Request to Education Commissioner to Reject Renaissance School Applications in Camden

Save Our Schools NJ requests that Commissioner Hespe reject the Mastery and Uncommon Schools applications for renaissance school projects in Camden because they violate the Urban Hope legislation and regulations.

On May 19th, Save Our Schools NJ, a non-partisan, grassroots organization with more than 18,000 members across New Jersey, sent a letter to the state’s Acting Education Commissioner David Hespe alerting him to multiple violations of the Urban Hope Act and regulations by Mastery Charter and Uncommon Schools Charter in their applications for renaissance school status in Camden, and asking the Commissioner to reject both applications.

Save Our Schools NJ identified three types of violations of the Urban Hope Act in the Mastery and Uncommon Schools applications:

1) The applications fail to propose new renaissance school facilities or to provide the required information about those facilities.

The Urban Hope Act requires the construction of a new school facility or facilities and documentation and assurances related to the location, construction plans, safety and financing of those facilities.  The Mastery and Uncommon applications to the DOE contain none of the required information, documentation and affirmations.

In fact, the applications make clear that they do not include specific school facility projects for approval at all. Mastery, in its application, baldly states that it “is not including a facilities address in this application” and that they “are open to facilities options provided by the District.”  In its application, Uncommon states that “[w]e do not yet have a proposed address for the initial school facility in which Uncommon Camden plans to locate, but can affirm that all Uncommon Camden campus facilities will be located in the required urban campus area.”

2)   The applications fail to provide the required opportunity for public input

The Urban Hope Act mandates that applications for renaissance school projects in State-operated school district such as Camden contain “evidence” that the State District Superintendent convened at least three public meetings to discuss the merits of the renaissance school project.  The application also must contain written public comments received during those meetings. This mandate is essential to ensure that residents, parents and students in those neighborhoods understand the details of the project the district proposes to construct in partnership with the non-profit entity, and how the new school will serve their children, once the project is completed and operational.

The State Superintendent of Camden failed to include any “evidence” of the required public meetings where “the merits” of the projects were presented and properly considered or to submit any written comments on the projects.  This is not surprising as the applications do not contain any of the required information and documentation of the location, description, funding and other elements of the “newly constructed” actual projects as there is no intention by Mastery and Uncommon Schools to build new schools within the time frame required by the Urban Hope Act.

3)  Mastery and Uncommon Schools proposed to house their renaissance schools in temporary facilities, which is not permitted under the urban hope act

In their applications, both Mastery and Uncommon Schools indicated that they intend to partner with Camden in operating schools in temporary facilities, including, in the case of Mastery, an existing and operating Camden public school.  The Urban Hope Act does not allow schools to be operated on a temporary basis in temporary facilities, whether those facilities are in existing Camden public schools or in some other building.

“In light of these multiple violations of the Urban Hope Act and its regulations, we feel the Commissioner must deny the applications by the Camden School District, Mastery, and Uncommon Schools,” said Susan Cauldwell, the Executive Director of Save Our Schools NJ Community Organizing.

Additional Information:

The letter that Camden mailed to parents

The Mastery Charter recruitment flyer that Camden mailed to parents

The letter we sent to the Commissioner on Monday, April 21, 2014

Philadelphia Inquirer coverage of the April 14, 2014 letter

Courier Post coverage of the April 14, 2014 letter

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