Lakewood’s Igud Hamosdos Criticizes School Board


princeton-avenue-school-building-smallThe Asbury Park Press reports: A group of private school leaders in the township is criticizing the Board of Education regarding oversight of nonpublic special education next year, claiming one company is enjoying a monopoly over some programs at students’ expense.The group, Igud Hamosdos, which represents 70 nonpublic Orthodox Jewish schools, has argued that the school board routinely awards most of its state and federal special education contracts to the same company, Catapult Learning, instead of offering a “menu” of providers from which private schools can select.

“The parents entrust their children to us. They believe the principals and faculty know what’s best,” Meir Hertz, chairman of the group’s Grants/BOE Affairs Committee, said in a phone interview Thursday. “What right does someone else have to make those decisions?”

The school board granted two of the five contracts solely to Catapult, which will also share oversight of another two. That means the Philadelphia-based company will control services for learning disabled and handicap nonpublic students in grades K-8 as well as programs for speech therapy, and for evaluating and tutoring special education pupils.

School district officials, however, countered that other companies do play a sizable hand in the contracts.

For example, Education Excellence LLC will handle disabled and handicapped services for preschool students. And the contract for nonpublic Title I services, which tutor students falling behind in math and English, will be split between three companies: Catapult, Learn-It Systems and Tree of Knowledge.

Calls made to several board members were not returned Thursday.

Hertz admits he is satisfied with the two contracts that are shared by multiple vendors. Still, he and others object to what he calls a longtime “cozy relationship” between the district and Catapult, which he considers inferior to other vendors. A call to Catapult’s corporate headquarters was not returned.

The district’s business administrator, Robert Finger, said the total dollar amount in federal and state aid to fund the contracts has not been released, although Hertz estimated it to be about $25 million. A portion of Lakewood’s special education students coming from the private school community also attend The School for Children with Hidden Intelligence, a public out-of-district school that is not included in the grants.

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