Riverhead Charter School Superintendent Raymond Ankrum speaks at the Feb. 11 public hearing. Photo: Maria Piedrabuena

Leading into Tuesday night’s hearing on Riverhead Charter School enrollment increase, I knew exactly what to expect. I knew we would see taxpayers up in arms because the school district fed them false narratives.

I also knew we would see educators from the RCSD coalesce to show a unified front and support their community. It is nothing out of the ordinary. I commend the district for having pride from within their community. The show of collegiality and support for their school district was terrific.

Shout out to our amazing families

Thank you to our amazing families for showing up to speak their truth. Through a district provided translator, (which we specifically requested) our LatinX families were brave and proud as they helped to dispel myths about our school. One LatinX parent said, “When I talk to my friends in the community, I tell them to go to the charter school.” Well, word of mouth is working, because currently we have double the amount of applications than we had at this time last year.

Wait — there’s more

We saw residents from Aquebogue, Flanders, Jamesport, and Wading River. Most, if not all, of these residents, identify as white middle- to upper-class. So now we have white middle- to upper- class taxpayers primarily driving the narrative as to where other people, mainly low-income families should and should not be allowed to send their students to school. That’s where my concerns lie.

The district went on to push their malfeasance. The superintendent said on more than one occasion, “RCSD educates all students.” Honestly, when I hear the word education, I think of it as two-fold. Students will be able to read, attend college, and become productive citizens to give back to society.

In my opinion, the superintendent missed her mark Tuesday night. Instead of stoking the fears of taxpayers, and facilitating a presentation of the offerings of the high school, she should have spent more time on how she plans to reform the district. Having schools designated by the state as focus schools isn’t exactly an open invitation for families to stay in the district.

The upcoming bond

In the next few days, taxpayers in Riverhead will determine if borrowing $88 million is necessary to revive its schools. Tuesday night’s wrongful portrayal of our school was disingenuous and “Trumpian.” We have a vital bond vote coming up, and we need to “stoke the base.” RCSD did an outstanding job at the hearing of vilifying school choice.

If RCSD checks in with low-income parents in Riverhead, these parents will have a different version as to how the district has failed to meet the needs of their students and families for generations. Many of those families, also homeowners and taxpayers, weren’t in attendance Tuesday night to speak. Where were they? Were they not invited to the party?

Correcting misinformation

We heard the typical arguments against charter schools Tuesday night. Charter schools “cherry-pick their students.” Charter schools don’t educate the whole child. School choice siphons money away from traditional public schools. All the things that we know are not true but sound right until the fact-check.

The Riverhead Charter School has a lottery system. It means people apply for enrollment, and in mid-May, RCS draws names to fill seats. Cherry-picking would indicate that the names are pre-ordained, which they are not. Myth disproven.

The next myth pushed by anti-school choice folks is that charter schools do not educate the whole child. I invite you to come and spend a day at our school. Sometimes you just have to see things in action. You can hang out in my daughter’s class, as her joy for learning, like all of our kids at RCS, is infectious. Myth disproven.

In Tuesday’s presentation, Deputy Superintendent Sam Schneider stated that there are $18,000+ in funds allocated per pupil to the charter school. He knows our school only receives less than the state allocated per-pupil amount due to administrative fees that the district takes off the top. He also reiterated that the money follows the child.

If and when we go out for a bond to build our new high school, that will have zero impact on Riverhead taxpayers. The charter school absorbs the cost of building its facility. However, when the district decides to expand, via its $88 million bond expansion, on top of its $74 million bond expansion a few years ago (that still isn’t paid off), the taxpayers receive an increase in their tax liability. Myth disproven.

Bond vote

While I am not a resident of Riverhead, as a taxpayer in several jurisdictions across the United States, I will offer you some advice. Stellar schools spur generational change. Given the space concerns and the growing needs of the district, this is an opportunity to provide world-class facilities for students. It is hard to vote against the needs of children. Vote with your hearts, but do so in knowing that our school, the Riverhead Charter School, is not, and never has been a taxpayer burden to the district.

Raymond Ankrum Sr. is the superintendent of the Riverhead Charter School

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