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In My Own Voice

In my own words, I explain my decision to file an appeal of the Zoning Board decision to grant a use variance to Hatikvah Charter School to locate permanently in a warehouse.

As one of the East Brunswick residents who filed an appeal challenging the use variance granted to Hatikvah charter school to locate in a warehouse in an industrial zone, I am writing to address the persistent mischaracterization of both my position and myself by supporters of the school.

Few people attended the Zoning Board hearing to hear my position in my own voice.  If you are interested, you can read the attached document. I have consistently pointed out that, especially given my own elementary education at a Schechter school in Chicago, I respect the goals and motives of the Hatikvah school.  It remains a great frustration and sadness to me that my motives and sincerity are questioned in light of my own background. 

Disagreeing with the choice to locate a school in an industrial zone does not make me anti-charter, anti-Zionist, anti-Hatikvah, anti-East Brunswick or divisive in the community.  It makes me a participant in the democratic processes established in this town to ensure all residents can participate in important decisions regarding our town’s future. 

I do not believe that a warehouse in an industrial zone is the right place for a school.  The reasons I enumerated in my testimony remain.  Beyond my reservations that our town would see fit to make this precedent setting decision to place school children between two warehouses on a dilapidated road, the Zoning Board meeting itself convinced me that public participation was viewed as a necessary nuisance rather than a valuable addition to the process. 

I have been excoriated for believing this school location is a bad idea.  I have been attacked in print, in public, and in emails by a well-organized, small group of people who support the school.  I am often asked that if the parents of Hatikvah feel this is an adequate location, then what right do I have to challenge the decision? But this is not just about those parents who currently use the school – this is a public school open to all East Brunswick children, present and future. And it is part of the East Brunswick Public School System that we all contribute to – so we all have a stake and a say. 

Despite knowledge of the appeal, a private foundation has spent $2.7 million to purchase the warehouse on Lexington Avenue for the school, and the Friends of Hatikvah have entered a rental agreement for the building with the school.  If they want to continue to receive public funds for their school, amidst these generous private backers, then I respectfully suggest they need to adjust to the reality that public participation will be part of their decision making processes.  If they had acknowledged that at the outset – before choosing this location – we could have had community discussions before the appeal process not during and after.   

