Proposed Virtual Charter School Could Cost Teaneck School District $15M

Massive layoffs, program cuts possible.

The Township’s public school district has been warned to budget more than $15 million for a proposed Teaneck-based virtual charter school in a scenario that could lead to sweeping cuts to programs and staff, District Superintendent Barbara Pinsak said Wednesday.

In a letter to the district, the state said Teaneck should allocate more than $15 million for “planning purposes” in its 2012-13 budget for the Garden State Virtual Charter School, Pinsak said. The state Education Department will announce in January if the charter is approved to open.

The $15.4 million warning represents 20 percent of the Teaneck public school budget, Pinsak said.

“$15 million is devastating,” Pinsak said. “I’m shocked.”

The charter’s proposed cost to Teaneck would force the district to cut at least 60 to 80 positions at all levels, Pinsak said.  Other possible impacts would be increased class sizes, the end of school trips and activities, cuts to school busing, consolidating private school bus stops and outsourcing custodians. 

On top of the cuts, Pinsak said the Board of Education might still have to ask voters approve a tax increase. 

“It’s very concerning to me,” Pinsak said. "We'll be looking at the legal aspects of it." 

State Education Department spokesman Justin Barra said the district wasn't required to budget the total amount. 

"There's not an absolute obligation that they budget this amount," Barra said. "This is a tool for them."

The state's estimate is based on potential enrollment from Teaneck, he said. 

"We do our best to make a projection," Barra said.  

, which plans to offer an online curriculum, has proposed to serve 1,000 K-12 students statewide in its first year. The number of students from Teaneck is not yet known and would impact the final costs locally. State officials calculated the sum by attributing the maximum possible enrollment to Teaneck students. 

Still, Pinsak said the district cannot ignore the state’s recommendation in its budget process.

Officials set aside money for charter schools first, she said. 

Charter school founder Jason Flynn, of Teaneck, said the school did not anticipate the majority of its students would be from Teaneck. The Township was listed as the charter school's home district, but students statewide can attend if the school is approved. Each of the student's home districts would be required to pay per enrollee. 

"This is a statewide virtual charter school," Flynn said. "The funding of an individual follows the backpack."

The charter school would cater to unique groups of students, including those with physical disabilities and those in urban areas who are not selected for existing charter schools.  

"It has to be the right kind of kid," he said. 

The initial budget projection was high because the law required estimates to be made using Teaneck's cost per pupil, Flynn said. The online school would have significantly less cost per pupil and not have added expenses of a large school building. The school would open a drop-in center in Teaneck, with most instruction done via Web conferencing. 

Flynn said he hoped to work with Teaneck school officials, and meet with State Senator Loretta Weinberg and state education officials. 

