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East Brunswick Gets Taken for Granted, Again

Our state legislators have taken up the charter school fight in Highland Park and Edison. Where were they when East Brunswick's was approved?

Our local 18th district legislators, specifically Sen. Barbara Buono and Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan, are gaining a lot of press lately about their stance on charter schools, specifically in suburban areas. While my personal stance is much more complicated than simply being in favor or against charter schools, as a Councilman, former Board of Education member, and a voter in East Brunswick, I’m more than surprised to see Sen. Buono and Assemblyman Diegnan take the lead on this issue.

You see, here in East Brunswick we went through the same fight that Edison, Highland Park, and countless other suburban districts in the state are now going through when a proposed charter school makes an application to move into the district. The difference between East Brunswick and these other communities though, is that our charter school was approved under the watch of a member of Sen. Buono and Assemblyman Diegnan’s own party, Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine.

Buono and Diegnan have used East Brunswick’s charter school as a model of what’s wrong with the system used to approve charter schools in their press releases and rallies. If you’re a logical individual you might ask, where were they before the charter was approved in East Brunswick, one of the biggest towns in their district? Great question.

Sensing that there were no political points to be scored, our 18th district legislators were silent during the charter review process, and mute to respond or help our community even with the letters we wrote, and the press that this concept generated. Now I read in the newspaper, almost weekly, town hall meetings with which our legislators stand with municipalities from all over the state to throw up roadblocks and assist with the fight to keep a charter school from opening in their communities.

Upon further examination, perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised by the sudden reversal and recent chest-beating about how they are there to stand with these towns. While our esteemed legislators are now travelling around the state swearing in members of local governing bodies as far away as Hunterdon and Ocean Counties, writing letters to corporate CEOs that will never be read, and assisting the Highland Park and Edison school districts in their fight to keep charter schools from opening in those communities, I can’t help but wonder what happened to East Brunswick?

Perhaps if Buono and Diegnan had stepped up to the plate for East Brunswick and put the same pressure on the Democratic-appointed Education Commissioner as they have on the Republican appointee, things might be different. Then again, there weren’t any political points to be scored on this issue back in ‘09, nor was there a Governor’s race coming up in the following year, so maybe things wouldn’t have been much different after all.

