new group called "Keep PPS Strong." The Facebook page urges readers to click on a presentation given at a Superintendent's Forum where Ms. Rubin played a starring role. Even Phil Murphy, gubernatorial shoo-in endorsed by NJEA before other candidates even filed for candidacy, weighed in, saying, "I don't live here but based on what I know, I'm dead set against the expansion of the Princeton Charter. It reminds me of the debate we had in Red Bank ... or the debate you may have noticed in Montclair. It does not have local support as far as I can tell and without local support I don't think there is a rationale to pursue it."
Perhaps our governor-in-waiting should first speak to the parents on PCS's waiting list.
(Murphy, who lives in Red Bank* [see correction below], sends his kids to private schools. He regularly insists that he would fully fund the state's 2008 funding formula, a mathematical impossibility that no governor has ever overcome. Murphy, apparently, is never one to let facts get in his way. Tip of the hat here to Jeff Bennett at NJ Education Aid.)
Read the whole Facebook exchange at your leisure, but here are a few excerpts.
Krystal, you are making statements about me in this article for which you have no data . Do you feel comfortable standing by those statements in a court of law or would you prefer to stick to the truth and modify your unsubstantiated statements?
We have not continuously slandered Julia Sass Rubin. Her charts are used by the group in the complaint. Regardless of what one thinks, we take no position on the charter school expansion and have no opinion, because that is not our job. It is not our job to write stories that are slanted in favor of the opposition or the expansion. It is up to readers to decide what they think on the issues. And we will continue to report even if threatened with legal action, and we will defend our reporting in court. We are sorry if opponents of the charter school are angry that our stories do not slant in support of their position, but it is our job to remain neutral.
My charts are all on the Princeton Public Schools website where anyone can access them. Your article makes it sound like I created the charts for the complaint. You also claim I am opposed to charter schools with absolutely no substantiation. And you claim that I founded Save Our Schools, which was founded by a number of people and is called Save Our Schools NJ. I think you brought me into the story at the Princeton Charter School's request. They have been launching an all out war against me, even though my taxes pay for their salaries, and you have been a very willing participant. Please correct your article so that it is based on things you can substantiate. That is what journalism is supposed to be.
No, Julia, we did not bring you into the story at the Charter School's request, contrary to what you think. And that is your perception that the story makes it sound like you created the charts for the complaint. We did not intend to make it sound that way. Sorry if we were mistaken that you don't oppose charter schools. Are you saying you support charter schools?
My position on charter schools is irrelevant for this story. What I would like to know is why you brought me into the story at all, Krystal?
Because people should know the source of the charts. And your position on charters is relevant to stories on charter schools when your data is being used.
The complaint uses your charts from the PPS Strong website, and you are one of the founders of Save Our Schools and those are facts. The sentence is not an attack, it is stating facts and we do not report on behalf of the charter school.
You go, Planet Princeton. Score one for impartial journalism!
*Correction: Phil Murphy does not live in Red Bank. He lives in Middletown on a 6-acre riverfront estate with an estimated value of $9.6 million.