Newark: The day the dream died, Oct. 19, 2015–Part One

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Baraka: What happened to Newark's radical mayor?
Baraka: What happened to Newark’s radical mayor?

If a history of Newark public education is written, the date of Oct. 19, 2015, will go down as the day the dream died. It will be written up as the day the forces of selfishness and greed, as personified by the clown we in New Jersey call governor, defeated the last best hope of residents of the state’s largest city for a rebirth of a liberating public school system.

From now on, it’s everyone for himself or herself. If there aren’t enough lifeboats for the passengers on the  sinking ship known as Newark’s public schools, then, well, the strong and the connected and the opportunistic will survive and those burdened with disabilities and language problems will simply drown. That is, after all, the message of privately-operated, if publicly-funded, charter schools. Hooray for me, the hell with everyone else. Or, as the Brits would say, “I’ve got mine, Jack, screw you all.”

Of all the events of that day (and other events will be detailed in Part 2), the most dramatic were the acts of omission and commission of the city’s mayor, a man who called himself a radical and yet acts very much in the tradition of Newark mayors who know where the power is and are drawn to it, perhaps out of political necessity. Ras Baraka, as I am sure even Ras Baraka knows, would not be mayor of Newark today if he did not position himself as the uncompromising champion of traditional public education over the forces of privatization, including the big-money people who believe privately-run charter schools should be the 21st Century missionaries to the city of Newark–the big money people who tried to quash Baraka’s campaign and elect Shavar Jeffries.

I still remember Baraka’s angry yet somehow reassuring words months ago to small knots of men and women who needed someone to say what they believed. Those small knots grew and grew into an irresistible force powered by hope and pride and determination. The people of Newark responded to what was, after all, a message of hope. This is the man who could face down the gangs and here he was facing down the biggest, most dangerous, best-funded gang of all—the state administration of Chris Christie.

People couldn’t help but cheer him on when, after he was elected, he promised to send a detachment of police to escort Cami Anderson, the state-appointed superintendent, from her office. So many saw him as the people’s mayor when he allowed student demonstrators to tie up the city and when he acted swiftly to correct injustices, like the pain inflicted on student leader Kristin Towkaniuk by a city cop.

“You are all the mayor,” he told his supporters after he was elected and many believed it.

Well, if the residents of the city were all elected mayor in the spring of 2014, then some of them now are more powerful mayors than others. When the planning board voted in compliance with Baraka’s wishes to allow Uncommon Schools (NorthStar) to build a new facility on Court and Washington Streets, Baraka let everyone know that some co-mayors are more important than others.

I have asked for an explanation of his action that day and I have been told he will not issue a statement to me. That’s fine. I will offer one for him: The truth is that, if the planning board voted against the proposal, the well-funded lawyers for NorthStar would be in court and, eventually, they would probably win. But a man who calls himself a radical would, at the very least, say something like, “Okay, bring it on—but we’re not approving this until someone assures us it won’t hurt the traditional public school students of the city.”

But he didn’t say that. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t appear at the meeting. He didn’t have an aide read a statement. He garnered the praise of those organized by NorthStar because it was clear he told the board what to do.

Just hours earlier, the mayor put out a statement saying expansion of the charter schools now was “highly irresponsible” and would “hurt the fragile infrastructure” of the public schools. He knows what the planning board did was wrong for public school children and yet it happened anyway.

Then a distraction. Someone posted a picture of him posing with TEAM Academy students holding a sign suggesting the mayor was one of presumably many “Newarkers for MORE KIPP schools NOW!” It isn’t easy to say but it was clear someone—and I doubt it was a child—set up the mayor to look silly. Ozman Shabazz and Eric Dawson gave the picture life on Facebook.

In response, the mayor took to YouTube to publish a Vlog that attacked, not his friends at KIPP who set him up, but unnamed critics for even mentioning and posting the picture. Well, not everyone was unnamed. One person was named. I was.

