Codey Declares A “Watershed” Moment at Millburn Charter School Rally
Thursday, June 23, 2011 • 7:18am
MILLBURN, NJ - “What do we want?” “A Vote!” “When do we want it? “Now!”
The call and response above echoed through the Bauer Center in Millburn at the charter school rally Tuesday, June 21. Lack of local control over the approval of charter schools was the overriding issue of the evening. Former Governor Richard Codey described his stand on the subject: “No vote, no (charter) school," he said.
Featured speakers were Senator Codey, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, and Assemblyman Al Coutinho. Codey described this as a “watershed moment,” warning that if charter schools are approved in Millburn, Livingston and Maplewood, “the best school systems in New Jersey,” there could be a “domino effect” that could kill public schools.
The rally, sponsored by the organization Save Our Schools (SOS), drew over one hundred adults and more than twenty children, who created posters to signal their support for two bills that have been approved by the Assembly Education Committee.
The legislation is sponsored by Jasey, whose district includes Millburn, Maplewood and South Orange, and Coutinho, of Newark and Belleville.
The first bill, Assembly 3852 (Senate 2243) requires voter approval before a charter school could be established in a community.
The second bill, A3356, requires that charters be held to the same accountability and transparency standards as public schools.
Most of the speakers emphasized their belief that under the right circumstances charters can play a valuable role in school reform. Coutinho stated that if charters are making things better, they should be encouraged, but added, “in areas where it’s destabilizing, they are not appropriate….Here, where the schools are working, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.” Jasey concurred that it is a matter of where the charter is located, and that charters should only be located with the support of the community and for “defined reasons.”
Jasey voiced concern about the financial drain a charter could cause in districts operating under caps, and who are already “fragile financially.” She also advocated the “sharing of strategies and best practices between public schools and charters” and complained that right now “the direction we’re headed in is parallel.”
Codey was emphatic in his disapproval of charters, stating, “I’m not a fan.” He warned that in charter schools, “if they don’t like a kid, they send them back to public schools, and keep the cream of the crop.” He did say that he is “cautiously optimistic” after speaking to Commissioner of Education Christopher Cerf, who agreed that certain proposals are “boutique.” “He understands the domino effect if he approves these schools,” Codey said.
Jon Blinderman, who delivered a petition containing over 800 names to the Livingston School Board, referred to Commissioner Cerf’s statement that charter schools may not be needed in districts that are “humming along.” “Millburn and Livingston are not just humming along--we’re a freaking symphony orchestra,” said Blinderman. “We’ve got Beethoven and Mozart going.”
Before the rally, Millburn resident Sher Huang described her frustration with charters, saying that she resents seeing her tax dollars go where she has no say, and that “This is taxation without representation… The only way to have a say is to put your kid in a charter or not put your kid in.”
Mary McGlynn, an English professor from Maplewood who has two school age children, mentioned hearing Newark Mayor Cory Booker speak favorably about charters. “I’d rather see the Zuckerberg money go into real public schools,” she said.
The local organizers of the rally, Jill Kimmelman of Millburn and Alle Ries of Maplewood, were outspoken on the subject. Kimmelman insisted, “We deserve to decide in our own communities what schools are in our communities,” a statement that received enthusiastic applause from the crowd. According to Ries, “New Jersey is the only state that gives the community no control over whether there is a charter, yet requires us to fund it.”
Codey also warned that soon the Legislature will be voting on school vouchers, another contentious issue. He and Ries warned that it is budget time in Trenton, and “the bosses are getting together with the Governor… Soon they’ll be using our tax dollars to pay for religious schools and private schools through vouchers.”
All of the speakers encouraged the public to take action. “Have your voices heard by the Commissioner of Education and the Governor, and let them know this is the wrong path for education," Codey said. He also cautioned: “Everybody write something different. It’s more effective.”
"We need your help to spread the word,” Ries said, advising attendees to contact Assemblywomen Sheila Oliver and Teresa Ruiz and Senator Steve Sweeney, as well as their local representatives... "Ask them to bring the charter reform bills up for a vote and to oppose the voucher discussion."
Codey closed by urging the crowd to let the legislature know they're being watched, saying, "No more backroom deals."
The public was left with the chant:
“A 3852 guarantees a vote for you.”
“S 2243 guarantees a vote for me.”