The Hoboken Board of Education has filed a lawsuit against the N.J. Department of Education and the Hoboken Dual Language Charter School (HoLa) over the school’s recently-approved state expansion to seventh and eighth grade, a spokeswoman for the school confirmed on Wednesday.
The expansion, which board proponents say will cost the district around $600,000 next year, has been a matter in contention since late last year.
The suit, which was filed against the state but names HoLa as a co-defendant, argues in part that Christopher Cerf, the department’s former commissioner, was not in a position to approve the expansion in early March because he had already announced his resignation.
On March 20, Cerf was replaced by acting Commissioner David Hespe, who the district is arguing should have been the one to make the decision. At the last Board of Education meeting, the board approved a $20,000 contract with a law firm to handle HoLa-related issues.
The district has opposed HoLa’s expansion for some time now, and went as far as to advocate against it in a letter to Cerf last November.
“A $64 million district using taxpayer money to sue a tiny and successful public school like ours is an unfair attack.” – Barbara Martinez
Superintendent Mark Toback and multiple members of the board majority have used the term “segregation” to describe what they say is the charter’s adverse affect on the district. Last month, Board President Leon Gold was quoted in an article on Salon.com claiming that charter schools cause “white flight.”
Charters are considered public schools and receive money from the state through the budgets of local districts. This school year, the city’s three charter schools – Hoboken Charter, Elysian Charter, and HoLa – are set to receive nearly $8.3 million in funding, up from $4.2 million in 2010. Both sides in the debate have given contradictory numbers for how much the charter schools cost the district.
The lawsuit also comes at a time when Hoboken taxpayers – who will likely finance not only the lawsuit itself but HoLa’s defense too – could face a substantial tax hike due to the school district’s preliminary budget, which was released two weeks ago. The budget contains a 3.9 percent tax rate increase and a levy, the amount that comes from taxes, of $39 million. Furthermore, the budget could mean that as many as 54 faculty and staff members could lose their jobs as a result, school officials have said.
The board’s tax increase and spending cuts are largely due to a reduction of federal and state funding as well as an increase in charter school funding due to HoLa’s expansion, which is costing the district upwards of $575,000, according to documents provided by the board.
On Wednesday, Barbara Martinez, HoLa’s spokeswoman and Board of Trustees president, criticized the district for including HoLa in the suit because it would result in high legal costs for taxpayers.
“A $64 million district using taxpayer money to sue a tiny and successful public school like ours is an unfair attack,” she said.
Toback did not respond to two requests for comment. Gold declined to comment as well, referring questions to the lawsuit itself, a copy of which the board declined to provide.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org