Deborah E Cornavaca

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

EBHS grad January 09, 2013 at 04:51 PM
I grew up in EB and my parents live within walking distance of this proposed site. This building is far from a "warehouse." Most of it is office space and it's in pristine condition, far better than the majority of elementary schools located in EB. The street it's on is as quiet as it gets in EB and it's certainly safer than most school roads. It's not a through-street and there's barely a car on it for the most part. There are acres - ACRES - of lush woods behind the building. You are completely mischaracterizing the property. You wonder why people question your motives but how many residents are paying a Hill Wallack lawyer to appeal the zoning board's decision under the guise that you want to engage in the democratic process? Or is some other entity actually footing that bill???
I was skeptical January 09, 2013 at 05:27 PM
I have been reading about this school for a week now on patch and saw some of the meeting on channel 3. So on my way up route 18 yesterday I decided to go see where this property is. After my maps strangely took me to some side street with houses in south river I finally figured out where I was supposed to go. Anyway I stopped at the "correct" Lexington avenue and agree with the last person posting. I did not see a single truck let alone even one car go by for the entire 15 minutes I was looking around. The building is very well maintained as is the landscaping. I took a photo but don't know how to share it. There are residences right across from the building and I could see their windows and yards. The council members definitely never visited this property. I feel embarrassed for them that they are making a spectacle of themselves. I actually think its a very nice location for a school. Much much quieter than the streets that any school is on and possibly less traffic than the amount of cars that go by memorial school which is also on a local road.
I was skeptical January 09, 2013 at 05:29 PM
Sorry ran out of room. I read somewhere that the appeal people said the road was too bumpy for a school. There were some potholes which is really the job of the town to fill in. But it's in better shape than the street I live on. I feel bad for the school having to be delayed since I see there current location on Cranbury road which does not look very spacious. Why cant our town leaders hold their next meeting at the property to allow them a reality look at the situation? I am ashamed to have voted for some of those individuals.
I was skeptical January 09, 2013 at 05:45 PM
Dear Linda, you admit to not be a community supporter of the school. I see no problem with that. I am not a supporter of various public funded entities. We all have our choices. But at the council meeting someone mentioned that 2 public meetings took place regarding the school's moving. Why didn't you attend? I don't understand your statement. If this results in more wasteful expenses to be paid by residents then I for one will never elect any of these people. Even if they seek higher office outside of town. Supposing there is a lawsuit, can the two women cover the townships legal expenses?
Kelly January 09, 2013 at 06:15 PM
@Skeptical That's great that you went and checked it out. Why did you conveniently leave out that it has warehouses on three different sides of it? One is a sheet metal company, one repairs lunch trucks and the other is empty and who knows what the other will be. You really think those are appropriate neighbors for a school? If you do, then I respectfully disagree and have a hard time taking your evaluation of the property seriously.
Kelly January 09, 2013 at 06:18 PM
@skeptical I feel bad for these school children also, in that the school chose to house them in trailers for two straight years shows the mindset of the school leadership. That Hatikvah has decided an industrial park is an appropriate place for a school is not that big of a surprise after seeing 40 kids crammed into a trailer for six hours a day, there.
Kelly January 09, 2013 at 07:00 PM
Actually, the school was asked during the council meeting (look in the minutes) if public meetings were held regarding the placement of the school, and the school's attorney stuttered a few times, looked back to the school personnel and didn't have an answer to the question. At the time of the Zoning Board decision, when the real estate transaction had already been negotiated, there had been no public meetings. At that time, the school had already gone ahead with its decision without public input.
I was skeptical January 09, 2013 at 07:01 PM
Dear Kelly, I did not "conveniently" leave out that there are other buildings on the street. But why would those other uses be any better of a neighbor to the existing houses surrounding those buildings? You have to consider that. I do not know where the sheet metal place is but can only assume it is around the bend which is out of site of this building. I understand you have a concern but you are sensationalizing and "conveniently" leaving out the fact that people live closer than the school is to those other buildings. You have to concede the fact that this road has next to no activity and it is a dead end. Why is that worse than where Irwin school is - with a strip mall in its front yard and cars zooming up and down Racetrack Road all day long while our children play on the swings? If some child lurker is hiding out they can be anywhere in town or it could even be your next door neighbor!
Kelly January 09, 2013 at 07:15 PM
Dear Skeptical, If Irwin is in a poor location, that does not justify also putting Hatikvah in a poor location. Also, you are not being truthful about the proximity of the houses vs. the other warehouse. The vending truck company is as close to the warehouse as my next door neighbor's house is to mine. The nearby townhouses are far outside of this zone. But, people should follow your lead and go see for themselves.
I was skeptical January 09, 2013 at 07:27 PM
Kelly, in response to your 2pm comment, I don't understand what kind of public meeting you refer to? The towns zoning commission had public meetings. Are you saying that the town should have held a bond referendum merting and borrowed money to build a school on Lexington avenue? I read that a private company is building everything. Thats good since it doesnt cost me anything. So what more public meetings do you need? I think that you just plain don't like a school that I actually credit 100% for making the BOE implement full day kindergarten for the entire town. Did this possibly benefit your family in any way by reduced child care costs? If so then you should send a thank you letter instead of attack them. Geez.
I was skeptical January 09, 2013 at 07:34 PM
Oh please, stop. How can you now attack the leadership of the school. If you could do better then send your resume to them. This location is not an industrial park. Mill road in Edison is an industrial park. As far as trailers go the school system in town has used them many times over the years for classrooms. Now after Hurricane Sandy, there are entire schools in NJ housed in trailers. Please use some rationale. I get it, you hate the school and want them to close. Maybe you should go visit the school and report back if the children are smiling and learning and enjoying being children. You clearly enjoy being a child.
I was skeptical January 09, 2013 at 07:56 PM
Kelly your latest post at 2:15 is inaccurate. Those houses can be no more than 75 feet from the curb on Lexington. Looking at a google map I estimate that the vending company is about 200 feet from the closest part of the school. How far is your neighbors house to yours? You left that out.
Paying Attention January 09, 2013 at 08:22 PM
The meeting date for the most recent Hatikvah Board meeting was posted but the time was given as 7:30pm, when the actual meeting was at 2pm. That certainly didn't promote transparency and public attendance.
