Feds will investigate “One Newark”

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PULSENJ's Sharon Smith
PULSENJ’s Sharon Smith

The deeply flawed state school reorganization plan known as “One Newark” faces a federal investigation. In response to a detailed request for a probe from PULSE New Jersey, a parent activist group founded by Johnny Lattner and Sharon Smith, the U.S. Department of Education will determine whether the plan–which has confused the lives of thousands of city children and their parents–violates the civil rights of Newark parents.

Lattner and Smith, joined by national Journey for Justice director Jitu Brown, will announced the details of the investigation Wednesday at noon during a press conference scheduled for the steps of City Hall.

“We made the case that One Newark’ discriminates against children, parents, and teachers, especially in the South Ward,” said Smith, who has been working on bringing the feds into Newark for months.

Smith says she hopes the investigation, authorized by Title 6 of the federal Civil Rights statute, will be prelude to suspending the “One Newark” plan and replacing it  with what Brown calls “sustainable school transformation.”

Brown’s organization is an umbrella group seeking to stop the mass closing of public schools and their replacement by corporate-driven, privately-operated charters and voucher schools. It includes, not just representatives of Newark, but also groups representing parents in Camden, Jersey City, and Paterson, like Newark, state-operated school districts that have tried to force school privatization on unwilling parents.

Smith says she expects the federal investigation to focus on three schools in Newark–Hawthorne Avenue, Bragaw Avenue, and Roseville Avenue. Cami Anderson, the state-imposed schools superintendent in Newark,  has concentrated on schools in the city’s South Ward.

Anderson has a special relationship with leaders of TEAM Academy Charter Schools and had hoped to turn virtually the entire South Ward over to the privately-operated charter school, part of the national KIPP charter school chain.

Parent activists–especially at Hawthorne–have worked against Anderson’s plans. Its principal, H. Grady James, has so far refused to apply for his own job at Hawthorne, contending the school–the highest achieving elementary school in the district–doess not need to be subjected to Anderson’s renewal plans.

Title Six of the Civil Rights act forbids any agency receiving federal funds–and the Newark schools receive federal funds–from discriminating on the basis of race. The federal government’s website explains:

“If a recipient of federal assistance is found to have discriminated and voluntary compliance cannot be achieved, the federal agency providing the assistance should either initiate fund termination proceedings or refer the matter to the Department of Justice for appropriate legal action. Aggrieved individuals may file administrative complaints with the federal agency that provides funds to a recipient, or the individuals may file suit for appropriate relief in federal court. Title VI itself prohibits intentional discrimination. However, most funding agencies have regulations implementing Title VI that prohibit recipient practices that have the effect of discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin.”

PULSENJ–“Parents Unified for Local School Education”–has been working quietly “in the background,” says Smith, as parents in Newark protested Anderson’s plans–backed by Gov. Chris Christie–to privatize Newark schools.

“We were looking for the appropriate legal action to show that the plan discriminated against people of color,” she said.

PULSENJ filed the complaint against “One Newark” May 13, as part of its commemoration of the 6oth anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling that outlawed school segregation. The organization wrote:

In a letter to Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the organizations ask for an immediate investigation.

“Education ‘reformers’ and privatizers are targeting neighborhood schools filled with children of color, and leaving behind devastation. By stealth, seizure, and sabotage, these corporate profiteers are closing and privatizing our schools, keeping public education for children of color, not only separate, not only unequal, but increasingly not public at all.”

Jitu Brown explained that federal education law encouraged discrimination and privatization by allowing the privatization of public schools as a consequence of school failure. Journey for Justice, the umbrella organization he heads, persuaded the federal government to add yet anther possible outcome of school failure–“sustainable school transformation,” the replacement of failing public schools with community schools that have adequate resources to ensure student success.

Brown says he hopes a a finding of discrimination will allow the development of community schools based on that model.

“What has been lacking–not only in Newark, but also in places like Chicago, New York, and New Orleans–is community input to help develop plans for successful public schools. We have been faced with top-down education policies that have failed because they lack input from the people who are most affected,” says Brown.

This is true not only in Newark, Brown says, but also in Chicago, New York, and Washington, DC.

Brown pointed out the reforms in these towns have been based, not on providing resources to the schools, but on opening up private markets to entrepreneurs.

“The programs are test driven and narrow,” says Brown.  “Teachers don’t receive the resources they need. Kids are treated like criminals. If parents complain they don’t receive the wrap-around services their children need, they are accused of stealing.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

23 comments

  1. Jay D.

    Bob,

    Heard today that all the Technology Coordinators in the District got let go…by email. Could you investigate? Millions of dollars in equipment in each building with no one to oversee it. Can’t wait until September!!!

  2. Becca Field

    This is so important as a new form of structural pressure on the district. We have to maximize the impact of the investigation by continuing to bring to light what may seem unbelievable to many but is in fact reality to many more. Congrats to PULSE and Journey for Justice for their persistence and wisdom to know how to navigate a system stacked against them to work in their favor.