I was the only person mentioned in his rant against critics. So all this talk about using children was clearly aimed at me. No, Mayor Baraka, I didn’t use children. I didn’t pose in front of a sign I didn’t read. I have no power in Newark to help or harm public schools. I am a retired pensioner who just writes because that is what I do. That’s all I do. And I do it for myself—no one pays me–and I do it in support of my belief that only a vibrant, well-funded public school system—freed from the killing cancer of discriminatory charters—will help restore New Jersey’s cities to hope and prominence and grace.

In the entire five-minute video log not once did he specifically mention the planning board vote—an event far more important than his political gaffe in standing in front of a sign he didn’t read. Yes, he’s right—his unwitting pose for KIPP cameras did not contradict his earlier statement that charter expansion was “highly irresponsible.” But the planning board vote, which he did not mention, certainly did.

Let’s put to rest one statement that has become a cliché—the idea that Baraka cannot criticize charters because he is “the mayor of all the people.” In his video, he wove that in with the idea that his critics are hurting children.

Yes, he is mayor of all the residents—including public school children and their parents. He is the mayor of Isabel Troche and her family that has to send four children—three of whom are special needs– to four different schools because of the “One Newark” plan he promised to end but didn’t. And the “One Newark” plan is an integrated part of the effort to expand charter schools in Newark. Baraka is the mayor of countless parents who take buses in the dark to bring their children to schools far from their homes—and that happens because public schools have been closed and charters won’t take these kids.

“One Newark” didn’t end under your watch, Mayor Baraka. But NorthStar—run by people from outside Newark– got its new school.

I sit here and type, Mr. Mayor. I have no power. Accuse me of hurting children if you want—but you know as well as everyone else does that you were elected to end these abuses of the rich and the real outsiders like Donald Katz and you have not done that. Intead, Katz—a trustee of NorthStar and a resident of Montclair—has a seat at the table determining the future of Newark’s schools.

I cannot support publicly-funded charter schools as long as they discriminate and discrimination is in their very DNA–and public funds must not be used to discriminate. I do not blame parents for believing they must choose what they believe is best for their children. They must put their kids in the lifeboat even if that means other children certainly will drown–because public funds given to charters are taken away from neighborhood public school students.

But I do blame those in power for creating the hellish, racist, soul-killing conditions that render public schools the stepchildren of education—stepchildren to privately-operated charters. I do blame those in power who create racial isolation in New Jersey schools worse than that in Mississippi. I do blame those in power who have cheated Newark schools out of billions in state aid over the years. I do blame those who chase after the money that charters draw from Wall Street and the hedge-fund managers who think they are contributing to society by giving away backpacks.

Selfishness is not in the DNA of Newark’s communities but some are learning it from the charter masters and their political supporters. The sense of community seen in the streets of Newark the night the mayor was elected is giving way to the neo-Darwinism of the charter masters—get what you want for your child and just don’t worry about anyone else.

Newark was on the verge of throwing off Christie and his racist oppressors. The children were in the streets and they could have paralyzed the state.

But that’s all gone now. Now Newark has a committee, the Newark Educational Success Board, dominated by people who support and fund and run charter schools. Now Newark has a vague promise of local control—local control of a bleak educational landscape where the neediest get the least. Newark has all that, Mayor Baraka, because you made a deal with a man no one should trust, Chris Christie—a deal that put in power probably the single most visible champion of charter schools, Christopher Cerf, another Montclair resident.

Until Oct. 19, 2015, it wasn’t really clear what would happen. But, on Oct. 19, 2015, the future became obvious. It was the day the dream died.

27 comments

  1. Michael Fiorillo

    It would be bad enough if the attitude of charter operators (and, unfortunately, all too many charter school parents) was merely, “I’ve got mine, you get yours.”

    But since every tax dollar spent on a charter school is a dollar taken from the public schools, in reality that plays out as, “To get mine, I’ll take yours.”

