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.