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Voting on Charter Schools: Here's What You Said

Readers voted overwhelmingly in support of having public votes for new charter schools.

UPDATED: This story has been updated to included comments made in response to this story. The comments appear at the bottom.

East Brunswick Patch readers seem to agree, the public should vote on a charter school before it’s approved.

,  readers voted 176 to 19 to allow comminities to have their say regarding new charter schools.

The question was in response to recent actions by the Township Council and East Brunswick Board of Education. Both parties approved resolutions last week supporting Assembly Bill 1877, which says that before a charter school is established, it must be approved by the voters at the annual school election.

“Just curious why anyone would not want local control over charter school approvals,” asked a reader named Kelly. “NJ is the only state in the country where only one person in the entire State, Commissioner Cerf, has the authority to open a charter, and yet the local community is forced to pay for it. Charter schools in NJ are being gifted out as political favors, and some of them are CLEARLY not even quality schools. Look at the findings from the Regis Academy lawsuit in South Jersey. Why should a local town be forced to pay for a school that isn't even as good as the schools in that town, and drain resources from the towns public schools forcing programs to be cut and fees to go up?”

The subject is a sensitive one in East Brunswick, which has a charter school of its own. The , a Hebrew dual language school, was approved by former Education Commissioner Bret Schundler and opened in September 2010.

According to East Brunswick School Business Administrator Bernardo Giuliana, the district was originally expected to pay $1.337 million to help fund Hatikvah 2012-11. However, that number was changed to $657,000. For 2012, the district budgeted $1.159 million, not including $115,000 for transportation costs. The district also had to pay $51,120 for several students to attend other charter schools. For the upcoming school year, the district has tentatively budgeted $1.747 million for an anticipated 153 students, according to Giuliana.

Another Patch reader, Rob, thinks the bill is a good idea. He also said schools such as Hatikvah are only serving a small segment of the community.

“This would make sense. In places where people want charters, they should have it. In places where charters are a complete joke, like Hatikvah, they should have the right to block it,” he said. “Do we really need an entire school so that Jewish families can use public money to replace private, personally paid for Hebrew lessons? If enough people in town supported that and voted it through, I'd be happy to admit I'm in the minority and agree that people think it's better for our town to have a Hebrew school. But, until that happens I think the Jewish families just found a way to avoid paying for their own Hebrew lessons and found a way to milk the system to make the rest of us pay for it. If it was really just about Hebrew and they had that much support, it would have been pushed through with the BOE and taught as a foreign language in the public schools like the rest of the foreign languages. All I'm asking is that we get Bill 1877 through and then let the chips fall where they may on all charters. If the people get a fair vote and get to decide, nobody really has a right to argue either way.”

However, another poster, Stacy, calls Rob's comments anti-semetic. She also said that new charter schools to receive voter approval could mean the end of any new charter schools.

"Charter schools offer an excellent opportunity for educators to experiment with different types of pedagogical approaches.  To me, the appeal of Hatikvah was not the language immersion, although I think it's terrific.  To me the appeal was the emphasis on inquiry based learning," said Stacy.

For her full comments, see the comments section of this story.

