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Public sounds off on charter school proposal

October 3rd, 2012

The Newburgh Enlarged City School District hosted a public hearing on Thursday, Sept. 27 concerning Newburgh Prep, a proposed charter high school that would offer local 16- to 20-year-olds who have not graduated from high school a second chance at a New York State Regents diploma.

Newburgh’s Assistant Superinten-dent of Finance Michael Pacella began the public hearing by explaining that because charter schools are publicly funded educational institutions, they receive basic tuition payments from the resident public school districts as calculated by the NYS Education Department.

Based on the school’s projected first-year enrollment of 105 students, Pacella said the district would be expected to pay a total of $1.5 million ($14,796 per student) as well as additional financial obligations such as transportation, textbooks and nursing services.

Tom Fitzgerald spoke next, apologizing for thinking that very little of the cost for his proposed charter school would come from the taxpayers.

“I apologize for my ignorance,” he said. “I’m afraid I didn’t completely understand how this funding process works. I never meant to mislead anyone.”

Despite being disappointed with the details of the funding, Fitzgerald was adamant that the plans for the school should move forward.

“We need to educate our kids,” he said. “Without hope for the young people of Newburgh there is no hope for the city.”

Chris Eachus, a Democratic candidate in the 2012 Senate race and a Newburgh Free Academy science teacher, spoke out against the charter school proposal, which is in the final stages of the NYS Education Department approval process. While Eachus agreed that the dropout rate in the city is a huge problem, he said there are ways to address it without charging the overburdened taxpayers.

“The school district must take responsibility for this problem instead of passing it on to a private entity,” he said, suggesting that aspects of the 100-page proposal could easily be incorporated into the Newburgh school district.

Some people, like Newburgh Teachers Association President Art Plichta also expressed concern that the charter school would be bad for public education while others, like Orange County Youth Bureau representative Rachel Wilson, thought the idea would provide an opportunity to put young people on a more promising and productive path.

Former City of Newburgh Mayor Nicholas Valentine, who is currently in the process of trying to get his own charter school off the ground, offered his support to Newburgh Prep.

“Is there a cost?” he asked. “Yes. There’s always a cost. But what is the end result? You have the opportunity to save 105 students.”


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