  2. Ruth

    I’m done getting myself in an uproar; we who believe in public education for ALL, we who believe all children deserve a GREAT education delivered by educators who understand children, who understand what good teaching is, and who will do everything in their power to help children grow are sickened, but not surprised by yout article, Bob Braun! It was always a losing battle against the corrupt individuals who care nothing about making things better for ALL CHILDREN! Congratulations, Mayor, you are now one of THEM and you should be ashamed! This whole mess is disgusting. People who don’t know anything about educating children should step back and let educators work. When that happens, we will have a chance; until then, I give up! The loserly know-nothings have won…indeed! Our poor children have no chance!

  3. Bill Wolfe

    Bob – I’m going to have to disagree with you on one important point:

    You write that you have no power.

    You are wrong – you’re truth telling has enormous inspirational power and your superb writing and political analysis is extremely helpful in focusing efforts to hold politicians like Baraka accountable to the community and their own commitments.

    Keep on writing – and criticizing what’s going down. The fact that Baraka is now after you is the strongest evidence that your writing is effective.

    • Angel

      Many teachers (Black female specifically and older women in general) have been fired or forced out and the union did nothing to help. They want to file a class action law suit against Newark Public Schools. Any recommendations in or outside of NJ?

  4. ALLEN PATTERSON

    Bob, Part I was chilling, on point and I am glad that you refuse to back down from Ras (I refuse to acknowledge him as the Mayor). I strongly believe that his political capital is damage and the great citizens of Newark need to wake up and realize that we do not have a political prize fighter in City Hall. To be a so-called radical and not uphold the integrity and struggle of the great landmark decision of Brown v. Bd. of Education is sickening. If he was truly for traditional schools and if the lawyers of the charter school movement had decided to file a lawsuit, that would have galvanized the community who support traditional schools and a revolution would have started. But, keep in mind, in two years he will be running for re-election and he needs the charter schools cohorts and sponsors to support his campaign. It’s all about the Benjamins $$$.

  5. Donna

    Here is a message to Ras. The people who believed what you stood for, who elected you against Shavar Jeffries, are saddened and disappointed by your cold shoulder. Shavar was a wolf, dressed in wolf clothing. You have either become a wolf, or were one all along in sheep’s clothing. Shavar, he’d stab a person in the face, and tell that person “here it comes.” You, Ras, I’m saddened to write will stab a person in the back, and they’ll never see it coming.

    You deflect and blame Bob Braun for writing about your current/recent support of charters, or to paraphrase you, of ALL of Newark’s children, and you deflect and blame people for setting you up, for using children in the fight amongst adults, and you single out Bob Braun, who has tireless, and yes, fearlessly, reported on the Newark charter school shenanigans for years–and without him, the voice of many Newarkers would have been silenced–but I guess silence is what you would prefer, because now, the spotlight is shining on you.

    Like many, I am not “against” charters – I am only against the for-profit nonsense that occurs, where children and teachers are slighted, spend long hours and weekends, walk and eat in silence, and where “scholars” are reprimanded for the littlest of “infractions” and the neediest children are either a) not accepted at all, or b) counseled out. Also, public schools have been starved, and teachers bashed, and unions painted as villains — so that deep trough of public taxes can be shifted into hands of privatizers, almost always at bloated administrative salaries, where teachers come from TFA and feed the constant churn, and administrators have very little classroom experience, and have come up through the ranks of TFA affiliations, and that is the only reason they got the appointments in the first place. I am sickened of people like Cami Anderson and the whole shebang of reformers for whom rules and laws are broken or circumvented to bring them into power so that they can continue the evil rhetoric about public schools being bad, and charter schools being salvation. IT IS NOT ABOUT THE KIDS – IT IS ABOUT THE CASH. We’ve seen it play out all across the United States. Plenty of charters have been shuttered for poor results, or for embezzlement.

    And, what happens to the property that the taxpayers financed when charters are closed? IT GOES TO THE CHARTER. That is a property grab, and a real estate grab.

