HASCS eyeing St. Cecilia’s schools


An expansion plan by the lone charter school in Kearny will cause fiscal pressures for the local public school system, the district’s top school administrator warned last week.

Exactly how those constraints will play out won’t be known until the Kearny Board of Education strikes its final 2017-2018 school budget later this month, but layoffs and program cuts could be in the offing.

Schools Superintendent Patricia Blood said the state Department of Education has notified the district that it has permitted Hudson Arts & Science Charter School (HASCS), currently offering K to grade 5, to add a sixth-grade and to increase the size of each grade, from 60 to 69 students, beginning in September.

The DOE, Blood said, has also alerted the district that HASCS has been greenlighted to open a satellite school in Jersey City (no specific location was given) for grades K, 1 and 2, presumably to help accommodate its increased enrollment.

HASCS began operating last year out of the old St. Stephen’s School on Midland Ave., with 360 children enrolled.

State school law mandates local districts to fund charter schools up to 90% of the cost of educating students from the district’s budget.

For the current school year, the KBOE is providing HASCS $3,137,900 but, based on its projected growth, that figure will rise to $4,336,651 for the 2017-2018 school year, according to Blood.

That approximately $1.2 million increase, combined with higher costs for KBOE employee health benefits and $1 million of non-recurring revenue, “have created a deficit of $2.5 million and additional cuts will have to be made to the 2017-18 school budget,” Blood said.

Complicating the situation for the coming school year is the fact that the district’s labor contracts with all employee unions expire June 30, so new agreements – typically translating to more money – will have to be negotiated.

What all of this boils down to, Blood said, is that, “we may have to eliminate some staff and cut some programs. I anticipate losing some teaching positions and increasing class size. This could also impact student activities and athletics. We’ve already cut out professional development opportunities that are not free for our staff.”

It doesn’t help, Blood added, that the Kearny school district is ranked – along with five other Hudson County districts and Belleville – among the “top 25” districts in New Jersey rated “most under-funded and under-adequacy.”

The Kearny district has been striving – particularly with younger children – to put a lid on class size, Blood said. “We’ve frozen the number of children in kindergarten and first-grade classes at no more than 21.”

Among the district’s five elementary schools, Washington School has one K class with 21 and two with 18 each; Franklin School – the largest of the five – tops out at 19 in one K section; Garfield School’s largest K class has 18; Roosevelt School kindergarten classes range from 16 to 19; and Schuyler School has 17, 18 and 19 in each of its K classes, according to Blood.

Blood questioned whether HASCS, with its growth spurt, would manage to maintain its advertised goal of no more than 20 per class.

Plans filed with the DOE show that HASCS eventually aims to serve grades K through 8 with a total projected enrollment of 1,021.

The charter school has been actively exploring expansion of its physical plant by having made overtures to St. Cecilia’s parish for the use of the parish’s long-closed grammar and high school space at Chestnut and Hoyt Sts.

“They’ve made a proposal to lease the schools,” said the Rev. John Wassel, pastor of the parish. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Initially, the pastor said, a charter school representative contacted the Archdiocese of Newark which controls real estate deals involving its properties in the diocese to express interest in the parish school buildings.

That conversation was followed up with a visit to the site several weeks ago, the pastor said.

According to a description listed by the Archdiocesan property management office, the parish’s 3-story elementary school, built in 1908, comprises 36,000 square feet of space with a gym on the ground floor and 15 classrooms spread over the upper floors, with a cafeteria/kitchen area in the basement, while the high school, erected around 1920, has close to 16,000 square feet.

Part of the old grammar school is still used by the parish for Sunday School classes.

Wassel said the parish has been trying to find a prospective tenant since around 2010 after an alternative high school pulled out.

Wassel said the buildings are “certainly a drain on the parish,” in terms of maintenance expenses. “We’ve had a lot of people look at [the property],” he added, “but this is the first concrete offer we’ve had.”

Members of the parish’s finance committee were to have met recently to discuss the offer, he said.

Efforts to get further details from the Archdiocese were unavailing.

The Observer reached out to HASCS through its security chief for someone authorized to speak for the school but there was no response.


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