Hoboken Charter School Showdown
The topic of charter schools has been extensively discussed recently in the media, with exhaustive arguments both for and against them. With reductions in funding for education nationwide, the debate over charter schools has grown increasingly contentious. This debate has resurfaced in Hoboken.
There are currently three charter schools in Hoboken, representing approximately 30% of the public student population. A proposed fourth school, DaVinci Charter School, has passed the first round of state approval. There are strong supporters and detractors of this school. I have been following along with the debate and have come across some useful resources that I would like to share with my blog readers to help you gain a deeper understanding of both sides and draw your own conclusions.
For complete details related to the proposed charter school, you can review the entire “DaVinci Charter School of Hoboken New Jersey Charter School Application,*” dated April 2, 2012.
Hoboken Board of Education member Irene Sobolov has responded to the DaVinci application. She encourages school choice and dialogue while raising concerns about funding and duplication of services. Concerned parents are raising signatures because they fear cuts to existing programs due to the need to find additional funding to cover the charter school costs.
Some discussion has revolved around the concept that there is a fixed amount of funding per student that moves with them. However, I have been told that public school savings take time to absorb because fixed operating expenses such as classrooms and personnel have to be maintained regardless of the number of students. Students entering charter schools tend to be drawn in small numbers from a range of schools and classrooms so cost savings are not immediately realized.
Proponents of the proposed DaVinci Charter School have attested to make the case that by increasing school choice it will encourage families with school-age children to remain in Hoboken. Opponents would point out that a new charter school might not be the optimal solution to the issue of family retention since many existing charter school students do not currently reside in Hoboken. Another concern voiced by opponents is that charter schools do not adequately meet the needs of special needs students, leaving the public schools to cover the high costs of their requirements. Opponents also argue that education is only one factor in urban family flight, and due to the small population served by this proposed charter school, would not make a significant impact in stemming the trend.
My purpose in writing this post is to provide an overview of the current conversation in the hopes that readers will be able to draw their own conclusions and participate in finding a solution to the issues raised. The Board of Education will be meeting tomorrow, Tuesday, May 8th at 7pm at 1115 Clinton Street in the board meeting room. Feel free to comment on this post and share your views, but I encourage you instead to attend the meeting and participate in the discussion surrounding DaVinci Charter School.
* On 5/25/12, I received reader email notifying me that the DaVinci Charter School application link is no longer valid. The file that was available 5/7/12 has been removed and replaced with a new version that has three fewer pages than the 5/7/12 document. After running the two documents through comparison software, here are the three pages that were removed from the first document. The section that was removed was “APPENDIX D. LIST OF VOLUNTEERS AND ADVISORS (PARTIAL).”
5/8/12 Update: Here is a social media synopsis of the May 8th, 2012 Hoboken Board of Education meeting, including discussion of the proposed DaVinci Charter School.
5/13/12 Update: I received a copy of the public letter sent by Hoboken Superintendent Mark Toback to New Jersey Commissioner of Education Christopher Cerf regarding the impact of the proposed DaVinci Charter School on the Hoboken public schools. You can review the entire document from Superintendent Toback to Commissioner Cerf, dated April 25, 2012.
The letter expresses concerns about the demographics and location of the proposed DaVinci Charter School along with potential financial repercussions for the Hoboken public schools since existing charter schools have more students and higher costs than originally anticipated. There also appear to be legal issues regarding the proposed DaVinci Charter School that could generate substantial expenses for both DaVinci Charter School and the Hoboken public school district.
The charter school debate may be moot since it appears that Hoboken has approximately 100 more charter school seats than are permitted by law. So not only could the application for DaVinci Charter School be denied on that basis alone, but an investigation could result in seats being removed from existing Hoboken charter schools.
5/21/12 Update: Charter school cost analysis by financial expert Scott Siegel shows that charter schools cost local taxpayers more than public schools because of a different funding formula; municipalities pay 90%+ of charter per-student costs versus 60% for public schools. The three existing charter schools will cause a property tax increase as they add on more grades over the next few years; the proposed DaVinci Charter School would add an additional $22 million to the Hoboken education budget. That would generate an additional property tax increase and decrease public school funding; the proportion depends on whether taxpayers approve the annual education budget or not.