    Teachers village in Newark, built to house 3 charter schools and TFA teachers, is a SLAP TO THE FACE of any educator in Newark Public Schools. That was a coup for the developers, the hedge funders, TFA, charters, etc.

    That black and brown citizens would accept Plantation Education for their babies is sad. All I can think is the wool has been pulled over their eyes, or they didn’t have a choice. One Newark is not a choice — when your babies are sent all over Newark when you’ve got a school down the block — you’ve been swindled, hoodwinked and cheated.

    I’m embarrassed to write that I supported you. I remember many lunch hour conversations with Newark residents strongly supporting you, and denouncing Jeffries. At this point, maybe they’d have been better off with him because at least with him, they knew what they were getting, and now with you, they are getting him.

    • Angel

      We need a fearless attorney who is willing to fight injustice. Any recommendations in or outside of NJ? There are teachers who want to file a class action law suit. Every attack against the public schools in Newark was orchestrated and sanctioned by Chris Cristie.

  6. Public Education Supporter

    I am sickened by the fact that I supported Ras Baraka for Mayor and that I donated money to his campaign in the sincere belief that he would be different and fight for what is right. He certainly talked the talk, but look how he’s walking now. I would gladly sign a recall petition – he stole my support by saying one thing and now doing another…the exact opposite of what he promised. In my view, that is cause enough to organize a recall.

  7. Bill

    Look no further than that fraud group of New York liberals know as the Working Families Party. Using all the language of progressives yet endorsing Cuomo, who called public education “a monopoly “. The saddest part is they even get funded by the unions they intend to destroy. Draining union funds, at the same time as destroying workers lives. The Democratic party at work people. Until a labor party emerges, we are all doomed to suffer under the 2 parties of capitalism.

  8. Theodore Roosevelt

    The Mayor knows that he would not have become Mayor if not for his rallying cry against charter schools and his crusade against Cami Anderson. he was able to become the focal point of a movement to “save Newark’s Schools”. He knows that this is his base and that it is crucial that he continues to appease his base or his mayorship could be in grave jeopardy. The reality is that he has already been compromised. The 1.5 million dollars received by the city to employ an extra 1,000 students for summer youth jobs came through the Foundation for Newark’s future (AKA Facebook Foundation, Gov Christie, Senator Booker). The 10,000 bookbags that he gave away came from funding from the Newark Charter School Fund, BAEO, and the Facebook Foundation. Baraka is currently making a play to get the remaining 60 million dollars that the Facebook foundation owns to push his community schools agenda. Baraka is very much in bed with the very same people that he claims are coming into the city and destroying public education. Gov Christie, Sen. Booker, and the so called hedge funders are the people who raised the money for the initiatives that he is taking credit for. Mr. Mayor, you are now an intricate part of the conspiracy. Folks who still believe the rhetoric that Baraka spews are in denial.

  9. Eddie Carbone

    He is a politician. What do you expect? They lie. Just like Obama, Bush, Clinton and the rest of them. I am in awe that you are surprised. Maybe it is time to elect someone who has never held office or is not aspiring to be rich because he already accomplished that #makeamericagreatagain

  10. Cliff Smith

    First of all the dream died in April, if you were dreaming, when Ras endorsed Clinton after the opening kickoff of the primaries.

    But Bob please be clear. You say you were denied “an explanation of his action that day.” Two paragraphs later you say he “put out a statement saying expansion of the charter schools now was “highly irresponsible” and would “hurt the fragile infrastructure” of the public schools.”

    Then you say he floated “the idea that Baraka cannot criticize charters,” and that “Baraka’s wishes to allow Uncommon Schools (NorthStar) to build a new facility.”

    But you admit finally, after all the suggestion of motives, that “The truth is that, if the planning board voted against the proposal, the well-funded lawyers for NorthStar would be in court and, eventually, they would probably win.” And conclude that Radical Ras should have went to all out war knowing he “would probably” lose.

