By Mark Rosman
The Manalapan-Englishtown Regional School District Board of Education has voted 9-0 to pass a resolution supporting the Highland Park School District in Middlesex County and it has decided to participate in an appeal that involves the Hatikvah International Charter School in East Brunswick.
The board authorized and directed its attorney, the firm of Cleary, Giacobbe, Alfieri, Jacobs, LLC, to participate as amicus curiae (friend of the court) in support of the positions asserted by Highland Park in its appeal. The resolution authorizes the expenditure of district funds to participate in the case.
The case centers on the use of district funds to pay for children who live in Highland Park, and other communities, to attend the Hatikvah charter school. The public charter school is in East Brunswick, but enrolls students from public school districts across the state, including students from the Manalapan-Englishtown Regional School District.
The state Department of Education requires a public school district to pay tuition for students who reside in the district and attend Hatikvah.
According to the resolution, for the 2015-16 school year, approximately $102,000 in taxpayer funds was paid to Hatikvah that otherwise would have been used to educate Manalapan-Englishtown students. Over the past five years, approximately $244,032 in taxpayer funds were diverted away from Manalapan-Englishtown to Hatikvah, according to the resolution.
The resolution states that Hatikvah has recently applied for and received permission from the Department of Education to expand its enrollment to include grades six through eight and as a result of the expansion, additional students and funds
will be removed from the Manalapan-Englishtown district in order to support Hatikvah.
Highland Park has filed an appeal in the matter regarding Hatikvah’s expansion application approval by the state and in addition to challenging Hatikvah’s expansion, the appeal also challenges the Department of Education’s requirement that public school districts pay charter schools not located within their borders for students who attend the charter schools, according to the resolution.
The board members said the Manalapan-Englishtown district would benefit greatly if Highland Park is successful in its appeal and that is why they decided to become involved in the case.
In commenting on the board’s action, Superintendent of Schools John J. Marciante Jr. said, “The board is filing this action because (Hatikvah) is having a significant impact on the financial health of the district. In 2015-16 we had to budget approximately $102,000 to pay for eight students to attend the Hatikvah charter school. Since 2010 the district has sent over $337,000 to that school.
“In the proposed 2016-17 budget, I had to cut over $200,000 of instructional supplies and software to reach a balanced budget. If the eight students (who attend Hatikvah) attended Manalapan schools, or we were not responsible for their tuition, we would not have to hire new staff since such a small number of students would not impact class size and the budget cuts could have been reduced by 50 percent,” Marciante said.