Recent press coverage of DaVinci founder Laura Siegel and Board of Education member Irene Sobolov makes it clear there continues to be a deep divide between supporters and detractors of the proposed DaVinci charter school. In the event of a legal battle, those costs would be added onto the budgets for both school districts and exacerbate the funding issue.
5/22/12 Update: Letter from New Jersey Charter Schools Association states that the law limiting charter school enrollment to 25% of a school district has expired. If DaVinci Charter School is approved, charter schools will represent approximately 50% of public school seats in Hoboken.
5/26/12 Update: Since this blog post was first published on 5/7/12, I have received numerous requests from Laura Siegel, the founder of the proposed DaVinci Charter School, to edit or remove portions of the post. I responded to Ms. Siegel today with the following:
Thank you for your many emails asking me to remove or modify portions of my blog post titled “Hoboken Charter School Showdown,” dated 5/7/12. I have conferred with members of my professional organizations and we stand by the impartial presentation of facts as it is presented. If new information presents itself from a reliable third party then I have been adding updates to the post to present my readers with the most complete data set possible.
According to the document “New Jersey Department of Education 2011 Charter School Application” located at http://www.state.nj.us/education/archive/chartsch/app/2011/app.pdf, page 22 states, “The application is a public document and all information can be requested by the public through the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).”
I have filed an OPRA request for the proposed DaVinci Charter School application in its entirety, including all appendices. Once the document is ready, I will post it on the blog post. I cannot judge what is and is not relevant to people making informed decisions about whether to support the DaVinci Charter School.
If the latest information you are asking me to remove was not part of the “APPENDIX D. LIST OF VOLUNTEERS AND ADVISORS” originally filed with the Department of Education on 4/2/12 then I will be happy to remove it. However, if it is part of the original application then I believe such changes will result in an incomplete and seemingly biased presentation of the facts.
6/9/12 Update: I received an electronic copy of the original document “DaVinci Charter School of Hoboken New Jersey Charter School Application” dated April 2, 2012. I saved the document at a lower resolution to decrease the file size, otherwise the file is unchanged from the material I received from the New Jersey Department of Education. You can view the document here.
I have been talking to experts about financial ramifications of new charter schools for Hoboken homeowners. The numbers are unclear because of the changing student population. Hoboken charter schools receive approximately 90% of the annual traditional public school per-student funding. There are additional funds provided to special needs and low-income (a.k.a. high risk) students. If a new charter school removes students who do not receive additional funding then the public school per-student cost goes up as the proportion skews toward special needs/high risk students, which in turn increases the funding received by all Hoboken charter schools. Last year, the Hoboken charter schools received an unexpected 15% increase in funding for this reason.
- A reader emailed me about a recent television interview with Hoboken Public School superintendent Dr. Mark Toback regarding the financial and segregative impact of the proposed DaVinci Charter School on Hoboken public schools. You can view it here.
- I filed an OPRA request for the New Jersey Department of Education’s addenda dated 7/3/12 requesting additional information from the founders of the proposed DaVinci Charter School. I have combined the two addenda sent by the DOE for ease of use, you can read them here. The DOE questions centered around school operations and founder qualifications. It also required a revised budget since the one submitted in the original application showed a deficit. You can read the response from the DaVinci founders here.
10/1/12 Update: The New Jersey Department of Education released the list of approved charter schools to open in 2013, and DaVinci Charter School was not one of them. Only two of the 31 applicants were approved (6% approval rate) – one is a private school, Philip’s Academy Charter School in Newark, that is being converted into a charter and the other is founded by a group of entrepreneurs. The report goes on to say that in the last two years, the department has opened 18 new charter schools, closed 5 schools for poor academic performance or organizational and fiscal issues, and placed another 13 schools on probation. The complete release is here, media coverage of the two approved schools is here.