"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, June 04, 2012

Stopping Christie's Corporate Feeding Frenzy in Camden

A former NJ DOE employee continues to send us news of from his/her former workplace, where incompetent and corrupt corporate toadies now pretend to do the work once done by educators and administrators concerned with the welfare of children and their education.   To demonstrate the point, see what is happening in Camden and other New Jersey areas blighted by poverty.

If it were not for organizations like the Education Law Center in Newark, the corporate raiders running the DOE would have already turned over urban public education in New Jersey to the corporate foundations and hedge fund managers to feed upon, as they use their unmonitored charter schools to miseducate, to culturally sterilize, and to behaviorally neuter the children of the poor.

Below is the Camden story from the Courier-Post Online, and below that is David Sciarra's letter referenced in the piece:

The Education Law Center is questioning a request for proposal made under the Urban Hope Act, and approved by the school board earlier this month.
The ELC, which advocates for poor urban districts, including Camden, called the district’s proposal, seeking plans for four Renaissance charter schools “premature” because state regulations for the schools are not yet complete, according to a letter written by ELC Executive Director David Sciarra.
Also, the failure of the RFP to adequately solicit the public input and comment “is a glaring omission, and the schedule should be revisited to provide explicit times and locations at which public input can be solicited and considered,” his letter concluded.
Lanning Square School activist Mo’Neke Ragsdale read portions of the ELC’s letter to the school board Tuesday night and promised to provide full copies.
The Department of Eduation responded by saying, “We have provided technical guidance to Camden as they developed their RFP. As we pursue regulations that will be in place prior to our approval of any projects, the Camden RFP also allows the district to request additional information from applicants to conform with the new regulations, if needed.”
The main points that are unaddressed by either the DOE or the district, according to ELC’s review, are:
• Whether students in designated “attendance areas” would be eligible for automatic enrollment in a school built on land conveyed by the School Development Authority, or SDA, and/or Camden to a nonprofit entity, or whether those students would be given only an enrollment preference.
• Whether Camden is prohibited from conveying district-owned land for a Renaissance project without first determining that the tract in question is “no longer desirable or necessary for school purposes.”
• A significant unanswered question is whether the SDA can convey any site in which it has expended public funds for site remediation, site development and design, all of which under the Hope Act must be undertaken by at the “sole” expense of the non-profit entity.


• The RFP does not specify any time, place or mechanism through which public input and comments, which are required, can be heard and the expedited schedule does not provide enough time for the notice of a public hearing.
Also not spelled out, according to the ELC are: site lease or sale information, financing details, details about what defines an attendance area, financial assurances from the proposed operator, various attendance eligibility issues, teacher and staff recruitment and retention, plans for meeting proficiency goals and plans for parental and community involvement.
Sciarra’s letter closed by saying: “We strongly recommend that Camden withdraw the RFP for further development, and to await regulatory guidance. We are prepared to meet with the board its representatives to discuss these concerns and to assist in revising the RFP to ensure that the interests and needs of Camden public school children are properly addressed in any future Renaissance school proposal.”
The board offered no response to the comments after Ragsdale spoke.


Re: Request for Proposals, Renaissance School Project
Dear Ms. Ragsdale:

I am writing in response to your request for Education Law Center
(“ELC”) to review the Request for Proposals for Renaissance
School Project (“RFP”), dated May 18, 2012, recently made
available by the Camden City Board of Education (“Camden”). As
you know, ELC serves as counsel in the landmark Abbott v. Burke
case and, in that capacity, represents children attending public
schools in Camden. Based on an initial review of the RFP, our
preliminary comments are set forth below.

