Mayor Ras Baraka, citing “chaos, graft, miseducation,” demands people take back Newark schools

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Baraka: Time for the people to take back their schools.
Baraka: Time for the people to take back their schools.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, saying the state administration of the city’s schools is operating “outside the rule of law,” has called on the people of his city to follow the example of thousands of protesting students and “use all possible avenues” to rid the school system of its state masters.

He stopped just short of using the iconic phrase “any means necessary” to eliminate the state school regime–but “all possible avenues” is close enough.

Baraka, citing instances of what he called “chaos, graft and mis-education,”  repeatedly attacked Cami Anderson, the state-appointed superintendent of the city’s schools.

But he only mentioned her name once, referring to her subsequently only as the SAS–state-appointed superintendent. In 2011, Gov. Chris Christie appointed Anderson, a former political operative for past Newark Mayor–now US Sen.–Cory Booker. Booker brought in Anderson and formed an alliance with Christie to make Newark a model charter school  district for the state–and, perhaps, for the nation. Christie has repeatedly praised her. Christie’s state education commissioner, David Hespe, while assuring critics he is trying to curtail her abuses, has repeatedly praised her, awarded her bonuses, and extended her contract.

In response to demands from Baraka and others that Anderson be fired, Christie has rebuffed the city’s religious, political, governmental, and civil rights leaders, calling himself the “decider” who has decided to keep Anderson at the helm of a state-operated system that first came under Trenton control in 1995.

Although Baraka has repeatedly called for Anderson’s ouster, his letter bore new urgency–both because of events in the city and because of its tone and timing.

The letter follows a march by more than 2,000 high school students from City Hall to the ramp that connects Route 21 to all the major highways in the northeast part of the state–1 and 9, 22, 78, and the NJ Turnpike. The students could have paralyzed the state but they called off their “die-in” on the highway after less than an hour.

That march followed by a week another march in which Baraka himself participated. And his police department protected the dissenters, showing the mayor’s political and practical support of the growing movement.

But things have gotten even more tense. The principal of Central High School–a school once run by Baraka himself–released a letter accusing the state-operated district of breaking the laws protecting special education students. The open defiance of Anderson’s tactics by Sharnee Brown has been seen as a serious challenge to Anderson’s ability to remain in control of the district. If other principals join Brown in defying Anderson, she would be unable to enforce her plans.

At the same time, the Newark school board has been pressing hard on Anderson’s awarding of thousands of dollars to a close associate in the form of payments to the former assistant after she left the state for a new job. Board members believe she has regularly awarded close friends unrecorded raises, using private grants that do not appear in school  budgets or financial statements.

Baraka’s letter lists examples of how Anderson broke the law or used her position to reward friends and punish political enemies.

He called on the city’s people to join in the fight against Anderson, pointing out the battle can no longer be left to outsiders. Baraka wrote:

“It is impossible for us to look this reality in the face and continue to be passive observers of the destruction of our district, misappropriation of taxpayers’ money, and violations of the rights of students and residents. It is time we make the community’s demand for the removal of the SAS heard and use all possible avenues to do so. I urge our community members: call the Governor’s Office, the State Board of Education, and US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

“We can no longer tolerate the idea that other people want more for the children of Newark than the people of Newark. Those who work for, believe in, and uphold the interests of the families of Newark need to do everything in our power to uproot this insidious notion from the efforts to transform public education in our city.”

The full text of his letter follows:

May 28, 2015

 

Dear Community:

 

The facts can no longer be ignored. Our schools are being failed.  They are not failing; they are being failed. Our schools have been attacked by a narrow reform agenda that amounts to nothing more than chaos, graft, and mis-education.

 

In 2012 State Appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson (SAS) brought Newark eight renew schools, which are now performing worse than they were before they were dismantled.