MJB November 11, 2011 at 01:41 AM
Teaneck PUBLIC schools did just fine for me and all my friends, because they had yet to dilute and divide the town with "charter" (really "private") schools. This looks like a Republican tax increase to benefit those who should be paying for the charter with their own money.
Save Our Schools NJ November 11, 2011 at 11:48 AM
This is yet another example of NJ's broken charter school law. If you believe that local communities should decide if a new charter school is allowed to open and draw on their tax dollars, sign our petition and help us save NJ's great public schools! http://www.change.org/petitions/new-jersey-communities-want-local-control-over-new-charter-schools-2
Keith Kaplan November 11, 2011 at 02:55 PM
A little information for those that care to hear it: The Charter system works by giving 90% of what the municipality pays per student for education costs to the Charter school. In this instance, the "virtual school" picked a base of Teaneck -- ostensibly because our per-pupil spending amount is near the highest in the State (if it's not THE highest). The State is required to send Teaneck a notification of the most it should expect to be using for Charters, that DOESN'T mean that that amount WILL be used, nor does it mean that they MUST set that amount aside. No matter how this works out though, one thing is clear -- we will continue to be the target for such endeavors until another town has a higher per-student spending cost than we do! Time to reign in spending and send the vultures somewhere else.
Steve November 11, 2011 at 05:57 PM
Flynn is not on the board of that school.
Chinadoll November 11, 2011 at 09:34 PM
Don't prey too hard and I hate to burst your bubble but the existing Teaneck Charter School is not up to snuff either! Snatched my daughter out of there after one year. Do your research... and don't drink the "kool aid" that so many other parents have fallen victim to.
Chinadoll November 11, 2011 at 09:38 PM
Sounds fishy to me! SHALOM ACADEMY FISHY!!!
Aristides November 12, 2011 at 03:57 PM
This belongs with comments above by Tim and Steve: Steve may be right that "lead founder" [whatever that is] Flynn might no longer be on the board of Yeshivat He'Atid, but he is listed on an earlier version of that board on the website, which Tim consulted, and is surely a founder. His motives remain to be explored, but no proposal is publicly available yet, and the township is being asked to invest in his undisclosed idea. Charter schools, as Orwell said of saints, should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent. On-line learning, for at least half the subjects on the academic curriculum, has already been tested and found wanting.
Humble November 13, 2011 at 01:53 AM
Does this mean that all clubs and sports are cut at Teaneck High School???
JeffO November 13, 2011 at 03:25 AM
Keith, I don't believe your information is correct. I believe that under the current system, charter schools get 90% of what their SENDING school districts pay per student. So if 100 students in a charter school come from Public School District A and District A's cost-per-student is $15,000, the charter school will get $1,500,000 (100 x $15,000). If another 100 students in that same charter school come from District B and District B's cost-per-student is $10,000, the charter will get $1,000,000 for those students. Assuming there are no other students, the charter school will get $2,500,000 in all, which would average out to $12,500 per student. While it would make sense for a profiteering operator of a stripped-down "Virtual" school to locate his storefront "drop in center" within a radius of his most lucrative market -- in this case, Northern New Jersey, where costs-per-pupil are higher across-the-board -- I don't see how locating in Teaneck in particular would attract that much more revenue than if the storefront were located in, say, Ridgefield Park. Unless you think merely having a Teaneck storefront address will attract more Teaneckers to this proposition. Personally, I don't see it having a huge appeal in this town. Or am I missing something? In any event, it seems to me that the first-and-foremost solution to this problem is to put new rules in place to prevent various business interests and special interest groups from gaming a seriously flawed system.
JeffO November 13, 2011 at 03:38 AM
By the way, Saturday's Record reported that the state has clarified that Teaneck will only be on the hook for enrollees who live in the Township. More important, since it goes to the state's initial idiocy in its letter to the Teaneck district -- it now says that Teaneck won't have to make adjustments to its budget until after enrollment numbers for the "virtual" school become available. http://www.northjersey.com/news/133733943_State_says_not_all_costs_on_Teaneck.html
JamesTS November 13, 2011 at 04:19 AM
To JeffO: I dont believe the state has done anything to clarify the costs. The article above says basically the same thing, state believes this is a guide, teaneck doesnt have to pay,etcetc. But that's not really the point..the point is that Teaneck BOE now has this 15 million hanging over them. charter schools are always based upon student enrollment totals, thats old news. What the problem is a "virtual" school with little chance of being for teaneck students, but leaving teaneck on the hook (at least at first). as you mentioned, the law needs to be fixed. I still think the state's public relations efforts cannot distract from all the stress caused to Teaneck schools/BOE. Sorry for any typos in advance... tired and typing!!