    Well i don’t know Ras’ endgame. His extremely premature Clinton endorsement smells like horse trading. But none of this so far proves he favors the charter school expansion. That he would have enabled it had there been reason to think the charter would not “probably win.”

    Sometimes in real life the decisions that come with actual power require bending so you don’t break, and maneuvering toward a more advantageous position from which to fight. Are you certain it’s “all gone now?”

    Bob Braun: I don’t know why Baraka pushed the planning board to approve the NorthStar application. He won’t say–at least not to me, anyway. I offered one plausible explanation he could have used to justify it but that was mine, not his. I think he owes an explanation to his many disappointed constituents. And, at some point, “maneuvering toward a more advantageous position” is called surrender.

  11. Brenda

    Thanks Bob Braun for your article. I initially supported a “limited number” of charter schools in Newark, which gave parents a choice in public or charter schools and students were selected by lottery ONLY. Yet, Charter Schools have become a for profit Enterprise (Big Business) controlled & influenced by the 1% & their puppets (politicans & wall street ). NJ Tax payers should not fund for profit charters. Where are our civil rights leaders! Our parents and children are waiting, for you to lead the boycott. It’s time for a revolution in public education!

  12. Noel Greco

    “…the tradition of Newark mayors who know where the power is and are drawn to it…”

    They are drawn to what is locally known as “The Prize”: the ~$1,000,000,000 Newark Public Schools budget.

    Congrats to Governor Christie for keeping it out of Baraka’s paws.

  13. Public Education Supporter

    Speaking of Pink Hula Hoop…Bob, is there any more word of a federal investigation of that shady deal? Didn’t Cami violate a number of laws, for example not putting out for bids, when she pulled off selling a public school to her friends in Montclair for well under market price? Now she’s gone and a city treasure that used to be in the hands of Newark’s tax payers is now the wholly owned property of a charter school operation with a for-profit division. I mean how many ways can they find to screw over the Newark community?!

    Bob Braun: I am saddened to say I do not believe the incumbent US attorney, Paul Fishman, will do nothing to embarrass his predecessor, Chris Christie. I had much higher expectations for Fishman.

  14. glork

    Truly, people could not see this coming ?? Doesn’t anyone watch ” House of Cards “? Honestly, Mr. Baraka was a school PRINCIPAL. He knows first hand that the public school system cannot be salvaged for the simple reason that it is not WORTH being salvaged. Any staff member who witnesses what passes for “school ” in Newark would do the same- try to distance themselves from this sordid mess before it absorbs you as well.

    It really is time to return local control of the public school system to Newark. No one in the city places the slightest value on education, nor do they esteem, respect it or uphold it at home as a family value. The school system serves merely as a legal 12 year holding requirement for processing children, and that alone is enough to manage, let alone with any degree of success.
    So please -Reassess Newark’s property taxes, allow the city to run it’s own schools and give them what the protesters at last night’s meeting want control. Without outside private funding , the whole deal should get run into the ground within 5 years, tops. Stand back and say “We gave the people what they wanted “. But also stop dishing it to charter schools – has anyone checked on the philosophical, religious and political connections of some of these organizations? No ? Try it…it wiill make a good story…. ( A nearby county got a gutful when they dug out some tainted connections that caused local pols. to flee for anonymity fast).
    Bottom line: Baraka is doing what you elected him to do-being a politician. He had the school job and couldn’t wait to get out. Proof? Do Obama’s daughters go to DC public schools ? Do Baraka’s children go to Newark public schools ? Give up the control and let it go.

  15. Iqway

    Bob

    KIPP has done this in Memphis Shelby County School District they have even begun to go after Early Head Start and Head Start. They are a massive corporation with very deep pockets. It is rumor that Charter School parents are given incentives and gifts for particular Charter schools to attend all public school events, they are funding their community engagement; I will email you a sample on this one! You may find links!

    Newark Trust can someone please explain to our community and families their purpose?

    Bob you are the only honest voice we truly have right now! Thank you!

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