 

In 2014, the SAS brought us the One Newark Universal Enrollment Plan, requiring all students entering kindergarten, high school, and, where applicable, Sixth Grade, to participate in a city-wide choice plan. That same year, the SAS unilaterally closed three schools and reopened them as charter schools. She then announced seven more renew schools.  The SAS recently declared, without any stakeholder involvement, the designation of 10 additional schools as turnaround schools.

 

Here is a picture of what our Newark Public Schools district currently looks like:

 

  • There are 271 employees without placement, costing the district $22,573,340.  However, there is a $70 million dollar deficit for 2014-2015 and 2015-2016.
  • 60 percent of principals have been removed, replaced, or retired since 2011.  Barringer and West Side High Schools have had a different principal each year and a teacher turnover of 20 to 40 percent annually.
  • Chronic absenteeism is up and support staff in schools has been eliminated.  The district, however, presents 100 percent attendance rate on state report cards.
  • In 2012 there were 12 alternative education programs for overage under-credited students. Though we have 3,800 disconnected youth in our city, none of these programs remain.
  • In 2011 there were 495 Ninth Grade students enrolled in Barringer High School.  235 of these students are currently seniors at Barringer and less than 100 qualify to graduate.
  • As a result of One Newark there are an unprecedented number of special education students across the city enrolled in schools without the services to meet their needs.
  • As a result of One Newark more English Language Learners across the city are in schools without the services to meet their needs.
  • The State Department of Education has failed to implement the Regional Assistance Centers in Newark as determined for all of the 28 schools identified as Priority and Focus schools in the State-operated Newark Public School district, as required by the Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA) Waiver approved by the United States Department of Education on February 9, 2012.
  • The SAS has refused to attend a Newark Public School Board meeting for 16 months.
  • The district paid illegal payments to Dr. Tiffany Hardrick, while she was employed by a school district in Arkansas.
  • The district has entered in numerous contracts with close colleagues and friends of the SAS.

 

These problems are the result of the failed leadership of the SAS. All of this has occurred with no community input or approval and with a complete absence of transparency about what is happening in our schools. The SAS is running amuck and operating completely outside of the rule of the law.

 

It is impossible for us to look this reality in the face and continue to be passive observers of the destruction of our district, misappropriation of taxpayers’ money, and violations of the rights of students and residents. It is time we make the community’s demand for the removal of the SAS heard and use all possible avenues to do so. I urge our community members: call the Governor’s Office, the State Board of Education, and US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

 

We can no longer tolerate the idea that other people want more for the children of Newark than the people of Newark. Those who work for, believe in, and uphold the interests of the families of Newark need to do everything in our power to uproot this insidious notion from the efforts to transform public education in our city.

 

Last week our students organized the largest student protest of its kind in the history of our city.  They realize their education and the future of our city is at stake. We must stand with our students and reclaim our schools. We must do it now.

 

Sincerely,

Mayor Ras J. Baraka

14 comments

  1. North ward resident

    Thanks mayor Baraka, my dear people of Newark. the mayor has spoken. We will no longer allow others to decide our fate. Let’s arise and believe in our city, We can do better and this is the only SAS who has constantly defied our city. Our schools are flooded with Substitute teachers while most certified teachers and principals are in rubber rooms and without placement but receiving salary. What did this SAS did that NPS is in deficit? She surrounded herself with friends and associates with 6 figure monthly salary. Chief of staff, three PAs, director of talent match, director of information, director of communication. Cory Booker and Chris brought her in as puppet to get rid of neighborhood schools and to enrich their friends and associates. This will only happen in our city, not even in Irvington or in Maplewood our neighboring cities. She only robes Peter to pay Paul. What a bold and sensible reform indeed?

    • booklady

      Dr Blake-Garrett, You understand urban education. Left you voice messages 2014 when Bob Braun’s work moved me to become a gadfly. Hope your role inspires others.