Loretta Weinberg November 13, 2011 at 06:01 AM
Dear Zizi: I assume by now you know that I've contacted Commissioner Cerf and his email answer has been publicized. I have also spoken to our representative on the State Board of Education. Anytime you would like to look up my record of laws passed, advocacy for our citizens, or constituent services I'd be happy to show you around my offices. Yes, I do alot beside "giving speeches and asking for votes" and so do my colleagues Gordon Johnson and Valerie Huttle along with our great staffs.
Democracy November 13, 2011 at 10:13 AM
Fighting this particular school is not enough. The charter law has to be changed or this will keep happening. Assemblyman Johnson and Assemblywoman Huttle helped pass a bill through the NJ Assembly in June that would require local voters to approve before a new charter school can draw money from a school district. This bill is now waiting for a vote in the NJ Senate. Senator Weinberg has not yet indicated if she supports the bill. She needs to hear from her constituents as to whether they want to make that decision or if we should keep allowing the Commissioner of the NJ Department of Education to decide if new charter schools can draw students from Teaneck, ignoring the wishes of Teaneck residents. Senator Weinberg can be reached at (201) 928-0100. You can also e-mail Senator Weinberg at SenWeinberg@njleg.org.
Jim Dunleavy November 13, 2011 at 05:02 PM
Ok, so I have asked this before and I will now ask it again. Why have charter schools come to be in the first place? Why would people want to start private school operations, such as charters, then in some cases even try to link to religious or other private causes or beliefs? Do the citizens of this state want their public tax dollars used in this way? Perhaps people, without fact, are afraid of public schools? think the education is inferior? Or worse perhaps their own perceived status is the reason. In any event I do not think, if there is a problem in public schools, that walking away from them is the answer. Society I believe has a responsibility to educate it's youth and do so in a way that has equal opportunity for all. So, why do we have charter schools in the first place?
Karin Kiesow-Irvine November 13, 2011 at 08:42 PM
Several of my neighbors send their children to the Teaneck Charter School from what I have gathered over the years is that they chose the Charter School because of academics, test scores, classes, parental involvement, teachers etc. As a parent I want the best education for my child, if that is a charter school, traditional public school, private, homeschooling etc. Some parents feel that the Charter School is the environment that is right for their children. For whatever reason the Charter school in town seems to be doing a great job on less money then what the regular public schools are doing/using.
Karin Kiesow-Irvine November 14, 2011 at 02:00 PM
ChinaDoll- Curious but what did you find lacking at the Charter School? Looking at their test scores etc. they seem to be doing a bang up job.
Democracy November 14, 2011 at 02:17 PM
When comparing test scores between charters and traditional public schools, make sure you compare similar students. Charters have many fewer special needs, poor, non-English speaking children. As a result, some of the charter schools seem to have higher test scores, but it's really just that they educate different kids than the traditional public schools.
JeffO November 14, 2011 at 10:27 PM
I couldn't agree more, with one elaboration: Senator Weinberg not only needs to hear from us, but we need to hear from her: Does she or doesn't she support S2243, the proposed legislation that would empower local voters to approve funding for new charter schools -- just they now approve school bond issues and school budgets? Last August, in a discussion ensuing from Patch's article, "BOE Votes to Restore Busing ( http://teaneck.patch.com/articles/updated-boe-votes-to-restore-courtesy-busing-private-school-routes ), I wrote, "It would be nice if the State Senate would expedite and pass S2243 (as the Assembly did its counterpart A3852)..." About a week later, Senator Weinberg responded, "Jeff: the bill has been bottled up in the Senate Education Committee which is chaired by someone who believes we should have more charter schools - not less." That may well be the case, but couldn't Senator Weinberg have been more explicit as to whether she proactively supports S2243? Or is this putative "feisty grandmother" perfectly content to simply let this bill be bottled up in committee? Now that she's been named the next senate majority leader, I would hope Senator Weinberg will use her new position to convince her colleague to get that bill out of committee, and that she'll actively push for its passage in the Senate. To repeat Democracy's above call to action: Senator Weinberg can be reached at (201) 928-0100. You can also e-mail Senator Weinberg at SenWeinberg@njleg.org.
BillyB November 15, 2011 at 06:08 PM