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Kelly January 19, 2012 at 10:18 PM
Councilman, this article is very heavy on accusation and political maneuvering. How does this article help your constituents here in East Brunswick? You conveniently chose not to share with us your views on 1) this particular charter school in our town and 2) the approval process of charter schools in New Jersey. Please share with us what you did on behalf on East Brunswick taxpayers during the final charter approval process by a commissioner appointed by and accountable to your Republican party.
Mike Hughes January 19, 2012 at 10:28 PM
My view on this particular charter school isn't relevant to the issue at hand. What is relevant are those legislators seeking to gain headlines for being opposed to suburban charters, but not treating all towns and school districts, in their legislative districts equally. By any objective standard, that's exactly what is being done here.
Kelly January 19, 2012 at 10:43 PM
Councilman, our legislatures represent our entire legislative district with the responsibility of crafting and voting on new State laws. You are projecting that, outside of their elected roles, they failed to use their influence in their party to help East Brunswick taxpayers. It is completely relevant to then ask how you used or did not use your influence in your Republican party when it gave the school a final charter. Either way, as your constituent, I am asking you your position on this particular charter school and on the approval process for charter schools in New Jersey. Would you give me, as your constituent, the respect of answering my question?
Deca January 19, 2012 at 11:04 PM
Dear Council President, You could not misinterpret the actions of Assemblyman Diegnan and Senator Buono more if your tried - well perhaps you could, but I hope you will not try. Over the past year and a half I have worked with them as a members of SOSnj and spoken with them many times on the precise issue you just raised in your comment. I have worked with them on the legislation that would require a local vote on the opening of a charter school in a community (or the decision to send district students to a charter school in another district) just as we vote on opening new traditional public schools or renovating old ones. They are steadfast, as is SOSnj, that every community has the same democratic right to vote on this issue as with other issues. In my conversations with them they are steadfast, as is SOSnj, that we will not support a bill that would create two levels of democracy - one for suburbs and one for urban areas. It has been Governor Christie, in fact, who has remarked frequently in the past two months that charter schools should focus in failing areas -- in other words urban, while excluding them from suburban areas. I believe they should be where a community supports their presence. With respect to your criticism that they did not fight against Hatikvah - I do not believe that is their job. Their duty is to look for legislative solutions to problems that arise in their districts and that is exactly what they are doing.
Mike Hughes January 20, 2012 at 02:17 AM
The comments section of any news article in general isn't a productive place, on the whole, to have a serious discussion but you are welcome to get in touch with me. Better yet, you can make a news post here, which I am sure John would let happen. Just make sure you refute the main point, that there was not anything done in East Brunswick before this charter school got approved in the first place. It's a moot issue in East Brunswick now. But other towns are getting the benefit of a platform that East Brunswick did not have before the charters even get approved. You don't have to agree with me on the motives but its hard to debate my main point.
Deca January 20, 2012 at 02:44 AM
We can speak in person but it sure is hard for me to get you to answer an email! The refutation to your point is quite simple: There was nothing on the face of the Hatikvah application that cried out like that of Tikun Olam's application (which directly impacts the Edison and HP), which is full of misrepresentations and inaccuracies - and arguably lies - even on its third round of applying. The problems with Hatikvah, which led to much of the proposed bipartisan legislation, arose at the granting of their final charter. After that point, hearings were held in the Ed committee in the Assembly that focused on charter schools (which as you know Diegnan chairs), Buono held a town hall meeting in Edison (at which many representatives from East Brunswick spoke) and they worked with us to formulate legislative solutions to what we had learned through that experience. Yes, Edison and Highland Park are benefitting somewhat from the experience here but the situations are far from parallel. But the biggest impetus was the exponential growth in charter approvals in the 2011 cycle and the steep cuts in education funding from the state that same year. Many of us realized then we had to work to save our schools. Hindsight may be 20/20 but even now knowing what we do, i do not understand what you would have expected Assemblyman Diegnan or Senator Buono to do beyond the support they have clearly demonstrated.
Deca January 20, 2012 at 02:48 AM
And on the issue of treating all areas in ones legislative district equally - that should also apply to the Governor's treatment of the state he runs, no? But he is quite clearly advocating a dual system - see his recent comments in Voorhees on this topic - from the Courier Post online, January 18th: " “My belief is that we should be focusing on charter schools in failing school districts,” Christie said when asked about the subject. “I do not believe that charter schools are best suited in districts, in general, that are successful districts,” he said to loud applause. “I have no interest,” Christie added, “in making the lives of parents, school board members and administrators in successful districts that are turning out college- and career-ready kids more complicated.” Why is it okay to drain the budgets of a failing district but not a successful one? Why not give every community the opportunity to decide on whether it should have a school open in its district?
Deca January 20, 2012 at 03:05 AM
So why is it that they people of the communities with failing schools should not be able to vote to open a charter school or not - let the community be part of the solution - rather than have the state dictate for failing districts but not for suburbs?
Ralph Wiggums January 20, 2012 at 04:24 AM
