Christie gets in heated exchange with charter school opponent

This is an article from the Asbury Park Press, here is a link to the article:

VOORHEES — A vocal foe of a planned charter school in Cherry Hill got under Gov. Chris ’s skin during a town hall meeting here Wednesday.

About an hour into a session that had been cordial and laced with applause, Cherry Hill resident Alan Erlich interrupted Christie as the governor was answering a question about the school, Regis Academy. Emotions quickly escalated.

“I don’t have a solution for every problem,” Christie said to Erlich immediately after the interruption. “You had an opportunity to speak before. Here’s the bottom line: I don’t have a solution for everything.”

But after Erlich charged the charter school’s approval was a favor for a Christie supporter, the governor denied the claim.

“Who are you talking about?” asked Christie, who went on to say he does not know Amir Khan, a pastor who is organizing the school at a church complex in the Ashland area. “I haven’t given one friend a charter school.”

After the heated exchange with Erlich, Christie briefly turned back to the woman who had questioned him and told her he’d get back to her in a second. He then continued his ire toward Erlich.

“It’s guys like you who are rude and yell out in the middle when I’m trying to answer this woman’s question that does not allow for civil discourse in this state,” the governor said, drawing applause from some audience members.

“Let me tell you something,” Christie continued, “If you don’t like the answer, I’m sorry. That’s the answer.”

Christie then fielded a couple more questions, without interruption, before ending the meeting.

“Him calling me rude didn’t bother me,” Erlich said Wednesday night from his home. “He called me rude, I called him a liar. What bothered me is that he’s still avoiding the questions asked of him about the charter schools.”

The charter school is to open in September for K-4 students from Cherry Hill, Voorhees, Lawnside and Somerdale. Residents and elected officials in those towns have been in an uproar, saying the publicly funded charter school will divert badly needed tax dollars from local districts.

Regis Academy’s initial funding includes $1.9 million from the Cherry Hill district and about $725,500 from Voorhees. The charter school is to lease space at Khan’s Solid Rock Worship Center.

Prior to the clash with Erlich, Christie seemed to appease charter-school foes, in part by expressing support for legislation that would require local approval for such schools. Christie said he hopes legislators will give him a reform bill within the next six months.

“My belief is that we should be focusing on charter schools in failing school districts,” Christie said.

“I do not believe that charter schools are best suited in districts, in general, that are successful districts,” he said to loud applause.

“I believe my feelings are very clear to the commissioner,” Christie responded when pressed by a Voorhees woman as to why he hasn’t put more pressure on Commissioner of Education Chris Cerf to stop the approvals of charter schools in successful dsitricts like Cherry Hill and Voorhees.

“I’ve been very direct to the commissioner. He’s got the message. Trust me that I will aggressively purse the (reform) bill and that will make things a lot easier.

“I have no interest,” Christie added, “in making the lives of parents, school board members and administrators in successful districts that are turning out college- and career-ready kids more complicated.”

Cherry Hill Councilwoman Melinda Kane said she was disappointed that “things got ugly.

“I certainly felt the frustrations of the Cherry Hill and Voorhees residents about (Regis Academy). And I wish (Christie) would have had a better way of dealing with the people’s anger,” Kane said.

“That left me with a bad feeling,” she said of the angry exchange. “But I understand the people are frustrated.”

Stephanie Jacovini, a Regis Academy critic from Voorhees, said residents are upset with the planned school. “But I think (Erlich) was out of line. There were quite a few questions about the charter school asked and answered. We’re all feeling angry, but the way he just blurted out in the middle of the governor answering a question was unprofessional.

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