It is certainly easy to see why there is so much confusion about this, but it is a shame that a discussion of it has to get so personal and hysterical with such limited information. The money for this will not come from Teaneck any more or less than it would if its physical offices were located in another district. The students served by schools like this tend to be students who are terribly under-served by conventional schools. Everyone should just calm down and try to understand what this is all about.
Jason Flynn November 15, 2011 at 07:00 PM
Post one of two: Hello - My name is Jason Flynn. I am a five-year Teaneck resident and proud father of a student in the Teaneck public school system. I am also the qualifying founder and board member of the Garden State Virtual Charter School (GSVCS), the proposed statewide virtual charter school that will enroll students from across New Jersey. As with any New Jersey public school, GSVCS will be tuition-free to students. Per New Jersey law, GSVCS students will be funded by their districts of residence, and Teaneck’s school district will only be financially responsible for funding GSVCS students who reside within Teaneck. I grew up in New Jersey, and went to school in New York and New Jersey. I have consistently advocated for making innovative educational options available to our children, including alternative public schools. That's why I was so pleased to join with other New Jersey residents on the GSVCS board to apply to open our virtual charter school to serve students statewide. New Jersey has fine public schools of which we can all be proud. But even our great public schools cannot meet the needs of every student. GSVCS will leverage state-of-the-art digital technology to deliver a high quality, highly personalized education to our students who, for a myriad of reasons, are not succeeding in a traditional classroom setting.
Jason Flynn November 15, 2011 at 07:03 PM
Post two of two: More than 40 states in the U.S. today have virtual schools like this, and student course enrollments are growing at almost 20% annually, with over 250,000 students enrolled for the 2011-2012 school year. So this is not a new or untested concept – and we're way behind here in New Jersey. It's clear from reading recent media coverage, reader comments and direct conversations I’ve had about GSVCS that many Teaneck residents share my passion for delivering the best quality public education to our children. It's also clear from much of the incorrect information being put forward about our school that many people have questions and concerns about our proposed school. That's why the GSVCS board is looking forward to hosting an information session for Teaneck and New Jersey residents, and anyone else interested in learning more about our school. Date and location are still TBD, but we will make an announcement as soon as we have finalized those details. We’re also creating a GSVCS website -- which will be up and running soon - to provide detailed information about our program, including our curriculum, educational model, and the successes similar programs have achieved nationally. People will also be able to post questions on the site for the GSVCS Board. Many Teaneck residents are hungry for more information, and to get questions answered. We look forward to doing so. Jason Flynn, Teaneck resident, GSVCS Board Member, and the rest of the GSVCS Board
Democracy November 15, 2011 at 08:01 PM
Virtual charter schools have been an overwhelming disaster. Here's the scoop from Florida, Pennsylvania and Colorado, to name a few. http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/10/jeb-bush-digitial-learning-public-schools http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/10/05/07enc_virtualachieve.h31.html http://keystonestateeducationcoalition.blogspot.com/2011/11/pa-cyber-charter-pssa-ayp-2007-2011.html Even the Wall Street Journal review points out that test scores for virtual charters have been a disaster http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204358004577030600066250144.html?mod=WSJ_hp_LEFTTopStories This is a great revenue model for the virtual charter school's founders -- 90% of a district's public school funding to pay for a computer. But a terrible deal for the children and the taxpayers who have to pay for it.
JeffO November 15, 2011 at 08:27 PM
Mr. Flynn, Thank you for joining this discussion. My last name is Ostroth; I don't use my full name so as not to have a Google hit on everything I ever wrote. As you stated, many Teaneck residents ARE hungry for information. Now that you've joined the discussion, would you mind answering a few questions in advance of your yet-to-be announced information session? Here are some that come to my mind: * Apart from you living in Teaneck, is there any particular reason why Teaneck was chosen as the "town of record" for your virtual school? * Clearly the State of New Jersey caused problems, not to mention an uproar, in telling our public school administrators that "for planning purposes," Teaneck should assume that 100% of the 1,000 students you envision in year one would reside in Teaneck. Do you have any "guesstimate" as to the actual percentage of your enrollment that would come from Teaneck? * Do you plan to do any special marketing to Teaneck familes? * Will your lottery have any mechanism to limit the number of students that would come from any one town? * Given a virutual school won't have the same overhead as a physical school, how do you plan to use the excess money you receive from your students' actual school districts? Is GSVCS a for-profit or non-profit enterprise? * How do you propose to fulfill certain components of a "thorough and efficient" education," such as physical education, that can't be fulfilled remotely? Thanks.