  2. public education supporter

    As a non-resident who works weekdays, I would love to see the Mayor, the student’s union, the teachers’ union, community members, parents and so on organize a rally on a Saturday or Sunday. I realize that it makes sense to protest when Central Offices/City Hall, etc. are open and operating, but I also know that there are people inside and outside of Newark who can’t participate in events during week days. Perhaps networking with the Abbot Leadership people would also widen the net…I’m ready to march against Cami, any weekend day!

    • Urban Educator

      I think there are more than 200 to 300 Special Education students district wide who are either not receiving any services, or are not receiving the level of services specified in their IEPs. The administration fails to recognize that IEPs are legal documents.

    • teacher1

      Good Point!! I would love to march and support, but I am teaching in a turn around school all day!!!!

  3. jesse McFarland

    if you want her, all you have to do is start pulling the IEP’s of the special needs students in the comprehensive schools. There should be at least 200 to 300 children out of compliance.

    If you want to use the Freedom of Infirmation Act to pull some attendance records from power school. Go to the comprehensive schools Then you can ask her how stundents miss 40, 50, 80 or more days out of the school year and still manage to pass and graduate.

    • Iqway

      Why have parents not gone to the the ACLU these are serious IDEA laws that are being broken. Anyone know of any lawsuits pending or started against the district? Civil rights ?

  4. mike

    Go Ras Go! You must lead the anti-Cami, anti-Christie movement to take back Newark Public Schools. You represent the parents, kids and community of Newark more than anybody.

    Bob Braun: You are absolutely correct. Ras Baraka is the one person who can unite all the stakeholders in the city to force a return to state control and the resignation of the state-appointed superintendent. He has been modest about this but the moment has chosen him.

    • mike

      The Mayor of Newark leading ongoing protests of the students of Newark public schools would be a voice and force even the corrupt NJ and national media could not ignore.

  5. Iqway

    Bob,

    The parents and community thank you for your ethical reporting. I personally witnessed what the NPS administration did to Newark Early College HS and how they systemically dismantelled the public school initiative to only support and keep Bard EC. I saw for myself all the support for the Girls and Boys Academy and barely books for the other 2 schools housed at Spencer last year.

    It was awful what they did to the families and children with bold face abusive power and control.

    As of tonight Arts High Alumni are asking for support. The grapevine in social media has stated that the Super plan now is to create a Arts Charter School and dismantle an 84 year old institution which is Arts High School.

    Many of the famous alumni from Arts High are now going to get involved to support and now save Arts High School.

    I am a Newarker and an Alum of Arts High and I have never seen the disregard for students, family, and community rights!

    I agree with a comment above it is time for parents, teachers, administrators, and community to walk hand in the Newark Student Union.

    This is not just one person we will be challenged with; its an entire machine. However, it is a great year to stand up! Its Presidential Election Time lets shine a huge light on Newark. Lets walk hand in hand with the children and the Mayor!

    As a parent I am proud to see the Central High Principal to have the heart and courage to stand up for true justice against NPS for our children. Many others are only concerned about their jobs!

    There are parents ready; just tell us when and where!! This is long overdue! Awake the sleeping gaints!

    Support and spread the words to save all three historic Newark Magnet high schools; Arts High, Science Park, and University High.

  6. Kimi Wei

    I love that Mayor Baraka refuses to call the SAS by name. She deserves to go down in the annals of education history as a nameless blob.

  7. booklady

    Bob,
    •We know that NPS budget had challenges for years because of old school buildings. BUT what were the deficit $ when Dr Janney and Marion Bolden served as superintendent? They didn’t have EWPs or lots of $175K hires.*

    •I’m picturing a meme with Uncle Sam saying “We Want You to Pay for Cami’s $70 Million Deficit”
    Hope one of your many readers can do it.

    *Gabrielle Wyatt, Executive Director of Strategy, with Harvard degree, lists experience on LinkedIn as Graduate Fellow, Office of AchEivement and Accountability. She’s paid $135K+ and can’t proofread what we expect of a K-8 teacher?!

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