  3. Pingback: Feds will investigate “One Newark” | Bob Braun’s Ledger ← NPE News Briefs
    • Steve Des

      Where is it? Sleeping on a park bench in the Ukraine while the Newark schools – and its teachers are thrown to the wolves. The NTU collects a ton of money each pay period – one percent of each member’s salary. What does it do with all that loot? Stand by and do nothing when members need it. As an example, last year all the attendance counselors were laid off. What did the NTU do in response? Write a letter to Commission Cerf. Did the NTU file an appeal to the NJ Civil Service Commission? No – the NTU didn’t even know that the attendance counselors were all civil service employees. And these are mandatory positions required by NJ state law!!! So what should the members expect from the NTU? Looking for jobs after they are laid off.

      Come September members will find they have all been tossed under a speeding bus, just like it did will current contract

    • newaekbluesman

      Jazz we are involved,not your problem it belongs to us and we take care of all our own.So get your guys behind us not getting another screw job on our pension and health insurance.

      • Jersey Jazzman

        Blues, I think you know my work well enough to know that I am pro-union and pro-teacher. I think you also know that, Bob and a few others excepted, no one has done more to expose what is really going on with Newark’s schools than me.

        So forgive me, but I think I’ve earned the right to ask the question: is the NTU getting on board with this? Do they support the PULSE complaint? Are they planning on bringing their own legal actions?

        I think these are reasonable questions to ask, and I’ve not seen the NTU make any statements about how they plan to deal with One Newark before school starts in a few short weeks.

        • newaekbluesman

          The NTU provided the necessary documents,your right is to mind the business of your own union,your members have many questions start there.What the hell are you doing to our pensions and health insurance?Your members earned the right to get answers.

  4. karla

    If concentrated on the children and not what they feel or think would work they would realize that every child is different and they have different needs, not every child is raised in a loving home not every child has good examples not every child has a parent that cares about their education not every child has a parent that is actually home every day with them not every child has a home cook meal when they come home some children live with the elderly grandparents some children have parents that place themselves in difficult situations like prison drugs alcoholism physical abuse mental abuse verbal abuse we want to talk about what our children need sometimes you need to break down the reasons why the act the way they act not everything is full of cherries some people go through these things but they have that one person that always encourages them maybe they don’t have any encouragement Newark is not a broken city it is full of beautiful people that love each other we just need to understand the backgrounds and understand the difficulties are they going through and help them in these difficulties so they don’t feel like they need to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders and concentrate on making their lives greater.

    • Didi

      What a bunch of BS! Newark schools aren’t falling apart; they’ve already fallen, crumbled & burned! When I came there 14 years ago, the kids cared, did homework, attended classes, stayed for extra help. Then Cami Anderson came in & brought NPS to an all time low. Politics ruined NPS along with the corrupt Union; they’re in bed together and anyone who says otherwise is on the payroll or just plain ignorant! Roger Leon is probably the only sincere advocate for NPS. I never met anyone who cared more about the kids in Newark. Make HIM Superintendent and see . How things change for better in the 1st year. He’s a mover & a shaker & the kids respond to him and the teachers follow his lead. NO ONE gives a crap about Anderson & NO ONE cares about making her look good. Put a man in charge who both students and teachers will work for and watch Newark soar to new heights!

      Bob Braun: I am letting this comment stand but I cannot agree with the characterization of the NTU. If you have evidence, bring it on but it is too easy to throw around words like “corrupt” when what you mean is that you disagree with the NTU’s policies or actions.

      • Joe Del Grosso

        When my father passed away he left me his good name.You call me corrupt.My lawyer will contact Mr. Braun,I assure you I will find you and have my fathers name remain without blemish.Now your name is on the line and I will get a court order to expose it.

        Bob Braun: No one called you corrupt.

  5. Frances R. Irizarry

    Finally some pro active push back! So few of the public are aware of what is happening in Newark. Parents are being told such positive things about choice amd charter schools and they can see for themselves the lack of resources in the neighborhood schools caused by the state takeover and Cami Anderso.
    I am very proud of the parents whom are fighting back. Where is the AFT and the NTU in this fight?

    • newaekbluesman

      On the front line with the parents and teachers,nothing happens by accident and the union is busy fighting not blogging.

      Bob Braun: I congratulate the NTU and I don’t agree with the sentiments expressed by those critical of the union but bashing blogging bashes me–which, of course, you are free to do. I am disheartened by the amount of energy expended by those who should be directing it at the privatizers.

      • Joe Del Grosso

        No Bob you are much then a blogger,you are a true newsman from the old school,and enjoy that respect,the NTU if it were in the least corrupt our enemies would of done us in long ago,we run a clean union on diminished revenue,the cost of 60 tenure cases is stunning,we are fighting trench warfare and will when the war,the battle is costly to all of us.i will defend my unions reputation as well as my 45 years in education.My good name is what my father urged me to always protect.

  6. Steve Des

    With Feds opening an investigation this does not mean the One Newark won’t be implemented in September. By the time the Feds come out with a report and recommendation it will be well into 2015 and far too late to reverse One Newark.

