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Gleason Questions Board of Ed, Superintendent's Opposition to Charter

Board member Mark Gleason said he is not a supporter of the Hua Mei Charter School application, but disagrees with his peers' and the Superintendent's grounds for opposition.

At the Dec. 19 South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education meeting, Board member Mark Gleason spoke out against arguments by the Board, Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne and the PTA Presidents' Council in opposition to the proposed .

The Board and Superintendent expressed their arguments in from the Board to NJ Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf. Gleason's was the lone dissenting vote on the resolution approving the letter. The PTA Presidents' Council has posted an and emailed it to parents in the district.

Gleason was clear on the fact that he is not a supporter of Hua Mei.

"I am neutral on the merits of the Hua Mei charter application," Gleason explained in a follow-up email. "My problem is with the opposition mounted by the superintendent, board and community on the grounds that a charter school (by definition a public school) would take public funds away from public schools. The catchphrase of their argument is that Hua Mei would benefit a few at the expense of the many. In fact, that is what public education in America has done for many decades. All taxpayers contribute to cover the educational costs of those taxpayers who choose to have children and then choose to send them to public schools."

"In South Orange, we have been doing the same thing at the for many years—taking taxpayer dollars out of the high school to benefit a few dozen students who might benefit from a specially structured environment," Gleason continued.

Gleason noted that he has been critical of Montrose because he has not felt that the school has "delivered big enough results to warrant a) the additional per pupil expense, or b) the opportunity cost of using that facility for so few students. If and when Hua Mei fails to deliver quality education, I will be just as critical."

On MaplewoodOnline, one poster asked whether or not it was true that Gleason was "employed in the charter industry." Gleason addressed this assertion, pointing out that, as executive director of the Philadelphia School Partnership, his work supports schools of all types: district, charter, private, and parochial. "We are a 501c3 that raises funds to support the creation, expansion or turnaround of K-12 schools in the city of Philadelphia." Gleason commutes from South Orange to Philadelphia for this full-time position.

During the public comment portion of Monday's Board of Education meeting, Suzanne Turner and Cecelia Cancellaro, Co-Presidents of the Presidents' Council of the PTAs, responded to Gleason's criticism but stating that it is an initiative when they feel "there is an urgent need to protect all our students." Turner and Cancellaro asserted that, besides cost issues, another Presidents' Council argument against Hua Mei and other charters was the lack of local control in approval and management of charter schools. (See the video attached.)

Mary Meddahi December 21, 2011 at 06:30 PM
I just want to say what a disappointment I feel toward Mr Gleason and his comments on this charter school. To say he is for charters, but int the same breath, not Montrose because it's not performing as well as he'd hoped. To back the idea of charters idealistically without taking into account who or what they may help/hurt and then to say "well, I'll be against it if it doesn't perform" is ridiculous. It's like starting a forest fire (allowing the charter to set up shop) and then after the woods are decimated to say, "Well, that didn't go as I expected" it is a just inane. We don't need an elementary school in this town to teach a certain few Chinese, PERIOD.
David Frazer December 22, 2011 at 01:04 AM
What Mr. Gleason failed to appreciate in his comparison between Montrose and the proposed Mandarin immersion charter school is that the students benefiting from the former are, by definition, in danger of failing. For many of these students but for the interventions they receive at Montrose they would not graduate. The proposed charter school is, by contrast, simply a group of parents who want a specialized education for their children most, if not all of whom, would probably excel in the regular public school system. Certainly, there's been no showing by its proponents that Hua Mei is in any fashion targeted at students who are in danger of failing or otherwise underserved by the district. There's no reason to indulge such personal tastes in education with our very limited tax dollars.
DianaID December 22, 2011 at 04:15 PM
Yes, to elaborate a bit on David's excellent posting, charter schools were originally set up to provide options for those students for whom the public educational system is failing. While one can debate charter schools truly are delivering on that promise - please see recent writings by Diane Ravitch, who was a proponent and now an opponent of charter schools - there is no way that a Mandarin Immersion charter school is performing the same function. It is taking students and money from well-functioning public schools. Ironically perhaps, the Montrose program, whether successful or not, actually is a way to perform the function of a charter within the public school. And the fact there are relatively few students is related to the overall high level of education in the district.

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