Christine March 16, 2012 at 12:48 PM
This bill (A-1877) passed through the State Assembly, yesterday. The resolutions passed by our Council and School Board were very helpful in making our voices heard. Now, we need it to move in the Senate. We need Senator Ruiz, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, to bring it up for a vote in her committee, first. Please, sign this petition to send our message to her, that we want local control over new charter school approvals: http://www.change.org/petitions/new-jersey-communities-want-local-control-over-new-charter-schools-2 It is especially helpful, if you have friends or relatives in Senator Ruiz's district, to ask them to contact her. We want the Senate to vote on this bill, now.
Stacy March 16, 2012 at 12:53 PM
I think it is incredible that you chose to only include comments from those in favor of this ridiculous requirement, including the anti-semitic remarks of "Rob". You leave out of your article these important points: 1. A referendum on new charter applications and petitions to expand existing schools is a veto for all new charter schools. 2. 0 out of 5,367 public charter schools have been approved through a referendum. 3. Voters don't vote on every expenditure. Charter schools offer an excellent opportunity for educators to experiment with different types of pedagogical approaches. To me, the appeal of Hatikvah was not the language immersion, although I think it's terrific. To me the appeal was the emphasis on inquiry based learning. No where in your very biased article do you mention any of the advantages of this. In addition, no where do you mention the diversity of Hatikvah's population. There are students of every ethnicity. It is a great place for students to learn about the value of respecting different cultures. Please present a more balanced picture of this excellent institution. For those who want to learn more and dispel their misconceptions, there will be an open House on March 20th at 7:00 pm.
John Saccenti (Editor) March 16, 2012 at 01:14 PM
I'm sorry you feel that way Stacy. The original story only received three comments, and all from people supporting the legislation.Tthe original story only dealt with the Charter School legislation and mentioned that Hatikvah was a charter school in east Brunswick. The school was not the focus of the piece. The leiglslation and the locally passed resolutions were. I think your comments here will hopefully have some readers viewing the legislation and the school differently. Thanks for making these great points.
Deca March 16, 2012 at 01:46 PM
Public outcry over the announced closing of Emily Fisher schools exemplifies a circumstance where there is tremendous public support and recognition that a charter school is fulfilling its mission of offering alternatives to educate those not well served by district public schools. There will be charter schools approved by local vote - and there are charter schools in NH where local approval is required. While we, as taxpayers, do not get a vote over every expenditure, we can comment on and influence the Board of Education. The line item for the charter schools cannot be altered (except by the number of students that enroll), nor do we have financial transparency of how charter schools spend the tax money.
Kelly March 16, 2012 at 02:28 PM
Stacy, perhaps you'd like to reread this article and the original one - I think you owe the author an apology. This article has nothing to do with whether Hatikvah is or is not a quality school. He even pointed out, that I asked in the comments section of the last article why no one who doesn't want a local approval process would share their thoughts - no one responded. Even though you have taken us completely off topic, I would be delighted to respond to your three counter-points about the merits of a local vote on charter school approvals: On point #1: A referendum is not automatically a veto. Charter proponents claim to have thousands of people on waiting lists in NJ. If this is the case, a referendum will mean that charters schools will definitively open, but only where they are wanted, and only the ones that will best serve the community will open. Perhaps parents in East Brunswick, for example, would've liked a charter school in town, but would have wanted a different type of charter school (a music based one, for example). On point #2: In the U.S. 90% of all charter school authorizers are local. One point #3, while voters do not vote on every expenditure, the school board does, and they are accountable to local voters. Additionally, voters DO get to vote before a new public school is opened with local tax dollars, usually in the form of a bond referendum. We should also have the right before a charter school is opening with our local tax dollars.
Liti Haramaty March 16, 2012 at 05:00 PM
Using this forum to market Hatikva charter school, as Stacy is doing in her comment is out of line. Rob's comment is accurate and true. Hatikva school was conceived as a way for Jewish parents to not pay for private school for their children. But this is not what this article is about.
Kelly March 16, 2012 at 06:29 PM