What exactly is the point of your article there councilman? You seem to have no problem making accusations that our reps decide to either keep silent or speak up when it scores political points, yet here you are making a statement against them. Why are you making a statement against them? I'm guessing for political points yourself. In the game of politics you seem to know how to try and get your point of view and opinion out in public and try to persuade people with your own opinions on the matter. So, please drop the "Holier than thou attitude" when it's a pure character assassination attempt. I like how you also bring up the topic, but then cower away and state "My view on this particular charter school isn't relevant to the issue at hand." Sure it is. Not only are you a public figure that represents residents, but you're the one who brought up the topic. So, as council president, you won't even present your opinion on the idea of the Jewish, I mean Hebrew charter school in town? You're the one who brought up the charter school and the timing of the Dems opposition. Excellent job slamming the opposition, but then when you're called on the carpet you simply just deflect questions. So again, I don't see any point in your article except to post an attack article against Buono and Diegnan and in turn prop up the Republicans. Those political points you're trying to score for the Repubs don't count though, right? Hypocrite!
William W January 20, 2012 at 04:28 AM
TELL IT LIKE IT IS!!!!!! I WILL TAKE SOMEONE WHO WILL AT LEAST SPEAK OUT FOR EAST BRUNSWICK RESIDENTS
Ralph Wiggums January 20, 2012 at 04:49 AM
I also had faith in you when you were elected to the board last year. As bright as you are, an average high school civics student can see through the hypocrisy of your editorial piece. I think that you just let me know that maybe you really aren't ready for the next level of politics if you can't see that you're living in a glass house yourself but enjoy throwing stones. Geez, Poly Sci 101: don't bash the opposition for trying to gain political points when it appears you're doing the same thing. You have seriously lost my vote for any positions you may run for in town in the near future until you can prove that you're a little more savvy than just posting such amateurish articles like this that is nothing more than an advertisement to get yourself personal exposure and boost the Republicans while arguing against doing things for "political points". Not sure how such a smart kid can be so blind to his own hypocrisy. You seem to have a bright future and I wish you luck, but you're showing your inexperience. Not just the hypocrisy aspect, but dodging the question about where you stand when you're the one who just voluntarily put yourself in the fire but find an excuse not to answer it. You're holding Buono and Diegnan accountable for their stances, but won't take a public one yourself after you're the one who just brought up the platform. I need more than that out of my council members. I don't find that acceptable no matter what party they're representing.
Kevin Wyman January 20, 2012 at 02:19 PM
Well, as a middle-of-the-road Democrat who did not vote for Corzine, I have to agree with the critics of Mr. Hughes's opinion article, and then he comments that the comments section "isn't a productive place" to have a "serious" discussion? This attitude would seem to go against the spirit of our local Patch news site! Personally, I think many voters like myself thought that Hatikvah had no chance to be approved and even less chance to open. The fact that it has opened has resulted in a storm of protest and legal activity by our Board of Education, "Save our Schools", Buono, and Diegnan. I know where they stand on this issue and what they are doing about it now. Indeed, Mr Hughes would better serve his constituents by explaining his "complicated" position on Hatikvah and other charter schools in East Brunswick than opining and supposing why Buono and Diegnan did not protest sooner. Should they invest political effort on every issue they initially foresee as having no chance to occur?
Lillian Amelia Droz January 20, 2012 at 03:12 PM
As a staunch Democrat, you have gained my support for now in the future Mr. Hughes. You have at least said publicly what has been said over the past few years in East Brunswick. Our town would have benefited from the increased awareness. And not to speak for him but I believe he was on the School Board when they discussed publicly the charter school and he came out against it. I'm sure half of these comments are supporters of the legislators regardless but from an individual standpoint, Council President Hughes hit the nail right on the head.
Kelly January 20, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Lillian, he did not do exactly what he is accusing our legislators of not doing early enough. The fact that he was on the school board, means that he was aware of the potential problem much earlier than most people, and STILL he did nothing to mobilize people in town or use any party influence. Once Buono and Deignan were alerted to the problem, they sprang to action. I wish I could say the same for Council President Hughes. It seems to me that the Council President is speaking out of both sides of his mouth right now. He doesn't believe Hatikva should have opened. He was aware of the likelihood of this school receiving final approval by his party's appointed Commissioner of Education and yet did little to fight it. And, now he is accusing State level legislators for not protecting our town's interests (his job) soon enough? And, now as Council President, he has the ability to mobilize residents to support a State law to give communities a voice on charter school openings (as they do on new traditional school openings). But, instead of using his new elevated position to fight for us, he'd rather play party politics and point fingers. Put your money where your mouth is, Councilman Hughes, and start using your seat to gain even more momentum for this initiative, and better yet, let your puppet masters in the Republican Party know, that residents of East Brunswick want this bill passed and signed into law!
Deca January 20, 2012 at 07:44 PM
I quite agree with Kelly on this. It has been a long sore spot in this town that the Council has remained quiet on so much in education. Around the state Town Councils have passed resolutions in support of local control for charter school openings, in support of restoring stripped funding, and other issues related to education. Our council could set a fabulous example by speaking up in support of our excellent schools, fighting against drastic cuts in state aid, and stop sending people to the BoE every time they complain that property taxes are too high. We should be in this together.
Jonathan January 11, 2013 at 03:13 PM
Mr. Council President, where did you get your college degree? Where do your kids go to school? Tell us a little about your life experience that has informed your views.
Karl January 11, 2013 at 05:13 PM
This building is appropriate and in a good location. Driving the area it is really clear that there is residential development all around and the few commercial buildings here are quiet. Its not at all like the warehouse space in other parts of town. And if we were so worried as a community about having these activities close to one another what was said when the YMCA build their current building? And for goodness sake, others have pointed out the issues with other East Brunswick schools and consider too that New Brunswick just build their high school on Route 27 and have a grammar school on Jersey ave. Stop wasting tax payer money on these mean spirited fights.

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