NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – On January 20, many locals breathed a sigh of relief as New Jersey’s acting education commissioner Christopher Cerf announced the eight charter schools that were approved for the state.
The omission of the controversial Tikun Olam Hebrew Language Charter School from the list was a welcome development for some, and a disappointment for the Highland Park real estate agent, Sharon Akman, who has submitted similar applications for charter schools in Middlesex County three times before.
At a glance, the application may seem reasonable, but even rudimentary fact-checking reveals major flaws. The school's application proclaimed support from politicians who are acutally against it, including Assemblyman Peter Barnes and former Edison Mayor Jun Choi. Additionally, the Board of Directors of the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers were falsely listed as supporters of the school.
The application also stated that St. Mary's Church on Remsen Avenue in New Brunswick would provide space for the school, while the Diocese of Metuchen has stated the building is not available and no arrangements have been made.
The application was written by the nonprofit organization, “Friends of Tikun Olam,” formed in 2010 to support the school. It purports the need for a Hebrew Charter School in New Brunswick, despite no support from local education officials in the communities it would serve.
The Charter School was originally proposed to serve Edison and Highland Park. In the latest application, the school would serve Edison and New Brunswick. If it had been approved, the school would have opened in Fall 2012, and was projected to serve 200 students at maximum capacity.
Students' home school districts would have to pay for their attendance at the Charter School. Edison schools superintendent Richard O'Malley stated that the school "would create a segregated private school utilizing public funding during a time when school districts all across this great state are struggling to financially survive and provide basic programming for all their students," according to New Brunswick's Patch.com.
Akman proposed the charter school for the fourth time, but this time the application was bolstered by a $600,000 federal grant to finance the school. The grant, secured on October 6, garnered much attention from community members after the New York Times published an article on the “repeated distortions” in the school's federal grant application.
Stakeholders of the proposed school who have been actively opposing Akman's application include:
- Speak Up Highland Park, a community organization, has been holding speak-outs against the school. According to a report in The Sentinel, the group held a forum in November with public figures and Board of Education members from Middlesex County. In December they organized a trip to Trenton for the “Occupy the Department of Education” event, and now is turning their focus on revoking the $600,000 federal grant.
- Save Our Schools' Highland Park chapter has an online petition with over 850 signatures. The petition opposes the Tikun Olum Charter School and supports Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan’s legislation that would reform the process for granting charters in New Jersey.
- A Highland Park woman, Darcie Cimarusti, according to the a blog on HuffingtonPost.com, has made it her “full-time job” to stop the school. She blogs frequently under her alias, "Mother Crusader."
- New Brunswick Area NAACP representative Bruce S. Morgan formally expressed disapproval of the school on behalf of the organization in a letter to the editor published on New Brunswick's Patch.com. Morgan states that the NAACP cannot approve of the school, “without full transparency on the nature of the Tikun Olam Language Charter High School, the inclusion of New Brunswick minority students and parents in recruitment procedures and how this particular charter school can be funded without siphoning funds from the public education trough.”
- In addition to opposition in New Brunswick and Highland Park, Edison's school board has expressed disapproval of the charter school. The school district website offers to residents a statement of opposition to Tikun Olam addressed to Commissioner Cerf.
This fourth rejection is undoubtedly a victory for many, but it may prove to be short-lived. According to Speak Up Highland Park, Akman intends to file again for a fifth time on April 2.