A group of superintendents in New Jersey drafted a petition to Commissioner of Education Chris Cerf, asking him to block the expansion of the Hatikvah Charter School.
The charter school has consistently been underenrolled. It plans to expand by drawing students and funds from their districts, impoverishing their already struggling public schools.
A decision is likely by Friday.
Will State Commissioner Chris Cerf do the right thing?
Commissioner Christopher Cerf
New Jersey Department of Education
Judge Robert L. Carter Building
100 Riverview Plaza
PO Box 500
Trenton, NJ 08625-0500
February 21, 2014
We, the below signed Superintendents, write to request that you deny the expansion request submitted to your office on October 15, 2013 as part of the Hatikvah International Academy Charter School Application for Charter School Renewal.
Hatikvah has proposed not only the creation of a grade 6-8 Middle School, but also an increase from the current two to a proposed three classes of 25 students per grade in grades K-5. If approved, the Middle School would add an additional 150 students, and the additional class in grades K-5 would add yet another 150 students. This would double Hatikvah’s maximum 2013-14 enrollment of 273 students, to a maximum 2018-19 enrollment of 600 students. An expansion request in their 2018 Renewal Application for an additional 75 seats in grades 6-8 is also likely, which would bring Hatikvah’s ultimate enrollment projection to 675 students.
Since opening in 2010, Hatikvah has failed to fill their seats with students from East Brunswick, the only district they are approved to serve. As demonstrated in the October 15, 2013 Enrollment Count, they currently serve 263 students from 21 districts in 6 counties. In essence, due to a lack of sufficient interest in East Brunswick to fill enrollment, Hatikvah has become a de-facto statewide charter school.
It should be noted that, as of the October 15, 2013 Enrollment Count, Hatikvah was under enrolled, and had filled only 263 out of the 273 seats their charter allows. How can an expansion be justified when Hatikvah is unable to fill seats in all grades, even with the inclusion of students from 21 districts?
In fact, Hatikvah’s enrollment shows that a mere 57% of Hatikvah’s students reside in East Brunswick. This puts 43% of the funding burden on the other 20 districts across the state, that according to current statute and regulation, received no formal notice of Hatikvah’s expansion request, and have no legal standing in the deliberations or final decision that could adversely effect their budgets.
Hatikvah’s under enrollment, despite recruitment efforts in 21 districts in 6 counties, seems to indicate that the charter has failed to tap into an unmet need, not only in East Brunswick, but the state of New Jersey.
In many of our districts the majority of funding, in some cases close to 90%, comes from local tax dollars. The diversion of these funds, by state mandate, with no input from the local taxpayers, remains an issue of contention. This diversion of funds, coupled with 2% budget caps and continued state underfunding, is particularly challenging.
Also a challenge is the fact that the State Charter School Aid Projected Enrollment Count, used for budget purposes, often varies significantly from the actual October 15 Enrollment Count, forcing districts to either set aside too much money for charter tuition payments, or not enough, but in either case restricting much needed funds from tight budgets.
Finally, we wish to call your attention to the fact that Hatikvah’s student demographics are unlike any of our districts. According to the most recent available state data, Hatikvah is serving significantly fewer minorities, fewer children in poverty, fewer Limited English Proficient children and fewer Special Education children. In fact, Hatikvah serves no LEP students and only 1% of their students are reported as Special Education.
Hatikvah’s 2012-2013 Annual Report addresses the need for more diversity in their charter by stating that their “plan is to increase our recruitment efforts in New Brunswick in order to increase student diversity and the free/reduced lunch population.” In addition, the Hatikvah 2011-12 annual report states that they do not have a lunch program, but that free/reduced lunch students are “provided with a complimentary nutritious entrée by our PTO, 3 days a week.”
We submit for your consideration that Hatikvah has demonstrated an inability to enroll a diverse student population from the diverse districts they already serve, and very well may not be meeting many of the significant needs of some of the students they have enrolled.
Charter regulations clearly state that annually “the Commissioner shall assess the student composition of a charter school and the segregative effect that the loss of the students may have on its district of residence” and that the “annual assessments of student composition of the charter school” will be factored into the renewal of a charter. We respectfully submit that the demographic disparities between our districts and Hatikvah be given significant consideration in your decision.
We are in absolute agreement that the approval of the Hatikvah expansion would be contrary to N.J.S.A. 18A:36A-16(e)(3), as it would have an overall negative impact on the students, staff, parents, educational programs and finances of our districts.
Dr. Patrick Piegari
East Brunswick Superintendent
Mr. Timothy Capone
Highland Park Superintendent
Mr. Richard Kaplan
New Brunswick Superintendent
Dr. Brian Zychowski
North Brunswick Superintendent
Dr. Richard O’Malley
Mr. Michael Pfister
South River Superintendent