Suzanne Turner 0

South Orange & Maplewood Families Urge Rejection of Proposed Hua Mei Charter School

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We urge the Commissioner of Education to reject the reapplication of the Hua Mei Charter School. We fully believe that students in some school districts can benefit from charter schools. As originally envisioned, charter schools can be laboratories of innovation which can help revitalize schools, particularly in urban districts struggling with high incidences of poverty. However, we feel strongly that in a community with schools rated “high performing,” charter schools will cause a severe financial strain without necessarily creating a commensurate benefit. Charter schools by definition can only serve a small number of students. The cost of this limited access opportunity would be too high, given the few students who could be served. In addition, the Hua Mei School’s immersion program in a non-phonetic based language does not promise a model that would be likely to improve the already high quality schools in South Orange Maplewood. We also find it troubling that Hua Mei’s new application has dropped 3 other suburban school districts that voiced significant public opposition, but has not replaced them with any of the urban, high poverty school districts which surround South Orange and Maplewood, and which are more likely to benefit from an additional school of choice. As you know, South Orange Maplewood School District and other districts face ever increasing budget constraints, given the 2% cap on property tax increases and cost drivers which escalate at a much greater rate. The proposed Hua Mei Charter School would divert funds from our district that will lead to cuts in our current programming, resources, and teaching staff. This could have an extremely negative effect on the 6,500 students our public schools serve. We are not against choice. Our community supports choice with our Seth Boyden Demonstration School. Families who want a less traditional approach to education can opt in to this school to benefit from its multiple intelligences approach and various innovative programs. The budget and policy decisions of our School District are subject to public discussion and are voted on by our elected representatives on the Board of Education and the Board of School Estimate. If proposed charter schools were subject to the same kind of voter approval and public input, we would be less troubled by the potential drain on our schools’ resources. If the charter schools were funded by state funds, it would also be less troubling. But having local tax dollars diverted to a boutique charter school without any input from the local tax payers has the potential to negatively impact the education of the vast majority of students who will remain in District schools. Although supportive of new educational opportunities, we do not support the current charter school proposal. We therefore urge the Commissioner of Education to reject this application.

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