Support for Charter School, Though Some Say Money Isn't There

A public hearing on Monday night saw support for an application for a charter school at Timothy Hill Children's Ranch, though some - including the Board of Education - say an adverse impact on the school district would likely result.

Supporters who took to the podium Tuesday night at a at largely supported the idea of the Christian camp running its own school for grades seven through 12, welcoming the opportunity to provide an alternative choice for their kids, and mentioning the work that "the Ranch" has done over the years as one that points to a proven track record.

But in the midst of budget season in - at a meeting where Superintendent Nancy Carney said  is "absolutely the lowest budget-to-budget increase the district has ever had" - those who spoke out against the application made a point of their own: it all comes down to dollars and sense. And right now, they said, the school district doesn't have the funds.

"Mr. Hill has worked well with the district," said School Board President Ann Cotten-DeGrasse, referring to Timothy Hill's Executive Director, Thud Hill.

"But if it comes down to dollars coming out of the school district than I have to say, we are not in favor of anything that’s going to take from the 5,000 students that we currently service. And some of those being the kids at Timothy Hill."

Luckily for Hill, the ultimate fate of the charter school application doesn't rest in the hands of the school board, but rather the State Department of Education, which should hand out final approvals by June.

Timothy Hill Children's Ranch, located on Middle Road, has been open since 1980, housing teenage boys who come from troubled families. A graduate of Riverhead High School himself, Hill said at a recent meeting with the Riverhead Town Board that the reason he's applying to start the school is that over the last couple of years, his organization has been teaching some of its guests at the ranch in a homeschool-style setting, and found it has worked favorably. 

The charter school would complement the ranch by keeping many of those youths in an environment they are familiar with - a smaller one, surrounded by many of the people with whom they live.

Tuesday night, he recognized that branching out as a separate entity could impact the district, though he said he would work with the district to minimize any adverse affects.

"I do not seek to hurt the Riverhead district, though I know there are going to be some financial ramifications," Hill said. "But I do wish to extend that olive branch and say I am willing and eager to work with the school board."

The cost of charter school students is calculated on a per-pupil basis, with costs borne by local school districts. Financial Administrator Sam Schneider said RCSD budgeted $1,705,828 next year for approximately 103 charter school students, equaling an average of about $16,500.

Timothy Hill's charter application proposes opening with 55 students - all boys, to start - and making its way up to no more than 245 within the first five years. Hill guessed as many as 10 districts could be impacted within the first year should the application gain approval, as the school would be the only charter high school on Long Island, according to the State Department of Education.

While not all of those students would come from RCSD, the notion that the district could be in line to lose money - while mandated pension costs are on the rise and school districts across the state are forced to comply with a two percent tax levy cap - worried teacher union president Barbara Barosa, whose ranks fell by 15 last year with .

"My opposition is not one in philosophy or theory or the educational process they could provide. Its about funding," Barosa said. "We are struggling now to provide all necessary items for students –and if in fact we lose several million more dollars, I’m sure more will have to be cut."

About a dozen spoke in favor of the charter school application Tuesday night, compared to a few who didn't favor it - not counting the Board of Education.

Maura March 28, 2012 at 01:50 PM
Honestly I can not support a new all boys charter school in these economic times. My tax dollars are better served by supporting the schools we have and improving existing programs rather than spreading the money too thinly for an experiment. Timothy Hill does good work but most of us cannot afford to pay even more, especially for more students from outside the district.
Mashed Potatos March 31, 2012 at 05:08 PM
There are two high schools around the corner from Timothy Hill. They serve a purpose which should not include keeping these boys away from society so that they do not learn to function, except in a cloistered, sheltered environment. They must learn to exist in the real world as teenagers, or else when will they? Middle Road traffic is already dangerous along that stretch leading to the Northville Turnpike traffic light and there have been many accidents there. Teachers will be laid off, yet the RCSD is expected to turnover nearly $1,750,000 to educate students who could easily continue in the school district without the unfound expenditure of money in this recession, and for untold years to come.. These students can proceed to graduate from our existing school district without the construction of redundant new facilities for private means, taking away from the local taxpayers, student and employment base. The taxpayers cannot withstand this type of additonal loss of funding in these hard times. Timothy Hill clearly spends money like water and many, including myself, have donated for many years. I do not understand how in good conscience, it can ask for this massive amount of taxpayer money when local people are drowning and there are no signs of of relief.
meatwow April 01, 2012 at 11:38 AM
I agree with you 110%. This is another rediculous attempt to further drain the taxpayers pocket!


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