School board getting support in lawsuit

RED BANK — The state’s largest union, representing public school employees, has weighed in on the borough controversy surrounding the Red Bank Charter School’s future plans.

The New Jersey Education Association has made a request to the state’s Board of Education to permit the union to file a motion so it can be heard on the ongoing debate, concerning the charter school’s expansion and charter renewal.

The motion, in legal parlance, is called an amicus curiae, and translates from the Latin as "friend of the court," according to Karen Joseph, spokeswoman for NJEA.

"It’s when you petition to be involved in a particular situation," Joseph explained.

NJEA with over 175,000 members is the largest union representing public school employees in the state and the second largest in the country, according to Joseph. And the union is taking a position in support of the Red Bank Board of Education and the Red Bank Education Association in opposing the charter school’s expansion plans for next year.

In December the state’s commissioner of education approved the renewal of the school’s charter. The state also approved the school growth proposal to include grades kindergarten through three, and expanding class size from 16 to 18 students.

These plans would increase the charter school’s enrollment for next year to 162 students, from the current 80.

The Red Bank Board of Education opposed the charter school’s application on grounds that it would greatly affect the district’s ability to provide a thorough and efficient education to its students as required by the state constitution by siphoning off funds and resources.

If the charter school’s growth plans are permitted to move forward, the board has said, it would cost the district an additional approximately $731,000.

The loss of those funds could mean the possible loss of four teachers, and the scaling back of programs and student transportation.

The board also has said the charter school has created a de facto segregated school district, allowing white families to leave the existing public schools for the charter school.

The board has appealed the commissioner’s decision to deny a motion to stay pending the appeal.

That appeal is pending before the state’s Board of Education.

"The NJEA is in agreement with the board," Joseph said.

The brief prepared by NJEA attorney Richard A. Friedman, states, "The board’s appeal papers have shown that the charter school has had, and a renewal of its application will continue to have, a substantial adverse and indeed devastating effect on the Red Bank Board of Education’s ability to maintain racial balance in its schools.

"Accordingly, NJEA, which is committed to racially balanced schools and committed to opposing actions, which lead to racial imbalance in the schools, seeks to participate as an amicus curiae in this matter."

"The charter school is causing de facto segregation," Joseph said. "We feel this is not what the charter school law should allow."

NJEA worked very closely with the Whitman administration to draft the charter school legislation, Joseph said.

"It is our position they (charter schools) have a place in our education system," but not at the expense of existing public schools, according to Joseph.

"This (charter) school is draining resources," she said.

"It (the district) is losing so much money it cannot provide a thorough and efficient education," she said.

"I feel the fact they (NJEA) wants to participate demonstrates the seriousness of this situation," said R. Armen McOmber, the attorney representing the Board of Education. "Their concerns clearly merit consideration."

David Apy, the attorney representing the charter school, said he received a copy of the brief on the day contacted.

"I have not had a chance to fully analyze what they’re requesting and why," he said.

The charter school has 10 days to respond to the NJEA request and plans to file a response in the appropriate time frame, Apy said.

— John Burton