Jason Flynn November 15, 2011 at 09:36 PM
These are all great questions and we appreciate your interest with this matter. All of these, and any other and follow up questions, will be fully answered and explained at the information session, open to the public. The information session details should be finalized within the next week or so. If we are approved, we are going to be a set up as a New Jersey nonprofit corporation. We have gathered information from the over 10,000 families in New Jersey who have already expressed interest in these types of programs, and we have a rather even distribution of interest according to population statistics statewide. The enrollment process is governed by state law and there will be no special consideration being given to children from any district, be it during a lottery process or other facet of the program. With regard to the funding issues, these are best addressed at the information session, which will be in the near future. I can assure you that, once you understand the full financial circumstances related to the funding and sourcing of this program, you and all Teaneck residents will not have any concern as to the impact the GSVCS program will have on the Teaneck Public Schools.
Jason Flynn November 15, 2011 at 09:39 PM
I appreciate your interest and these and other questions will be among those we address when we hold our info session, later this month. This response is to the many who have contacted me via e-mail and phone. Some of your questions apply to all charter schools, of course. For more about charters in NJ in general and how they are funded, enroll students etc, let me just simply suggest you take a look at what the NJ Charter Schools Association has in general. You can reach them at njcharters.org.
Jim Dunleavy November 15, 2011 at 10:32 PM
I am most interested in the answers to the questions that Ostroth posed. As most know, having a not for profit does not mean there is no profit, it is how it has to be used that determines that status. Having taught courses at the doctoral level through distance learning systems, while it is efficient and cost effective, I at times found it far inferior to face to face involvement. I would also raise concerns about a total distance learning experience especially with those that are physically or emotionally/mentally challenged. Socialization is imperative for these students to grow as individuals and work within the society as a whole. I hope that the Legislature moves on the bill that will give the local community the last say. the town will never gain back financially what they lose when the state requires the per head $ to be transferred to the school. Certainly the balance between that number and the more cost efficient distance learning proposal could be used for improvements in our public schools. To say the citizens of the town do not pay is simply not accurate as tax dollars are paying for these charter schools. something I am philosophically opposed to. Look forward to hearing more.
LaVerne November 16, 2011 at 10:03 PM
Hook line and sink our kids. Yes it sounds fishy because of all these back door dealings.
Barbara Ostroth November 17, 2011 at 04:58 AM
That is an unfair statement to make about Teaneck's school administrators. The fact is that so far, Teaneck has been told to budget the entire bill for the first year ($15K) and will only get paid back funds the following fall after the virtual charter school reports what towns their students live in -- well AFTER the annual school budget must be finalized under a 2% cap and voted on in April. The process of funding charter schools is flawed, has been flawed since 1995, and needs to be amended by the state legislature.
Barbara Ostroth November 17, 2011 at 05:05 AM
Before making such a life-changing decision, I urge you to please go tour Bryant School and any of the other schools, speak to teachers and public school parents, and resist listening to rumor and innuendo. The public schools offer a very good education, and many are very satisfied with the quality of instruction their kids are getting. The problem with charter schools is that the current laws are unfair in the way they are governed, evaluated and funded. Also keep in mind there are charter schools in all types oif communities in NJ, including some other very good school districts like Highland Park, Princeton, etc. If you choose to send your child to TCCS, that's your right to do so. Just make sure you are basing your decision on the right criteria. As the mother of four who were educated in our schools from 1987-2006, each of them were different learners with many positive experiences and a few negative ones -- and they all did well in college!
Barbara Ostroth November 17, 2011 at 05:07 AM
Their application anticipates a $3M surplus at the end of the first year...out of our tax dollars. Need I say more? It seems this might be a planned for-profit charter school.


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