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Residents Criticize Proposed Charter School

Speakers at Jericho School District’s forum on proposed Doshi STEM Charter School largely disapprove of the project

Most of the residents who attended the Jericho School District public forum on a proposed STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) charter school on the SUNY Old Westbury Campus on Tuesday, Aug. 14 voiced strong opposition to the proposed school. They were on the same page as the Jericho Board of Education, which had voted unanimously at the regular meeting before the forum to oppose the creation of the school.

Superintendent Henry Grishman noted that his main concern with what is being called the Doshi STEM Charter School, and charter schools in general, is how the schools are funded under state law.

“The funding mechanism for charter schools is not fair to public schools any place in the state of New York, whether you’re talking about the city, Long Island or upstate New York. The funding formula siphons funds away from public schools to private schools and that is a flaw that we can’t let stand,” said Grishman.

Grishman explained to the public in attendance that for any Jericho student who chose to attend the charter school, the district would have to send the new school between $23,000 and $24,000, money that would come straight out of Jericho’s general fund. Furthermore, since the campus of the proposed school is housed within the Jericho school district, the district would be responsible for providing nursing services, and possibly special education services, to all of the students who attend the charter school. Jericho could then bill other districts for those services.

While the Jericho school board only took a position specifically against the proposed Doshi STEM school, Grishman clarified that he has taken a position against charter schools in general in his capacity as a member of the New York State Superintendent’s Association. He also noted that the New York State School Board’s Association has come down against charter schools.

However, for those against the establishment of a charter school in the area, Grishman did have some hopeful news: The AU Foundation, Inc., of which Dr. Leena Doshi is a co-founder, is considering finding other ways to improve STEM education on Long Island. According to Grishman, in response to concerns that members of the community would strongly oppose the formation of a charter school, the foundation is currently examining other educational models that work “inside the system,” rather than establishing an outside school. The foundation has supported STEM initiatives within public schools in the past that have proved successful.

Right now, the superintendent continued, the foundation is considering a model that could run under the umbrella of Nassau BOCES, similar to its CTE (career technical education) program. Since it is considered strong in STEM education, some of Jericho’s existing programs might even serve as the model for similar programs at other districts. Grishman said that he is continuing to meet with representatives of the foundation, and expects them to come to a decision as to which model they will use—charter school, or not—sometime in September.

When Grishman opened the floor to public comment, one person spoke up in favor of the charter school: Peter Moffett of the Jericho-Brookville Lions Club. Moffett claimed that the monetary impact on Jericho would be small, and made an impassioned appeal to the administrators to think of the children from other districts who could benefit from the charter school.

“I would think you educators, from administration to the teachers, would know better, or care enough about these people, these kids, to give them a chance. They’re not going to be taking anything away from Jericho,” said Moffett. “Where’s your heart? Give these kids a shot!”

The superintendent responded that he is seeking to provide for students in other districts by working with the foundation to find a different STEM initiative that works within the existing public school system, but Moffett continued to advocate for the charter school. Eventually board president Joseph Lorintz pointed out that the purpose of the evening was not to have a debate, but to solicit comments on the school to submit to the SUNY board of trustees.

Lawrence Liu, a district parent, had many comments to offer the board. In addition to stating that the charter school could raise property taxes further when high property taxes are already driving young people off of the Island, Liu said that he believed that creating a new high school was the wrong approach to the problem. If Long Island isn’t training enough people who are proficient in the STEM disciplines, as SUNY Old Westbury President Calvin O. Butts contends, doesn’t that speak to a problem on the university level rather than the high school level?

“If 20 universities and colleges on Long Island cannot produce an adequate workforce in STEM areas, then one charter high school will not help to solve the problem,” said Liu. Other residents suggested that perhaps leadership at SUNY Old Westbury should focus on the task of better educating college students instead of opening a high school, agreeing with Liu.

PTA Council President Alisha Reiben also spoke out against the school, although she clarified that she was speaking as a parent and not for the PTA; as of the day of the forum, the PTA had not yet met to discuss the issue. Reiben said that she believed the charter school would have a detrimental effect on Jericho students, as well as students from other districts due to the siphoning of funds. She also raised the concern of what would happen to the school if the foundation stopped funding it.

“It’s not that we don’t care about kids, but my number one priority is every kid that lives in Jericho, in this school district,” said Reiben.

Jericho High School teacher Mike Hartnett compared the charter school system to a lottery, a system that creates a few winners and many losers. In opposition to Moffett’s comments, Hartnett contended that a charter school would hurt the weakest schools with underserved students the most, making it a moral issue for him. Charter schools siphon money from struggling districts, hurting all their students while “the person with the golden ticket gets to move on,” he stated.

“What happens simultaneously is maybe 10 from that district make their way into the STEM school, while the other 100 that applied do not make their way in. Meanwhile, the district that they’re in has been gutted of that program, and no longer has the opportunity to build it,” said Hartnett.

Other speakers included several public school teachers, both current and retired, who noted many of their concerns with charter schools, including the fact that such schools often lack certified teachers. Meanwhile, other parents expressed concern that the charter school could hurt Jericho by causing the district to lose teachers, increasing class size.

“We are fighting to keep their classrooms as small as they can be to most effectively deal with every child on the entire spectrum,” said Gina Levy.

At the conclusion of the forum, Grishman said he was optimistic that an alternative solution would come to fruition. The SUNY Board of Trustees is expected to rule on SUNY Old Westbury’s application for the charter school on Sept. 1.