First and foremost, Section 13 of the Urban Hope Act (UHA)
requires the Commissioner of Education to adopt regulations to
effectuate the purposes of the Act. N.J.S.A.18A:36C-13. We are
unaware as of this date that the Commissioner has issued the
required rules, even in draft or proposal form. As a result, the
RFP is premature and should not have been issued by Camden,
especially since there are a several significant issues that
require State guidance. Some of these issues include whether
students in designated “attendance areas” would be eligible for
automatic enrollment in a Renaissance School built on land
conveyed by the School Development Authority (“SDA”) and/or
Camden to a non-profit entity, or whether those students would be
given only an enrollment “preference.” N.J.S.A. 18A:36C-8. As
you are aware, this is a major area of concern related to the
Lanning Square project if Camden abandons having the NJ School
Development Authority build a new Camden school in order to
facilitate a non-profit Renaissance School project on the site.

Another major issue necessitating regulatory guidance is whether
Camden is prohibited from conveying district-owned land for a
Renaissance School project absent a determination that the tract
in question is “no longer desirable or necessary for school
purposes.” N.J.S.A.18A:36C-12. Further, there remains a
significant question as to whether the SDA can convey any site in
which it has expended public funds for site remediation, site
development and design, all of which under the UHA must be
undertaken by at the “sole” expense of the non-profit entity.
N.J.S.A. 18A:36C-7 and 12.

In addition to these issues, the RFP, as drafted, fails to
address critical elements for any proposal to finance, construct
and operate a Renaissance School project. Some of these
deficiencies include:

1) information and details on the site and whether it will be
acquired or leased, the prospective terms of the lease or sale,
and the parties, including any third parties or governmental
entities to be involved in the transaction;

2) information and details on the proposed financing of school
construction, including the extent to which per pupil revenue
will be needed to support servicing the anticipated construction
debt;

3) identification of the proposed enrollment attendance area, the
student and family demographics of the students to be enrolled in
the proposed area, and an assessment of those particular students
for academic, social and health services, and other needs to be
addressed by the proposed school project;

4) the financial ability of the non-profit to pay for planning,
design, code compliance and other necessary professional
services, since these costs are the “sole” responsibility of the
non-profit entity under the UHA;

5) the manner in which the proposal will address the admission of
students to the Renaissance School, including the prohibition in
the UHA against any discrimination on the basis of intellectual
or athletic ability, measures of achievement or aptitude, status
as a handicapped person, proficiency in the English language, or
any other basis that would be illegal if used by Camden;

6) the manner in which the proposal will ensure automatic
enrollment of all students residing within the designated
attendance area, and the policies and procedures to be employed
in such key areas as special education, school discipline,
alternative education, and student transfers to other schools;

7) if the attendance area will not be subject to automatic
enrollment in that area, the manner in which the students will be
admitted, including any proposed lottery for student selection;
8) a plan for attracting and retaining effective teachers and
other support staff, in light of the prospective academic and
other needs of the prospective student enrollment;

9) the plan for achieving the student proficiency goals
established for renewal in the UHA;

10) the cooperative arrangements, if any, that will be made to
coordinate educational programming, curriculum, assessment,
support services for students with disabilities and other special
needs, and other critical areas with the Camden district and
other Camden public schools; and

11) plans for parental and community involvement in the school.
Finally, the UHA requires that the selection process be subject
to public input and comment. N.J.S.A.18A:36C-4(b)(15). While
the RFP notes this statutory requirement, the timeline provided
in the RFP does not specify any time, place or mechanism through
which public input and comments could be collected or heard.

Furthermore, the expedited schedule does not provide sufficient
time for provision of notice for a public hearing at which public
input and comments could be heard. The failure of the RFP to
make any provision to satisfy the public input and comment
requirements of the UHA is a glaring omission, and the schedule
should be revisited to provide explicit times and locations at
which public input can be solicited and considered.

In light of the absence of State regulations implementing UHA,
and many concerns highlighted above, we strongly recommend that
Camden withdraw the RFP for further development, and to await
regulatory guidance. We are prepared to meet with the Board its
representatives to discuss these concerns and to assist in
revising the RFP to ensure that the interests and needs of Camden
public school children are properly addressed in any future
Renaissance School proposal.

Sincerely,
David G. Sciarra
Executive Director

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