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Charter School Funding, Oversight at Issue During Teaneck Forum

Public should vote to approve new charter schools, Teaneck school board member says.

A panel of education professionals met Sunday at Teaneck's  to discuss the positives and negatives of charter schools, including how the schools are funded and approved in New Jersey. 

Shavar Jeffries, an associate professor at Seton Hall School of Law, said charter schools allow educators to work around the limitations of public schools. Charter schools can operate more efficiently because they don't have the same politics and bureaucracy, he said. 

"You get a system that's dominated by the interests of adults, rather than the kids," Jeffries said.

Paul Tractenberg, a professor at Rutgers Law School who has been involved with school funding litigation, said the public needs to be aware of who is funding charter schools — and possibly making money off them — and what students are being admitted to them.

Charter schools generally take fewer special education and English as a Second Language students, according to Tractenberg. Because charter schools are funded with public tax dollars, there should be more transparency in how they are run, he said.

Margot Fisher, a member of the Teaneck Board of Education agreed with the need for the public to have more say in how charter schools are run. Fisher said she believed the public should have the opportunity to vote on approval for charter schools and elect their boards.

Charter schools are responsible to the state Department of Education, with the agency's commissioner solely responsible for approving new schools.

Jeffries said, as long as they meet the state's requirements, they should be allowed to be flexible with their staff and curriculum. Jeffries is the former board president at Newark's TEAM Academy Charter School, the largest public charter school in New Jersey. He said TEAM Academy's graduation rate was much higher than Newark's public schools because they are more flexible and able to hold more hours of class time each day and stay open more days each year.

"It's not magic," Jeffries said.

Tractenberg said he believed public schools could perform better if education in the United States was viewed as it it is in countries like Finland, which is widely considered to have one of the world's best education systems.

Fisher said she wished the effort that had been put into charter schools had been put into improving public schools.

Whichever option parents choose, all three panelists agreed that education needs to remain a priority.

"We all want great education for our kids," Fisher said. "That's not easy to achieve, and it's probably not cheap to achieve."

Charter schools, a major element of Gov. Chris Christie's education reform plan, have proven controversial. In Teaneck, a was met with a public outcry when the state said it could cost the school district more than $15 million. serving both Teaneck and Englewood have faced concerns over costs and curriculum. 

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zizi June 25, 2012 at 01:22 PM
Shouldn't public vote on school budget? If it is ok to take away the right of the voters to vote on school budget than why it is not fair to ask for a vote on charter schools....... It is amazing how the interest groups mold the issue to suit their needs.......
JeffO June 25, 2012 at 02:22 PM
At least you get to vote for the public school board. The same can't be said for a charter school board. And who elects the self-appointed founders of charter schools, who go around the local voters and taxpayers to get the state expropriate our money as an unfunded mandate on their behalf?
zizi June 25, 2012 at 04:55 PM
The elected board members find a way to jack up the budget every single time. They don't represent the interests of the tax payers. We see most scores go down while the teachers make more money every year...... Teaneck schools system is a miserable disaster..... We spend more money per student than all other towns in the area and our scores are the worst..... I really don't see a point in trying to put more of the same people on charter school boards...... I would rather the charter schools manage their own schools their way. They will probably do a better job with less/same cost per pupil..... we need less board members and better results....
Jason Flynn June 25, 2012 at 05:40 PM
Charter school boards don't "go around local voters". They follow the laws as they exist in the state of New Jersey. They answer to Trenton, have funding and curriculum guidelines, accountability and statutes to abide by - just through a different manner than local school boards. For charter school applicants that do not meet strict guidelines, they are not permitted to open. The State of NJ and neighboring states have shut down or taken other actions with underperforming charter schools. Zizi - I agree that the TBOE should have kept their budget open for review / votes of the local taxpayer. However, when their focus has been protecting the union "vote block" and other concerning behavior, we end up with clear lack of trust and support for the board. Hence, the board that requests transparency and local say for charters is the same board that moved to switch budget approval procedures to not include a vote and say by the very people who fund their spending sprees. [However, we must point out that they followed NJ law in switching the budget review process, as much as we disagree.] part 1 of 2
Jason Flynn June 25, 2012 at 05:41 PM
part 2 of 2 What I find most shocking is that one would believe the TBOE puts children first and not politics and other interests. When courtesy busing and other changes to the busing was proposed last year, for private, parochial and public school students, it was obvious that the TBOE does NOT put our children first. Not one line item on the budget should come before the safety and welfare of every child in Teaneck - regardless of school that child attends. If we cannot trust the TBOE to put our children's safety first, before back room politcs and reigning in out of control spending on other aspects of our TBOE budget, in comparison to neighboring districts, what can we trust our TBOE with anymore? I wish this was not the case, because overall, I am very satisfied and proud with the TPS system and believe all the teachers, faculty and staff I have been in contact with to have outstanding charachter, ability and thei priorities on our children.
Jacob June 25, 2012 at 06:05 PM
Who picked this "panel' of professionals anyway?
zizi June 25, 2012 at 06:10 PM
I agree with most of what you said Jason but I disagree that most teachers and board members have the interests of our kids and our tax payers in the right place. It is dirty politics and self interest that guides them. Our School system is one of the worst if you compare the spending per pupil. We spend most per pupil and our results are the worst. I don't think I can blame our students.......... I blame our teachers.... and to some extent the parents...... It is a shame to defend the bad results given the costs..... I really don't understand what is that you are proud of when it comes to TPS system.....
Jason Flynn June 25, 2012 at 06:30 PM
Zizi - I hear your point. But note my comment. I worded it very carefully. "...I have been in contact with..." System wide, I cannot explain, with certainty, why districts spending 60% or 80% perform system wide stronger than TPS overall. However, with the programs staff and teachers I have personally dealt with, I have been beyond impressed. However, I am just one parent dealing with a few individuals - there are several 1,000 parents and guardians system wide. So, my expereince may not be indicative of the entire system. I have attended events at the school and know of the educational class trips the staff have put together for the children, which all have been very impressive, productive with strong enrichment for our children. I can go on and on with others I have worked side-by-side with in various capacities and I have not had a reason to complain once. But, again, this is MY experience and I am NOT speaking for the overall system or about the TBBE. Just because it is my expereince does NOT mean that expereince warrants a 20% or 40% taxayer cost in comparson to our neighboring districts. I can be pro "my personal" expereince at the TPS, yet cry foul with their handling of budget and spending, not putting our children's safety first or understanding why our spending is so out of control compared to move successful system wide programs in our area. I can also be pro-parental choice and support the concept of strong charter and general public schools.
Jim Dunleavy June 26, 2012 at 02:06 AM
I wish there was a study that truly aligns what is spent with student achievement. There are so many variables that determine a child's academic success that to break it down to more or less money = better grades is simplistic at best. The issue here is whether we want our tax dollars spent on these selective admission, at times religiously affiliated schools, without our ability to vote on them. Studies have shown quite a variable success rate with increasing scores etc, but again that is not the issue. Funding mechanisms that allow the funneling off of revenue "per student" while not lowering or at least acconting for some of the fixed costs associated with education that do not dissappear when the student goes to a charter school is simply a case of an unfunded mandate on us, and we do not get to say yes or no. I hope the legislature will come to its senses (ok yes Iam dreaming) and give the communities the opportunity to vote for or against charter schools in their community. i would also like to see a funding mechanism that just does not arbitrarily shift funds per pupil, rather have a net figure of funds, minus the costs the district still bears, be the norm, if any state funds at all are expended.

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