State refuses to let charter school open


Staff Writer

Jersey Shore Charter School failed to provide information, Pfennig says

EATONTOWN — The Jersey Shore Charter School exists no more.

Acting Commissioner of Education Dwight R. Pfennig denied the school’s request to stay the commissioner’s decision revoking its charter. David C. Apy, the lawyer for the charter school, said its board of trustees decided to drop its appeal to the state Board of Education.

The school had been scheduled to open yesterday with 175 students in grades five through seven at 2 Meridian Way in Eatontown. It was to serve Eatontown, West Long Branch and Oceanport, but the bulk of its enrollment came from outside those municipalities.

Apy, who is with the law firm of McCarter & English in Newark, said he withdrew the appeal to the state Board of Education last Friday, the same day Pfennig denied the stay of Commissioner of Education William L. Librera’s order of Aug. 23, refusing to grant final approval for the school’s charter, which he had conditionally issued on Jan. 15, 2003.

Apy said the board did not move ahead with the appeal because the process would take a long time and, as a practical matter, the families of the students enrolled in the charter school had to make decisions on where their children were going to be attending school this fall.

Kathleen Devine, president of the Jersey Shore Charter School board of trustees, could not be reached for comment or to learn what will become of the building renovated for the school. The school’s telephone was disconnected.

Pfennig, a deputy commissioner of education who was filling in for Librera, said that in order to get the stay the school had to show there was a “clear probability” that it would prevail on appeal to the state board on the merits of the case. He said the school had not established that it had a likelihood of success with the appeal.

“Specifically, I reject [the school’s] claim that the long-standing deficiencies outlined in the Aug. 23, 2004, letter denying final approval of its charter were based on incorrect information or have all been corrected in the week since that determination,” he said.

Pfennig said the Jersey Shore Charter School had taken a planning year in which to prepare for the opening of the school this fall. He said that during that year it had been the school’s responsibility to provide the commissioner complete, accurate and timely information with regard to its enrollment, fiscal viability, faculty, composition of the board of trustees and documents on the renovation of its school facility and fiscal accounting practices.

Yet, he said, the school conceded in its motion papers that the facility information is still incomplete and asked to be allowed to open on Sept. 9 subject to submission of the remaining documentation up to as late as that date.

“Moreover, with the exception of one of the teachers, [the school] has failed to submit copies of the certifications of the personnel hired this past week and has failed to provide the detail necessary to assuage my concerns regarding fiscal accounting practices and the governing structure,” Pfennig wrote.

“Given the serious concerns expressed in the Aug. 23, 2004, determination, which were hastily addressed after [the school] received notification that the final approval of its charter had been denied, I cannot conclude with any certainty that the Jersey Shore Charter School will be able to provide the quality educational program and fiscal integrity to which students are entitled by law,” he said.

Pfennig said that, under those circumstances, he could not find it likely that the school would prevail on the merits of its appeal, as required.

He also said he didn’t feel that students, parents and staff would suffer greater harm by having to now make alternative educational and employment arrangements for the next school year than they would if the stay were granted and the final approval of a charter was ultimately denied by the state board.