Look no further than Stacy's choice of words to know all you need to know. When talking about what she sees as the benefits of this school, she starts every sentence with "to me." Yes, Stacey, the benefits TO YOU. No where do you address any advantages/disadvantages to the children of this community overall. No where do you speak of any advantages/disadvantages to tax payers. Your word choice speaks volumes. Since you've now made this conversation about Hatikvah, let's address what the school actually does: it takes a substancial amount of resources away from the public school system in town, and at local tax-payer expense, to provide an experimental school (which we could debate the merits of) to a very, very tiny segment of the overall school population in town (many of whom were never interested in a public education anyway). It speaks volumes that you've taken a conversation about who should decide how community resources are spent and instead focused on how YOU are going to benefit from it - let's not trouble ourselves with a conversation about how we can best serve all the children in this community, right?
Deca March 16, 2012 at 07:01 PM
There is a debate to be had about what Hatikvah is, what it offers, and what it claims to be. Class sizes, individualized learning and other topics would all be interesting to pursue - along with attrition rate of, how many EB students are enrolled and the number of students returning to their district schools both mid-year and after a year. In addition, the sources of private funding and the plans for a new location of the school would be interesting to discuss. But none of this was the point of these articles nor the point of A1877. A1877 is designed to fix a flaw and imbalance in a system that forces one party to pay for something while having no input in the decision process - either directly or through a vote for representatives making the decision - and the flaw that right now one person and one person alone ultimately hold the authority to open and close charter schools. None of us should be comfortable with that at all.
Ralph Wiggums March 16, 2012 at 11:58 PM
The accusation of being anti-Semitic are just plain stupid. I'm against self-interest groups popping up schools like lemonade stands just so they don't have to pay for private lessons out of their own pocket. I'd be against the charter school if it was Mandarin, Hindi, or Hebrew. Are you going to accuse me of wearing a white hood now as well? No special interest groups should get taxpayer money so they no longer have to pay for their own special interest education and schools to support. If you want something in the schools, get on the BOE or convince them to add it. Don't do a self serving end around so that only a handful of families can have their private language lessons paid for by all the townspeople instead of out of their own pocket.
Ralph Wiggums March 17, 2012 at 12:57 AM
"a person who discriminates against or is prejudiced or hostile toward Jews. " That's the definition of anti-Semitic according to Dictionary.com. Stacy is apparently not aware of the meaning. If my comments were prejudiced towards Judaism, you would be spot on. I have no issues with any religion, race, or creed. My issue is with the small community of people who are using taxpayer money to fund for language lessons for a small segment of population. I've had friends who have gone to Hebrew, Chinese, and Greek school and their families have paid out of their own pocket because it was a personal interest, not a public one. Stacy, are you one of the people in this world that views anything that is not "pro-Jewish" as being anti-Semitic? Because it sure seems like that to assume that I view this school as a sham as being the same as having a personal prejudice and discrimination against the Jewish community. My Jewish friends would be embarrassed by you for just tossing out the word "anti-Semitic" so recklessly simply because somebody opposes your viewpoint on that self-serving school that you're promoting. I hate racism and discrimination against religion, but I also hate people that pull out the race and religion card the instant somebody opposes them. I also have a Jewish co-worker who is also an EB resident. She doesn't support your school either. She says it's taking away from the private Jewish schools. Let's just have a vote and see where we all stand.
Deca March 17, 2012 at 01:07 AM
Rob - if you have not already, please stop by Save Our Schools NJ at http://www.saveourschoolsnj.org/ There are the links to our facebook page and petition in support of local control. Thanks!
Ralph Wiggums March 17, 2012 at 03:43 AM
Thanks. I've signed several petitions similar to this one and may have already signed this one as well. I'll have to check and see when I log back in. I appreciate it.
Rob March 18, 2012 at 08:45 PM
I have to say these comments have gotten way off topic. The quotes by Rob were also not at all on topic of the article and I agree with Stacy getting offended. A discussion on local control of Charter schools should not include a completely baseless accusation saying that this is just Jewish parents not wanting to pay for hebrew school. this comment is not just offensive to Jewish parents it is completely baseless. Hatikvah is just a public school. There is zero religion involved as this is a public school Jewish parents still need to send their children to private religious school even if enrolled at hatikvah. There is no cost saving for parents there. I am quite offended by this. Let's keep a good discussion about local decisions about charter schools to exactly that instead of baselessly making comments that are truly inaccurate. Not to mention half of the kids at Hatikvah are not even jewish,
