NJ Education Round-Up for 2/23/13

Here’s the plan: each Saturday, I’ll have a round-up of the week’s education news in New Jersey. I’m hoping this is the place all you non-eduwonky “dirty hippies” go to get your Garden State education news in one easily digestible post.

Of course, I will be shamelessly linking to my own blog, Jersey Jazzman. But I’ll also be relying heavily on Mother Crusader’s Darcie Cimarusti, NJ Farmer Blog’s Bob Grundfest, the Education Law Center’s News Page, NJ Spotlight, Rutgers professor Bruce Baker’s SchoolFinance 101, and a variety of other state and national sources.

Look for a new post every Saturday. We hope you enjoy this feature!

Here’s the week’s news:

LEAP: Everything That’s Wrong With NJ’s Charter School System in One Example:

There’s been a flurry of reporting this past month about the LEAP Academy Charter School in Camden. Going viral this week was the news that LEAP’s “executive chef” (did your junior high have an “executive chef”?) got a $24K raise and now makes $95K a year, way over the going rate. That he also happens to be the live-in boyfriend of the school’s founder, Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, makes the story that much more delectable.

But as tasty as this nugget is, it’s only part of the story at LEAP. It turns out the school lost its non-profit status back in 2010, news that only surfaced this past month. That put $8.5 million in bonds, issued by the Delaware River Port Authority and guaranteed by Rutgers-Camden (where Bonilla-Santiago is a faculty member) at risk. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports LEAP’s non-profit status has been reinstated, but the question remains: what kind of oversight is the NJDOE providing if they allowed such a large fiscal problem at a charter on their watch?

LEAP has been having all sorts of problems for years: academic struggles, athletic recruiting violations, labor rights violations, and accusations of personal gain. What’s worse is that the NJDOE apparently knew full well about the school’s issues, but allowed them to expand regardless. Here’s Commissioner Chris Cerf this past fall at the opening of the school’s new STEM facility:

LEAP is just the latest, best example of the New Jersey Department of Education’s dysfunction under Commissioner Cerf, and an example of why we so badly need new legislation for the approval and oversight of charter schools.

More stories after the jump…

Paterson Charter Schools Approved; School Board Says “Wha, huh, wha?

In the last round of charter approvals, only two schools were approved – both in Paterson.

Mother Crusader reports that there was no actual local input on the approvals, contrary to the claims of the NJDOE. Keep in mind that Paterson’s schools have been under state control for over 20 years. The Paterson BOE has little power and has been apparently kept in the dark about the charters – just like they have apparently been kept in the dark about contract negotiations, wildly expensive consultants, personnel matters, and even big legal expenses.

Why does Paterson remain under state control? How have the schools been improved by disenfranchising its citizens?

Apparently, local control of schools is a special privilege enjoyed by Chris Christie’s suburban base. You know… the right kind of people…

So, who runs these charters coming to Paterson?

Mother Crusader has an outstanding four-part series (here, here, here, and here) on the Ascend Learning charter schools network, one of the two charter operators coming to Paterson. It turns out – surprise! – that the firm’s president has ties to officials at the NJDOE. Look for Ascend to exploit the New Markets Tax Credit, a standard ploy in charter school operations these days. There’s also a history of high rates of teacher turnover, an autocratic school environment, large class sizes… you know, the usual.

I’ve been looking at the other new Paterson charter school, which appears to be part of the Gulenist charter network. Gulen charters, allied with Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, have a history of importing Turkish teachers on H1-B visas to work in their schools for far less than the prevailing wage. An interesting coincidence, as Paterson’s public school teachers have been working without a contract for years. What better way is there to depress salaries for teachers than to dump a slew of low-wage workers into the education labor market?

Paterson is the new epicenter of reforminess in New Jersey: keep a close eye on the Silk City if you want to know what’s coming to your town next.

Other School Stuff:

ELC has released an important report about cost overruns at the SDA:

An analysis by ELC of financial records since January 2010 shows the New Jersey Schools Development Authority (SDA) spent a total of $114 million on agency staff, office space, legal services, communications and other administrative expenses over the last three years. That amounts to a staggering 17% of the $661 million in SDA expenditures over the three-year period.

And what do Jersey’s kids have to show for it? A few projects that were started pre-Christie have been completed, but only one new project was actually started.

The next time our celebrity governor complains about runaway spending, ask him what he’s doing to rein in the outrageous cost overruns at the SDA.

– Janine Caffrey, embattled school superintendent in Perth Amboy, has kept her job. Caffrey once said tenure “is the single greatest impediment to education improvement in New Jersey, without a doubt.” Yet she survived only because the state intervened and allowed her access to third-party adjudication: which is exactly what tenure is!

Of course, it helped Caffrey that NJ billionaires paid for a public relations campaign on her behalf, and that CA millionaires and billionaires tied to the charter school industry dumped a boatload of money into the Perth Amboy school board race.

Bob Grundfest takes on the changes in teacher evaluation that have been made without teacher input.

Darcie Cimarusti calls out the Asbury Park press and reformy blogger Laura Waters on their ignorance of many charter schools’ practice of “skimming the cream.”

– This week’s Education Blog You Should Check Out: these days, the best source for progressive education news is Diane Ravitch’s blog. It’s become the first place I go to keep track of the “corporate reform” movement.

Have a great week.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *