Teaneck School Officials Urge Residents To Rally for Charter School Reform
Residents sound off on proposed virtual charter school
Teaneck school officials urged residents to lobby the Legislature and state Education Department for changes to charter school laws as public outcry continued Tuesday over the more than $15 million budget projection for a proposed virtual charter school in town.
At issue is a charter application submitted for the Garden State Virtual Charter School, which would offer a statewide online curriculum with a drop-in center in Teaneck. In October, state education officials notified Superintendent Barbara Pinsak that the charter could cost Teaneck $15.4 million. State officials contend the figure is only a guide based on all students coming from Teaneck, but Pinsak said the cost would devastate the public school system.
A meeting between the district and senior state education officials to discuss the projection was largely fruitless, Board of Education President Ardie Walser said at a special public meeting Tuesday night. State officials told Teaneck to take a “wait and see” approach and reiterated that the amount was only an estimate, not a budget requirement.
“We did not leave with the warm-fuzzies,” he said.
Walser said the state did not provide Teaneck with a new budget projection.
The county schools superintendent could toss the district’s budget if it does not allocate funds for the charter school, said Business Administrator Robert Finger.
“What we’re witnessing here is fiscal starvation of the public school system in New Jersey, and we’re also seeing erosion of local control,” said Clara Williams, a Board of Education member.
The exact budget impact would depend on the amount of Teaneck students who attended the online school. Although the school proposed to serve 1,000 students from across New Jersey next fall, Teaneck would only be responsible for residents who enrolled.
The district could ask the state education commissioner for a ruling in the case, said Board of Education General Counsel Philip Stern. New Jersey’s charter school law is more than a decade old and was enacted before virtual schools were being debated.
“Clearly, one of the aspects of what we’re dealing with here tonight is another example of how the law is so far behind technology,” Stern said.
Board of Education member Henry Pruitt urged residents to use email and social networks to advocate for charter school reform.
“We have an opportunity here, in a very political environment, to get people to change their minds,” Pruitt said.
More than a hundred residents attended Tuesday's special public meeting, with most who spoke voicing concern about the proposed school.
Barbara Ostroth, a former school board member, said the charter school issue had implications beyond Teaneck.
"I think it’s time for us to get on the bus to Trenton and scream," said Kevin Barksdale, a township resident.
The district posted information on its website about legislation seeking more local control over charter schools. A form letter urging the state to deny the virtual school’s charter application is also posted on the website.
The funding formula for virtual charter schools is the same as traditional charter schools, with a district responsible for equal to 90 percent of a sending district’s per-pupil costs.
Garden State Virtual Charter School co-founder Jason Flynn has pledged to delay opening the school if the state does not address funding laws for virtual schools.
Flynn said he asked to meet with school officials but did not receive a response. The virtual school’s board tried to ease concerns and “find common ground” with the district, he said.
“The Teaneck BOE is wasting thousands of taxpayer’s dollars on this ‘anti-GSVCS campaign,’” Flynn, a Teaneck public school parent, said in an email Tuesday night. Flynn has said the majority of students would not come from Teaneck and the school would focus on special-needs populations.
Walser said state education officials also suggested a meeting, but the Board of Education did not want to create an appearance of trying to pressure the charter's founders.
Flynn said the charter school also planned to hold its own public meeting to dispel rumors, answer questions and explain the school's programs.
The state will announce in January if the virtual school is approved, according to an Education Department spokesman.