Stacy March 18, 2012 at 09:39 PM
I also think the many non-Jewish parents who send their students to Hatikvah would be offended by the comments I referred to earlier. Saying that the school was formed so Jews would not have to pay for day school is absolutely anti-semitic. I do not think those comments were reckless. As I mentioned I chose Hatikvah for my child because of the inquiry based learning philosophy. If this philosophy were embraced in East Brunswick's other public schools then I would not have made this choice. I would like for this type of education to be available to all of East Brunswick's students. In fact, this is what I see as the purpose for Charter Schools (any charter school) - to try different pedagogic approaches and if they are successful other schools can choose to share in those approaches. As for mentioning the open house, I was not trying to promote the school, per se - but to let the community know that if you have questions and curiosity about what is REALLY going on there, you have the ability to come and see for yourself.
ethan221 March 19, 2012 at 02:06 AM
Stacy, I don't think Rob is saying that parents only choose the school as an alternative to expensive day school. I think he is pointing out that it is why this school was initially conceived by the Hebrew Charter School Network. You only have to visit various Jewish news sources and check out the comments by parents who support the school. Here's one for example (at http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/new_york/hatikvah_charter_still_facing_legal_challenges_0?nocache=1#comment-18980): This parent says, "I have heard multiple voices raised in opposition to Hebrew Charter Schools, yet as of February 2012, they remain the only ongoing experiment in reducing the cost of Jewish education that is consistently defined as a "crisis."' Then, he goes on to say, " imagine a religious Jewish community in which every parent was spared several years of tuition and Day Schools could reduce their administrative and educational staff and occupy smaller facilities." Would you like me to give you more examples of more online dialogue from a few years ago where people in town squealed with delight over the possibility of this school opening and the cost savings they would see? I fully support these parents preference to enroll their children in a school that respects Jewish culture and religion. But, religious schooling should not be paid for with public dollars.
Ralph Wiggums March 19, 2012 at 03:03 AM
I'm not typically confrontational and I generally am pretty level headed with respect given to many angles to an argument. Perhaps I should not have been so acidic with my comments, but I'm very disgusted over the current laws that allow charters to be placed in towns without public input. In the case of Hatikvah, I do view that school as a way for certain (not most) Jewish community members to have the public pay for Hebrew lessons for their children. That would be the cost savings. I have personally known Jewish families and friends who would pay, out of pocket, for their kids to learn Hebrew and I think that was great for them. Now, as a taxpayer, I'm footing that bill? I support the current bill to give me a vote in the matter. And I'm sick of hearing people toss out "anti-Semitic" every time something happens that is not in favor of the Jewish community. I would vote against this school if it was Hebrew, Swahili, or Sanskrit. I don't think my comments really are inaccurate. The school is developed to teach Hebrew. Is it not? And about half the kids not being Jewish...there wouldn't happen to be many non-Jewish kindergartners who are simply taking advantage of saving money by using that school for the full day kindergarten would it? Because that's a nice way to pad the student population, diversity, and the number of kids who actually aren't Jewish. EB has full time kindergarten next year. You can't count on that again. Let's just have a vote. BTW, nice name.
Lori Trachtenberg Ginsberg October 03, 2012 at 01:02 PM
Rob and Ethan clearly don't know that at least half the student body isn't Jewish and that the school doesn't teach any religion. The Jewish students at Hatikvah that want a religious education go to paid religious school separate from the school. Also, for a number of parents at the school, it's not that they're teaching Hebrew that's the draw...it's the 2nd language, low student-teacher ratio and educational philosophies. I bet if you ask the parents of the Asian, Southeast Asian, and Christian students, they'll tell you about the same benefits of Hatikvah. Get the facts first and THEN speak...
Lori Trachtenberg Ginsberg October 03, 2012 at 01:11 PM
Liti, the school may have been conceived as a way for parents not to have to pay for private Jewish education for their children, you and I both know there is no religion taught at Hatikvah. Also, your comment is made irrelevant by the fact that the student body is very diverse. And that aside, you, and Rob and Ethan and many other misinformed people presume that the Jewish parents all sent their children to the school for the Hebrew education, but you're wrong. Many of the parents of Jewish students would have been happy with Spanish, Chinese and other languages b/c learning a 2nd language boosts cognitive development. Don't assume b/c you know what they say about people who assume.
