For the first time ever, the editors of the Asbury Park Press have taken a public stand on an issue on the front page of their paper.
Dear Gov. Christie,
It is absolutely outrageous that you have remained silent for months on what the state might do to help fix Lakewood’s dysfunctional public school system, after choosing to visit a controversial private school there Thursday. How could you?
How could you have driven right past the Oak Street public elementary school — one of several troubled public schools in Lakewood, which are 90 percent minority — on your way to the private School for Children with Hidden Intelligence, and not have said to yourself, “Ignoring the public schools just isn’t right”?
How could you not have asked yourself whether it was appropriate to visit the privately run but largely publicly financed school, which caters almost exclusively to the Orthodox Jewish community? Just days prior to your visit, we reported that the public school district is the subject of an investigation into racial discrimination — an allegation the state itself had made several years ago but ultimately did nothing about?
How could you not have recognized that your visit to the private school Thursday would be perceived by the students, parents, teachers and administrators in Lakewood’s long-neglected, struggling public school district as a cold slap in the face?
How could you not have been thinking about the letter the Lakewood school board president sent you two months ago, asking for your help — a plea you have largely ignored — and wondered whether you were sending the right message by visiting a private school before responding in any way to the needs of the public schools?
How could you —who have time and again boasted of your record as an education reformer, one particularly committed to ensuring good education for the disadvantaged — not have been thinking about making a stop Thursday at one of Lakewood’s public schools, as well?
Your insensitivity is stunning. And your indifference to a community crying out for the state’s assistance has been shameful.
We reported that the district is being investigated by the Education Law Center for possible racial discrimination. Among other things, the center is looking at how the district’s child study teams handle placements to SCHI. Officials there claim, improbably in our view, that few minorities have been enrolled at SCHI because few have applied.
“It’s alarming to me that he comes to Lakewood, and instead of investigating what the real problems are, he goes to the SCHI school,” said the Rev. Glenn Wilson, president of Lakewood UNITE. “I applaud the efforts of the SCHI school, but the real issue in Lakewood is the public schools that are failing.”
How deaf can you be to the community’s concerns — or at least that part of the community that isn’t Orthodox? It isn’t too cynical to suggest that your visit — and your ongoing snub of the public schools — smacks of politics. The Orthodox in Lakewood are an important political constituency. They supported you in overwhelming numbers when you ran for governor. Lakewood’s Hispanic and black community did not.
Nonetheless, it’s inexcusable that as governor, you have fashioned yourself as a champion of those in disadvantaged school districts, yet you literally have turned your back on Lakewood’s public school children.
Our “Cheated” series in May outlined the dreadful state of affairs in Lakewood’s schools. The district has dismally low graduation rates and test scores. It lacks textbooks, many of its classrooms are overcrowded and some of the school buildings are crumbling.
The school’s administration has been at war with the teachers union, whose members suffer from low morale and spend too much of their time dealing with discipline problems and language problems among the majority Hispanic student body.
As if that weren’t enough, the district has faced severe financial challenges aggravated by some board members’ attempts to funnel as much public money as possible to the Orthodox community’s private schools rather than toward improving the performance of the children in the town’s public schools.
This was all spelled out clearly for the community and for officials in a position to do something about it, yet your office has repeatedly refused to comment on the series’ findings. On Friday, your spokesman, Michael Drewniak, did not respond to our phone calls asking for an explanation on why you were able to find time for a stopover at SCHI, but failed to make time for the troubled public school district.
Gov. Christie, you have made public appearances in the Shore area at least four times in the past couple of months. You have remained silent on Lakewood.
We believe it’s time for the citizens in Lakewood, disgusted by the shame of its public schools, to send you a message and demand that you take action.
We encourage them to write, email, call or visit your office en masse to demand answers on why you continue to let Lakewood fail. They should insist that you hold a town hall meeting in Lakewood, as you have done in so many other parts of the state, addressing its public schools. They should ask you to listen to citizens’ concerns. They should ask you to offer whatever financial, curricular and logistical support you can to help fix the district’s problems.
We feel strongly that it’s time for the you to serve every constituency in Lakewood, Gov. Christie. This community desperately needs your leadership.
Will you help?
The Editorial Board of the Asbury Park Press