Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Paterson Charter Schools' Budget Surplus Criticized

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Paterson Charter Schools' Budget Surplus Criticized

Article excerpt

PATERSON -- In the latest salvo over the role of charter schools in New Jersey, an education advocacy group issued a report that says Paterson-based charter schools accumulated $6 million in surplus funds this year while the city schools were forced to impose layoffs because of budget woes.

The Education Law Center says in the report issued on Thursday that the state has not imposed the same 2 percent limit on charter schools' unrestricted fund balances that it applies to regular school districts.

The organization report says that were the 2 percent cap applied to charter schools, four of them in Paterson would have to return $5.4 million to the city school district. The report says that statewide charter schools ought to return $77 million to local districts.

"This speaks to the favoritism that the state seems to extend to the charter schools at the expense of the vast majority of the students in the district," said Jonathan Hodges, the Paterson school board president, in reaction to the report.

Under state law, charter schools receive a significant portion of their funding from local school districts through a per-pupil formula. In its current budget, the Paterson district provides more than $30 million to the charters operating in the city.

Hodges said the money retained by the charters could have been used to avoid some of the cuts imposed in the district, and he urged the schools superintendent to try to recoup some of that funding, based on a 2013 court ruling.

But representatives of charter schools in Paterson and around the state dismissed the Education Law Center study, saying that the report is misleading and that the organization has a track record of being "anti-charter."

"The organization has repeatedly criticized funding of charter schools while continually beating the drum for more money for bloated, inefficient and failing urban school bureaucracies," said Thom Ammirato, spokesman for the John P. Holland charter school in Paterson.

The New Jersey Charter Schools Association issued a statement criticizing the Education Law Center's report.

"In their most recent misguided assault on charter school viability, the ELC calls for a 2 percent limit on charter school fund balances without adequate research and without placing into context why charter schools must generate fund balances in the first place," the association's statement said. …

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