Paying Attention January 09, 2013 at 08:24 PM
The meeting date for the most recent Hatikvah Board meeting was posted but the time was given as 7:30pm, when the actual meeting was held earlier in the day at 2pm. That certainly didn't promote transparency or public attendance.
Paying Attention January 09, 2013 at 08:37 PM
I'm wondering why Hatikvah has had three principals in three years. That's a high turnover rate, certainly higher than in the other public elementary schools in our school district. The reason oft touted for charter schools in inner cities is that public schools have failed the children. I look forward to seeing how the standardized tests of Hatikvah students measure up to those of students in other EB public elementary schools. The proof of effectiveness of the education will be in student performance.
See for yourself January 09, 2013 at 08:55 PM
so I guess a unanimous zoning approval is no longer your concern. the more you write, the more you look for any reason to attack the school. charter schools don't mean inner cities. ever hear of a science & technology charter school (monmouth county)? Or a performing arts charter school? how about the princeton charter school? anyway, suppose they outperform the other schools, you'll probably say that the tests were fixed too. why do they have a waiting list? I bet your family benefited from full day kindergarten at some other district school, to the credit of this one. but I can't change your personal mission to discredit anything this school does. still though, seems odd that now the BOE is discussing offering foreign languages at an earlier age.
Kelly January 09, 2013 at 09:03 PM
Oh, you sound like quite the engineer. I disagree with your description. I think everyone should go see for themselves.
Deca January 09, 2013 at 09:12 PM
I believe the presumption is that this is not a good location for a school - it is not zoned for that purpose for a reason. Mr. Leiber showed a google maps photo when that building was used heavily for transport and he said he counted something like 50 trucks in the lot (I do not have the transcript in front of me Mr. Leiber so please forgive me if you feel I have not captured your statement fully on that picture). With 5 Lexington Avenue for sale/lease imagine if a company brings in that density of truck traffic to that road. They would not need a variance because the area is zoned for it. I truly believe if this had been a community discussion at the outset, as is recommended by federal guidelines for site selection of schools and as is the norm for our district, our community could have come to consensus rather than this unfortunate, and too often petty, fighting at this late juncture. Please remember, Hatikvah is a public school and we all have a stake and a say as we do with our entire public school system. People who do not have children in our school system often speak before the Board of Ed and they are not told they have no right because they do not have kids in the system. Nor should those of us participating in this discussion be told we should stay out of hatikvah's business. We have a right to participate in this discussion. A discussion that should stay focused on the actual issue not speculation about motives, backgrounds, etc.
Deca January 09, 2013 at 09:59 PM
@seeforyourself In 2004 I was part of a community group that was put together to discuss school renovations in the district. In those discussions, 8 years ago, the district articulated it was their goal to implement full day kindergarten. They had to create the space first and foremost. Eight years ago the district began the process. Long before Hatikvah. Second, foreign language programs in this district's elementary school were a state model. We began instruction in third grade. That program was phased out as a result of the deep losses to the budget - state cuts and perhaps in part charter costs- and everyone I know in the district wants it back. The district had elementary school foreign language long before Hatikvah.
Paying Attention January 09, 2013 at 11:52 PM
No, my children did not benefit from full-day public kindergarten. Both of my two children attended 3 years of private pre-school and 1 year of private full-day kindergarten and those 4 years cost more than my college education. I don't regret a penny. Thanks to the 12 years of education our children received in East Brunswick Public Schools, particularly the gifted and talented program in elementary and middle school and honors and AP courses in high school, they went to a top-ranked private college, graduated and now are gainfully employed in their chosen profession. I am deeply concerned that our terrific public school system is being undermined by this ill-conceived plan to locate a charter school in a warehouse. The superb reputation of our public schools will be tarnished if this plan is allowed to proceed.
debbie morris January 10, 2013 at 01:57 AM
Proposed teacher standards change for charter schools: http://eastbrunswick.patch.com/articles/state-may-ease-alternate-route-rules-for-charter-school-teachers-0b74580a
Anne January 10, 2013 at 02:25 AM
Patch me in, WHERE IS HATIKVAH'S LOTTERY BEING HELD, ON THURSDAY? And, at what time? For transparency's sake and all!
Kelly January 10, 2013 at 02:44 AM
Yes, skeptical, that is exactly what I am saying: community input should've happened before this real estate deal was negotiated.
Paying Attention January 10, 2013 at 12:36 PM
My notes from the Council hearing record 87 passenger vehicles and 55 tractor trailers on the 1987 Google Map of 7 Lexington Ave and the surrounding industrial zone, reflecting considerable commercial activity at the location.
Deca January 10, 2013 at 02:10 PM
Thank you Paying Attention for finding that information. So is it not a legitimate concern that there could be that kind of traffic generated by whatever locates in 5 Lexington Avenue? And if so how would that impact the school environment in terms of air quality, noise levels, traffic patterns and safety? 5 Lexington Avenue would not need a variance to bring in that kind of business because that is what the area is zoned for.
Quick info January 10, 2013 at 02:14 PM
The zoning board already granted approval to 5 Lexington to convert the entire building into medical offices. There is just no market for warehouse space. I'm a realtor, so I know about the demand in the area.
Deca January 10, 2013 at 02:23 PM
Thanks for that update Quick Info. I had not found that out. Last time I had checked, which was a couple months back, it was still for sale. Appreciate you chiming in with that.
countrywoods January 10, 2013 at 07:59 PM
Ms Cornavaca, why do you keep misleading everyone? why don't you tell everyone who are the neighbors next door to the new site? its not a warehouse it's the Chinese Evangel Mission Church which reside in the next door building safely since December 16, 2007 and Besides the two weekly worship services, ministries of the church also include children and adult Sunday schools, various fellowship groups, retreats, vacation Bible schools and other special events at the location.
Deca January 10, 2013 at 09:42 PM
The immediate neighbors of 7 Lexington Avenue are 5 Lexington Avenue (currently vacant) and a vending truck company located on Litchfield. The church is 2 doors down. I do not believe I have misled anyone on what is clearly visible from a google photo or a trip down the road.
Hope February 18, 2013 at 04:21 PM
Dear Deborah - maybe the next artice that you write should be "In my own voice....How I became so desperate to close a charter school that i had illegal conversations with the judges in my appeal case" It would be nice to hear your justifcation for that. Saying that you are 2 stay at home moms, fighting for the safety of innocent children is ridiculous. Your desperate actions speak louder than your insincere words.

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