    • Becca Field

      This opens opportunity – credibility of the community voices increases, attention increases, heat increases. We do not know which straw will break the camels back, but these substantive actions are an important part of the fight. You are right that the investigation will not stop One Newark in September in all likelihood. But that does not mitigate that we have gained important opportunity.

  7. Lisa Parker

    I am appreciative teams are coming together on this very important issue regarding our children’s education. Not one suburb has charter schools driven by corporate interests, in those communities not only is public education provided with the resources for the children to be successful, those school districts and parent involvement do not allow it. We need to be preparing our children for the future to be eligible for college and the trends for employment

    • Stressed

      One comment on suburban schools: Those parents (and for a long while it was me) pay outrageous property taxes to fund those schools. They see that chunk of money (school tax) every time the tax bill comes. When schools need something, they raise money for it, because the taxes don’t cover everything. They raise tens of thousands of dollars. They won’t allow charter schools and outsiders come in and start telling them what to do because they have made personal investments through their taxes, fund raisers, and daily involvement. I’m not at all saying that the parents of Newark are not ‘invested’ in their children’s education but it’s very difficult to compare state funded school districts to districts that are locally funded and controlled. As a teacher in Newark, my experience during the Cami regime has be one that has seen money shifted away from important and necessary programs and departments – to the experimental testing ground she’s made of Newark, it’s residents and children. Everything she does is evidence that she has little real-life experience as a teacher, running and being in an actual school building for any length of time – I don’t think she’s ever been a principal. There are reasons why there are time-experience requirements to advance in education. She is so out of touch, she qualifies as another Christie scandal – scandals that always seem to take several years to become evident. In the meantime, how is she going to be stopped? This investigation should be marked as an emergency.

      Bob Braun: I’m afraid it’s not so simple. I own a house in Elizabeth and pay nearly $10K annually in property taxes. A friend owns a house in Harding, worth a lot more, and pays less. Look around Newark–big corporations like Pru get tax breaks, much of the land is owned by the Port Authority, by Rutgers and its medical school, by county government, by the Catholic and other churches–all non-tax-paying entities.

      • Stressed

        I understand it’s not as simple as that. When you have a lot of apartment buildings you have a lot more families and children to educate per square mile than a suburban or more rural place. I get it. Somewhere there was a comment about push-back in the burbs so I was trying to address that and the wrecking ball theory Anderson is trying out on the people of Newark. Perhaps I was trying to say too much in a small space.

      • Who else

        I have to agree with Stressed. It’s not about Newark not having the money for the kids because of corporate tax breaks (although that is another valid issue). It’s about the money NPS has, and it has plenty, being diverted from the students to central office administrators and consultants. I also live in a $20,000 + property tax town that receives absolutely no state funding, and I work in Newark. I tell anyone who will listen (and not too many are interested) that the teachers in Newark are every bit as good as the teachers in this “top school system”. But, as Stressed indicated the money from the taxes actually gets to the students. Also, agree about the tens of thousands raised (per school) by the parents for anything else the kids need. It goes directly to the kids. Ever since the Cami regime, it seems more and more money is taken out of the schools, and funneled into central administration, as well as building up the reputations of, and access to, the charter schools.

      • Mr. Outside

        Bob is right. But you are not so far off. The overwhelming vacant lots and boarded up, foreclosed homes not paying taxes account for the lion’s share of Newark’s operating revenue. Since Newark is not receiving that revenue, they are operating at a deficit. That Newark is operating at a deficit isn’t anything unique or shocking. Even large corporations, and even municipalities do so on a regular basis. What makes it troubling with regards to Cami Anderson is that although she is aware of the deficit, she willfully, naively, stubbornly, irresponsibly, and with magnificent hubris pursues and implements measures that contribute towards the deficit; firing civil service commission employees and replacing them with expensive consultants; Broad fellows in residence, and legions of over paid and under-experienced administrators. The “cost overrun” of the administrative overhead, marketing efforts, consultation fees, and believe it or not, the costs to redo the mistakes that many of the newbies at the board are making, pull more dollars from district classrooms and students.

        These are dollars that hire people with titles like, Senior Manager of Stakeholder Engagement. It lacks the finesse of very fine B.S., I grant you, but this is a real administrative position created over the summer to work in Hespe’s commission to appease Newark’s residents amid the approach of One Newark’s launch. What that means is, Cami knows there is a problem; a financial one with a direct influence on student learning, and her solution, One Newark exacerbates that problem, for which she needs to provide another solution which in turn perpetuates the original problem in the first place.

        But to your point about how [suburban] schools supplement their resources; suburban schools have engaged parents and PTA’s which rival small unions. These PTA’s are self-governed, self-mobilizing, and self-organizing. There are few schools in Newark with that level of parental involvement. And though we could debate why that is, the fact is Cami authorizes $22,000 in catering for “community engagement,” but in suburbia, they have flea markets, bake sales, time and space. Cami sent engaged parent Darren Martin to jail last school year because he wanted to have a conversation with his fellow parents at his kids’ school. Can you imagine what she’d do if he tried to sell brownies to raise money for the students and the school?

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