Cerf, Christie’s man in Newark, tells principals to spend only 25 percent of approved budgets.

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The joke's on Newark--public schools can spend only 25 percent of their approved budgets.
The joke’s on Newark–public schools can spend only 25 percent of their approved budgets.

Newark’s public schools face an unprecedented financial crisis because of an edict from the state-controlled administration ordering all principals to freeze spending at 25 percent of their current budgets.

“It’s just not a cut of a few thousand or even tens of thousands of dollars for each school—right now, it’s a 75 percent cut in spending,” said a source close to the Newark school board who spoke anonymously because the source is not authorized to speak for the board.

This site reported earlier that a $15 million budget shortfall caused by the state administration would be made up of cuts ranging up to $400,000 or more per school. The cuts were confirmed by principals and by Newark Teachers Union President John Abeigon who cited the impact for a number of schools.

But the Newark school board source said the reductions in funds available to individual schools could be far worse. “I’m afraid they could be devastating,” the source said.

The reductions were ordered by Christopher Cerf, a charter school proponent and private business entrepreneur who once served as state education commissioner under Gov. Chris Christie. As commissioner, Cerf hired Cami Anderson, the state schools superintendent in Newark from 2011 until June of this year. Christie then fired Anderson and brought Cerf in as superintendent. He was then working for Amplify, a contractor with the Newark schools, and served as a member of the board of directors of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools.

Charter schools will not be affected by the cuts. In fact, Newark’s charter schools were held harmless from previous reductions in state aid to Newark by a transfer of $25 million from traditional neighborhood schools to the privately-operated charters earlier this year.

Cerf became state school superintendent in a deal in which Christie promised an eventual return to local control–Newark has been under state control for more than 20 years.  The board source expressed fear about the continued budget cuts on the promised return to local autonomy.

“We may get  control back but maybe there won’t be any public schools left to control,” the source said.

The city’s principals were informed of the budget cuts and  the 75 percent freeze on approved spending in a series of telephone calls from top assistants late Friday afternoon.

The state-operated school system has been running in the red for years, primarily due to personnel policies that allowed, at times, hundreds of teachers to be removed from their positions on little more than a whim of school principals or the state administration. Although Anderson tried to label the policies as “reforms,” they accomplished little more than creating a large segment of the work force—up to 10 percent—that was not working.

Anderson’s regime also was marked by extensive use of consulting firms and high salaries for top administrators—more than a dozen make $175,000 or more while Cerf makes $257,000 annually—and skyrocketing legal fees spent on generally unsuccessful efforts to fire veteran teachers.

The school board source said the elected panel would try to reverse Cerf’s decision.

“We will do what we can but, right now, we’re not sure what we can do,” the source said.

7 comments

  1. Sarah-Ann Harnick

    But charter schools receive ninety per cent of what traditional public schools receive from the district. The charters should be returning/saving a representative portion.
    Is there something not quite right at NPS? I would ask for an investigation, but the result would be another Mastro report. Haha

    Bob Braun: I don’t know the exact numbers (check with Jersey Jazzman), but that 90 percent actually goes to the schools. Traditional public schools receive substantially less per school because so much is spent on administration and other costs not imposed on charters. Also, charters receive substantial amounts of private money. Just look at the people, organizations, and corporations represented on their boards.

    • lola

      Hi Sarah Ann,
      The money that NEEDS to be analyzed and released to the public is where and how 100 million was spent, then analyze how much was squandered and stolen from public schools. Ask why on NPS website, you could download a line by line budget to see exactly what was going on in each school financially, and now you cannot.
      The truth is, in Newark, charter schools steal the cream of the crop (school placement algorithms, protected from freedom of information act) Christies friends make bank while thousands of middle class workers making a good middle class salary are being replaced by cheaper, charter school, scab labor.

  2. Tom Holmes

    OK, I accept that my math skills were all learned at a public school, but I’m having some trouble making these numbers add up.

    In a school, the single largest expense is staff. In any school I’ve been involved in (as parent, as taxpayer, as contractor), more than 1/2 of the budget goes to salaries and wages. Another healthy chunk goes to stuff like lights & heat and other “infrastructure-y” things that can’t be simply cut.

    Also, if, somehow, there was to be a 75% cut in funding to the 61 public schools in Newark, I expect that it would be conveyed by some means other than being ” …informed of the budget cuts and the 75 percent freeze on approved spending in a series of telephone calls from top assistants late Friday afternoon.” I would expect this kind of thing would generate some kind of paper trail.

    There are many, many terrible things happening to our public school system – in Newark, New Jersey and across the country. Let’s focus out attention on those things.

    Bob Braun: Be my guest and try to get the NPS flacks to deny it. You also might want to check out http://www.nj.com/essex/index.ssf/2015/09/newark_principals_asked_to_trim_5_million_from_bud.html#incart_2box_essex_index.ssf
    While I disagree with the figure, the story is the same.

    • booklady

      Mr Holmes, re how cuts conveyed:
      You may be considering a rational, reasonable, responsible leadership approach. Sad to say, that hasn’t applied to NPS for a while.

  3. Another Staffer

    It happened. A detailed breakdown of the cutbacks, which wiped out afterschool programs, some sports , basic supplies, and field trips, among other things, was revealed to the staff by the principal yesterday.

  4. Angry Teacher

    I hate to tell you all that it feels that the NTU leadership is indifferent to the fate of seasoned teachers who worked their lives away in the district! Here we have a superintendent who like his predecessor is rampaging unchecked, while the union leadership (all the factions) are too busy squabbling among themselves! How outrageous for the newly elected leadership to wait until school started to even attempt to reach-out to the teachers. In addition, I have a feeling that the new contract that is in the work will be worse than the previous disaster that half of the members agreed to!

    I hope I am wrong on this! I sincerely do.

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