New Charter School Divides Community
Supporters and opponents discussed the matter at length on Tuesday night.
The possible creation of a new charter school divided parents and school board members on Tuesday evening. In a 5-2-1 vote, the board—following nearly four hours of public discussion—voted to oppose DaVinci, a project based, science charter school.
“This school has created such a rift,” said founding member of the school and Councilman-at-Large David Mello.
Opponents say that DaVinci will take away funds from the students in the district’s schools and will create segregation along socio-economic and ethnic lines. Those who support the new school say it adds more school choice and will encourage more young families to stay in town.
The split became clear throughout the night, ending in a divided vote by the board.
Superintendent Dr. Mark Toback has already written a letter to the state commissioner of education opposing the new charter school. The five Kids First majority members voted to support the superintendent’s position. Board members Frances Rhodes Kearns and Maureen Sullivan voted against and Peter Biancamano abstained.
The decision to approve the new charter, however, is completely in the state’s hands.
“I have no clue why we’re even voting on this,” Biancamano said.
For Mello, the school is supposed to keep young families in town by providing more educational options. “I look at my daughter’s pre-K, almost none of them are attending our public schools,” Mello said. "I am not saying that’s right. But it is the reality.”
In the traditional Hoboken public schools, roughly 70 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch, Toback said. In the charter schools this percentage is about 15 percent. While DaVinci founder Laura Siegel called that divide “distressing,” she added that the school is working to include children from all different backgrounds.
“We are not a boutique school,” said DaVinci founder Jamie Rice. “We are not designed to serve one part of the population."
Many parents praised Hoboken’s traditional public schools throughout the night, while others expressed their worry about the perception of Hoboken’s schools. Most vocal about the district’s shortcomings—perceived or otherwise—was board member Sullivan.
“If half the school aged population isn’t going to school here, we’re doing something wrong,” Sullivan said. “We cant put the genie back in the bottle. People have decided they want other schools.”
The new school will cost the district more than $1.1 million, Toback said. Most of the funding of a charter school comes from the local school board’s budget.
“I know there is a negative impact involved for the public schools if this charter is granted,” said Gregory Bond, the parent of a student at the Wallace school. “There is going to be a net cost to the public schools.”
While charter schools are public, the schools are run independently as if it were a separate district.
“My responsibility is the children currently enrolled in this district,” said board member Irene Sobolov. “How can I approve an expenditure that puts not single penny back into the penny of those children?”
Cutting more than $1.1 million from the school budget, Toback said, will have to be done by cutting extracurricular programs and activities.
“A new charter school will be devastating for this district. I don’t see how any of you can vote for it in good conscience,” one parent told the school board. While another argued that if parents want to found a new school based on popular demand, the board of education shouldn’t stand in their way.
The charter school application has made it through the first round. Now, the founder have to wait. The Department of Education will make a decision by September. If the charter gets approved, DaVinci is scheduled to open in September 2013.