Newark’s state-appointed school superintendent Christopher Cerf, Gov. Chris Christie’s long-term enforcer of the plan to turn Newark into the “charter school capital of the state,” is expected to resign–perhaps as soon as today–and turn temporary control of New Jersey’s largest school district over to his hand-picked choice, Robert Gregory, a deputy superintendent.
Cerf, 57, a former state education commissioner appointed by Christie in 2010, had been expected to leave his $260,000-a-year post once the Republican’s second term expired next month.
He had, however, been discussing with some state and local officials the possibility of remaining on as a paid consultant to the district, along with his chief of staff, De’Shawn Wright. Cerf–like Wright is already–could be paid with private funds, including money remaining from the $100 million gift to the Newark schools by Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Cerf’s critics are expected to protest the move, demanding Cerf’s immediate and complete departure.
It is still unclear whether Cerf, a Montclair resident, will retain any post with the Newark schools. He has expressed his wish to stay on until the end of the school year in July in some capacity. Critics of the say they will urge the Newark school board–which is scheduled to take over full control of the district within the next few months–to cut all ties with the Christie appointee.
Cerf, a former New York City school administrator and private educational entrepreneur, has a long history as both a consultant to, and employee of, the Newark public schools. Seven years ago, acting as a consultant to former Newark Mayor Cory Booker under the front name of Global Education Advisers, he developed a plan for the massive expansion of charter schools and the forced redistribution of students throughout the city–a redistribution that would provide students to struggling charters.
In the midst of that effort, Christie appointed Cerf the state education commissioner and Cerf named Cami Anderson–a political operative for Booker who also championed privatized charter schools–to be the state-appointed school superintendent. Newark has been under state control since 1995.
Anderson proved a disaster. Her ham-fisted enforcement of student redistribution–called the “One Newark” enrollment–imposed suffering among children and parents throughout the city. She fired critics and finally stopped attending public meetings of the city’s school board.
Anger against Anderson led to the election of Ras Baraka as mayor in 2014 and street demonstrations that paralyzed the city. Thousands of students from throughout the city demanded Anderson’s dismissal, an end to “One Newark” and a return to local control of the district.
Throughout it all, Cerf supported Anderson–until he left state office to become a partner in an educational business run by his former boss, Joel Klein, once New York City’s school boss.
But Christie, planning his laughably unsuccessful 2016 presidential run, outmaneuvered the city’s new mayor and the street demonstrators–cutting a deal with Baraka that would result in Anderson’s dismissal, a vague promise to end state control, and–a return to public office of Cerf as Anderson’s replacement in the state-appointed superintendent’s position.
Cerf was far more tactful than Anderson–and far more effective in advancing Christie’s pro-charter agenda. He is expected to leave office promoting a goal of 45 percent charter enrollment in the district–a goal endorsed by top Newark city and school officials, including Gregory and Baraka.
Baraka, despite his promises, never insisted on an end to “One Newark” which feeds the charter expansion. And, every year, Christie–without complaint from Baraka–transferred tens of millions of dollars slated for public schools to the privately operated charters.
In the last year, Cerf hired his former boss–state education commissioner David Hespe–to work with him on shaping the transition to local control to favor Chrisies privatization “reforms.”
With Baraka’s control of the elected school board–he successfully backed a number of pro-charter candidates and has hired others to city jobs–and Cerf’s appointment of top administrators, including Gregory, policies favoring privatization and forced enrollment distributions may not end for the foreseeable future.
Gregory, a graduate of the West Chester University of Pennsylvania and Seton Hall University, was a principal of American History High School. He has never been a public critic of the Christie agenda.