Kelly October 03, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Lori, enough with the BS. The student-teacher ratio is not that different than the public schools. What is different about the teachers is that the Hatikvah teachers have little to no experience. According to the DOE website, the average teacher at Hatikvah has ONE year of teaching experience. Moreover, the turnover rate of teachers there is off the charts. How many teachers and staff have left in only two years? As a parent, that would be unacceptable to me. Moreover, three principals in two years would be unacceptable no matter what the reason. Children need consistency and this is NOT good for the students. The way you describe the student body is also interesting considering the school is having a hard time keeping and attracting new students from East Brunswick. The reason the student body gained a little diversity is because the rate of out-of-town students has increased by double digits. Speaking of diversity, would you like to tell us how many free or reduced lunch students Hatikvah serves, how many ELL students Hatikvah serves, how many students with IEPs, and how many students with severe disabilities (learning, physical and otherwise)? You can keep using race and religion as the only measures of diversity, but there are socio-economic forms of diversity where this school FAILS. Maybe a few parents in East Brunswick fall for the schools deception tactics, but I think most people in our town know better. It looks like YOU are the one who needs to get the facts.
Lori Trachtenberg Ginsberg October 04, 2012 at 01:20 AM
Hey lady, I don't know who you think you are, but using the term BS is not acceptable to me. Secondly, I know there are students with IEPs and learning disabilities at the school, but what may I ask is the relevance? Are you suggesting students with these needs are barred from the school? Clearly that's not the case. The school serves the needs of its student body. As far as the student-teacher ratio, my other daughter is in the public school and she hasn't enjoyed a 10:1 - 12:1 ratio. If you know where she can access this, please let me know.
Lori Trachtenberg Ginsberg October 04, 2012 at 01:37 AM
Oh, and I should add that I was addressing race and religion b/c several people in this forum have made the false and incredibly generalized comment that Jewish families are using this as some kind of Jewish Day School, which I find hilarious. I just read your comment from awhile ago and you write that many Hatikvah families weren't interested in a public school education. All I can say is you're flat out wrong. I think you could use your passion much more productively if you focused on improving the quality of the system where 99% of East Brunswick are educated. I mean this sincerely. Anything you could do to help would be greatly appreciated.
Lori Trachtenberg Ginsberg October 04, 2012 at 02:36 AM
I meant to write- where East Brunswick children are educated-.
veronica October 04, 2012 at 04:20 PM
i agree with Lori, my ethnicity is not jewish at all, in fact im hispanic and im so glad my son is going to Haktivah he has learned so many things in a few period of time. my interest was also for him to learn a new language which it would be his third language since i teach him spanish at home. teachers there are great and my husband and i are happier each day that we choose this school instead of a public shool. in fact i can tell you from my little sisters experience in an elementary public school where the teachers didnt care on the students academic issues. i can even tell you that there was many times that my sister didnt want to go to school because teachers wont wanna help with certains school needs. im very happy Haktivah staff is there to help out the kids and as far as kelly saying teachers dont have expercience let me tell you that the strategy they use to teachis wayyyyyyy better that the public school teachers. like i said before keep in mind that im not Jewish so everything im saying its because the school is worth it.
Kelly October 04, 2012 at 06:58 PM
It's very ironic to here you say: "I think you could use your passion much more productively if you focused on improving the quality of the system where 99% of East Brunswick are educated." How come Michael Steinhardt didn't bother to invest any money in the E.B. public schools until he had the the ability to open this one? What is his poitical and religious agenda, again? Remind us. Just think of what the tens of millions of dollars the Eisenreich Foundation will pump into the new building could have done for our public schools. It is very, very ironic for you to make that statement, Ms. Ginsberg.
Lori Trachtenberg Ginsberg October 05, 2012 at 01:48 AM
I aim to please Kelly. And it's h-e-a-r, not here.
Lori Trachtenberg Ginsberg October 05, 2012 at 01:58 AM
Kelly, I'm disappointed you chose to bite back instead of taking on the more value-added and difficult challenge of fighting to improve our schools rather than just fighting. Well, it's good to know what your priorities are. Thank you for making that clear. Best of luck to your children.

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