Red Bank board opposes charter school expansion

Staff Writer

With the Red Bank Charter School (RBCS) seeking to double its enrollment, the Red Bank School District has petitioned the state to refuse the expansion.

“I would like to express my own personal opposition to the expansion. The expansion proposal would certainly lead to a significant tax increase as well as a multitude of budget cuts that would be devastating,” said Superintendent of Schools Jared Rumage at the Dec. 15 Board of Education meeting.

On Dec. 17, parents organized a presentation about the effect the charter school would have on the district.

According to Rumage, who spoke at the presentation, there were roughly 450 people in attendance at the Red Bank Middle School auditorium.

“I am not opposed to the Red Bank Charter School. … The size they are is fine, it doesn’t need an expansion,” said Wayne Wolley who along with several other parents organized the event.

Red Bank Charter School, which currently has an enrollment of around 200 students, has requested the Department of Education to allow it to expand to 400 students on Dec. 1.

If approved, the charter school, which consists of grade levels K-8, would increase from one to two classes at each grade level. The plan for expansion would be completed in the 2018-19 school year, according to a press release sent from the school.

According to Wolley, the expansion would have “drastic” effects on how the district operates.

“I believe it’s going to raise property taxes. It will force the district to cut teaching positions at the primary and middle school along with sports, music and extracurricular activities,” said Wolley, who says that adding students at RBCS would take more money out of the district.

According to David Block, RBCS business administrator, the school received $1.8 million in funding from the district along with another $1.2 million directly from the state. For Wolley, who has daughters attending district schools, the last thing he wants is for more money to be taken out of the district.

“I wouldn’t send my daughters to the schools in Red Bank if I didn’t think they were good schools. I don’t want the schools to be under-funded,” he said.

Rumage appreciates the support that he received from parents who attended the event:

“I was overwhelmed and very appreciative of the support. I think it says a lot about the great things we are doing here in the district,” said Rumage, also stating that a petition to halt the expansion had around 500 signatures by the end of the night to be sent to state education Commissioner David Hespe.

“The Board of Education and I are resolute in our opposition, we do not think [the expansion] is in the best interest of the children in the district,” said Rumage.

At the district board meeting, members passed a resolution stating their opposition to the RBCS expansion. The resolution passed unanimously. Board President Ben Forest and Janet Jones where absent from the meeting.

According to RBCS principal Meredith Pennotti, increased enrollment at the charter school would be a boon for Red Bank children.

“Red Bank Charter School growth is in fact a shared public priority, and choice in education is a family preference in Red Bank. The RBCS wait list average is 112 candidates over three years. As an academically highperforming Tier 1 school, RBCS could influence a substantial shift to greater achievement for a significant number of children in the town of Red Bank,” Pennotti said in a press release.

“We would like to see parents who want to choose the charter school have the opportunity. … The only reason we exist is because people choose this school,” she said in an interview.

“Our school is capped at such a low number, what drives our expansion is demand,” she continued.

For Pennotti, she is not surprised by the reaction of both the district and parents.

“We anticipated some discord. … Whenever you challenge the status quo, you get some reaction,” she said, also stating that she predicts hardships for both the district as well as the charter school.

“It won’t be without hardship, for all of us.”

Red Bank Charter School was founded in 1998.

The district board of education governs two schools in the district, Red Bank Primary and Red Bank Middle School. During the 2014-15 school year, 1,224 students attended district schools.

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