ELC LAUNCHES PROBE OF STRUGGLING LAKEWOOD PUBLIC SCHOOLS
July 16, 2012
In response to repeated concerns raised by Lakewood public school parents and residents, Education Law Center has filed a request under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA) for detailed documentation about the Lakewood school district’s plan to reconfigure school grade assignments and for academic and budgetary records from prior years.
The Lakewood district, located in Ocean County, serves 5,269 students and operates four elementary schools, a middle school and a high school. Ninety (90) percent of the students in Lakewood are low-income, 14% are English language learners, and 16% are students with disabilities. The district population is predominately students of color – 22% Black and 69% Latino.
While enrollment in the Lakewood public schools has remained relatively constant in recent years, the community has witnessed massive growth in the number of students attending private and religious schools. Current estimates indicate that 80% of the school-aged children in Lakewood attend private schools.
The relationship between the Lakewood public schools and the extensive network of private schools has been an ongoing concern for parents of public school students, taxpayers and residents.
ELC filed its OPRA request in response to concerns related to a district proposal to disperse first- through-sixth graders currently housed at Spruce Street School to three other elementary schools, as well as ongoing concerns about the district's special education program.
The ELC OPRA request includes:
• data on the classification rates and expenditure of funds for special education, disaggregated by race, as well as documents related to the allocation of special education funds to private schools, which was the subject of a 2006 NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) investigation;
• budget documents related to the expenditure of funds to private school students, which now makes up approximately $30 million of the district’s overall budget, about half of which is spent for private school transportation;
• documents related to the performance of the district’s schools, considered by the NJDOE to be low performing, and related to the district’s aging facilities in need of repair.
“It is imperative that all public school children in Lakewood, including low-income children, children of color, and children with disabilities, receive the ‘thorough and efficient’ education to which they are entitled,” said Ruth Lowenkron, the ELC senior attorney who made the OPRA request.
“We will continue to assist Lakewood parents and community leaders in their efforts to improve educational opportunities for students attending Lakewood public schools,” Lowenkron added.
New Jersey’s OPRA law requires that public entities respond to document requests within seven business days.
Ruth Deale Lowenkron, Esq.
973-624-1815, x 21