More cash for Cami crony’s firm?

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Alison Avera
Alison Averra

Newark’s so-called “Renew Schools” reform strategy may have failed, but that’s not stopping Cami Anderson, the city’s state-appointed schools superintendent,  from giving a hefty raise to a private company, Turnaround for Children, that was supposed to help some of those schools improve. The  company’s chief executive officer, Alison Avera, is a close associate of Anderson who was given a top Newark schools job by the superintendent and boasts a resume remarkably similar to Anderson’s.

Anderson wants to raise the amount of money given to Turnaround for Children from $700,000 this year to $990,000 next year. The item is expected to come before the Newark school board this week. It’s unclear whether the board can or is willing to stop Anderson from giving the non-profit a 41 percent raise.

Turnaround for Children provided services  for at-risk children at Chancellor Avenue School, Cleveland School, and Thirteenth Avenue School. The organization brought its own people to the schools after counselors and other school employees were laid off or reassigned. Its own website says student test scores should be a measure of its success–and, by that same, self-imposed measure, Turnaround for Children failed.

From 2012 to 2014, the two years of the “Renew Schools” experiment, the percentage of students at Chancellor Avenue passing the state NJASK tests in language arts fell from 30.6 to 20.7 and in math from 47.3 to 38.4. At Cleveland, the drops were 25.3 to 21.6 in language arts and 41.1 to 26.6 in math. Passing rates at Thirteenth Avenue fell from 18.3 to 17.3 in language arts and from 24.3 to 20.1 in math.

Anderson asks for the extra money for Turnaround for Children out of a “desire to increase the capacity of the district and schools to improve social-emotional learning.”

Avera, the chief executive officer of Turnaround for Children, should be well-known to Newark residents because she was, in fact, a high-ranking assistant to Anderson for the first two years of Anderson’s tenure in Newark, which began, like Avera’s, in 2011. Avera held the position of strategic adviser to Anderson and interim Chief Strategy Officer for the Newark Public Schools.

For these two positions, Avera was paid  $132,848 in 2011 and $245,845 in 2012–a total of $378,693, almost as much as Anderson herself was paid.

But–and this is probably why Avera is not well known in the city–while she worked for Anderson, she wasn’t paid by the Newark Public Schools. Avera  was paid by the Foundation for Newark’s Future (FNF), that mysterious concoction of money and politics put together by former Mayor–now US Sen.–Cory Booker, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and Gov.–and presidential wannabe–Chris Christie.

The FNF tax returns for 2011 and 2012 carry Avera, a Brooklyn resident, as both a payee and grantee who provided the Newark Public Schools with “technical assistance” and “consulting support.”

Her own resume indicates she left Newark to join Turnaround for Children in June, 2013, although she continues to list herself as a consultant through a private firm known as Advisera Consulting.

Avera’s and Anderson’s resumes are extraordinarily similar. They both began teaching through Teach for America (TFA) and both served as TFA officials–Avera as vice president of alumni affairs and Anderson as New York executive director. They both earned master’s degrees at Harvard. They were both graduates of the Broad Academy, an unofficial school begun by billionaire Eli Broad to train public school administrators to like charter schools and other forms of public school privatization. They both worked–and at the same time–for the New York City schools.

And, of course, they both came to the Newark schools in 2011. In September, 2013, a few months after Avera left Newark–with nearly $400,000 in FNF money–to join Turnaround for Children, Turnaround for Children was awarded its  first $700,000 contract by Anderson to help turnaround the “Renew Schools” that would shed all those regularly employed counselors and social workers and other support staff whom Anderson believed were no longer needed.

Regular school employees were shown the door. Cami Anderson’s close associate got a sweet, revolving door: The company Avera runs got a $700,000 contract.

Curious minds might want to know: Did Avera and Anderson discuss what they could do for each other in the future? Did they know Turnaround for Children was going to get its big contract before Avera left Newark to work for Turnaround for Children? Could Avera’s hiring by Turnaround be a condition of Turnaround getting the contract?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9 comments

  1. Joe

    “Anderson wants to raise the amount of money given to Turnaround for Children from $700,000 this year to $990,000 next year.” Hey, wait a minute, I thought throwing more money at the schools doesn’t work and is not the answer (according to the right wingers, Tea Party types and Ayn Rand crowd). The school privatizers don’t want more money “thrown” at the real public schools because they do want more money thrown at the private for-profit companies that benefit from destroying the actual public schools.

  2. Becca Field

    Just when it seems it could not get worse. Just when it seems the sell off of public schools to charters is the biggest danger. We are reminded once again that Newark is being used by self-serving private interests at every level – most disturbing is that this organization is to provide support for kids most in need but it looks more like they are using children in poverty to line their own pockets. It is repugnant. I hope the Mayor has something to say about this. This is a critical piece and it must be addressed by public entities.

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  4. Lloyd Lofthouse

    Imagine that, more evidence of the double standards in education.

    In the private sector when you fail, you get a HUGE raise.

    In the public schools, when students don’t achieve the IMPOSSIBLE goals set by the NCLB, RTTT, and the Common Core agenda that mandates 100% of children MUST be college/career ready starting with kindergarten—a goal that no country in history has every achieved— teachers are to be ranked and yanked based on student test scores, while an all out war is being waged on teachers’ unions and funding for public schools is cut.

  5. Nikki P

    Those that use the excuse that there is a deficit, therefore, necessary educational resources cannot be afforded must be looking at a different set of books. The bloated salaries of “consultants” is an aberration. Why cant the children of Hawthorne avenue school, as well as the staff, have access to a technology teacher. Other schools I am sure are missing key personnel. The children of Newark are already set up for failure within the 21st century age of technology. How are the children suppose to take these computer based exams without proper instruction, especially the youngest of children who are just starting out. But, they say, there’s no money while the fat cats get fatter.

  6. NWK TEACHER

    What a joke!!!! Turn around for children has done nothing for renew schools. They have strategies yes, but the strategies are useless in the real classroom setting. So many of our students are so complicated have so many problems that it goes far beyond Turn Around’s abilities. They never work with children which makes it’s name very ironic. Please wake up Newark! Stop dumping money into programs that are just useless. Trust me, I am in a renew school and live through this Turn Around crap week after week!

  7. Bill Wolfe

    There are remarkable parallels to what is happening in Newark schools as with the State open space (Green Acres) funding program.

    In that case, funds were diverted from urban oriented and DEP programs, including state parks, and given to open space funds, including grants to elite private non-profits.

    The cuts are likely to force public employee layoffs at DEP, as that money is used instead by elite private groups.

    Cronyism, insider self dealing, privatization, attacks on public employees, policy manipulation by corporate oriented private Foundations, and transfers of resources from the most needy to the most greedy.

    • Bill Wolfe

      oh, and the lion’s share of the Open space funds goes to keep the gated community backyards of NJ’s landed gentry green and free of the riffraff.

      Just look to Harding Township, home of Christie CoS Egea, as a perfect example of a place founded on “Gentleman’s agreements” and “restrictive covenants”.

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