The New Jersey State Board of Education will not allow public testimony on its apparently predetermined decision to impose Christopher Cerf, former state education commissioner and private business entrepreneur, on the people of Newark as the city’s next school superintendent. The president-elect of the Newark Teachers Union (NTU) said he was warned that, if he tried to speak at next Wednesday’s meeting in Trenton, he would be forcibly ejected from the meeting room.
(UPDATE: THIS SITE HAS JUST LEARNED THAT, A FEW WEEKS BEFORE CHRISTIE NAMED CERF TO TAKE OVER THE NEWARK SCHOOLS, CERF ACCEPTED APPOINTMENT TO BE A DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL ALLIANCE OF PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOLS–Why wasn’t Newark told?)
The New Jersey Board of Education meets this morning in private session to discuss the future of Newark schools—and the role former state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf will play. The board has been a rubber stamp for Gov. Chris Christie, who appointed most members, but even rubber-stamps must have moral and ethical standards. Cerf came to the commissioner’s position earning money privately from Newark’s suffering as a consultant with Global Education Advisers . He left the position to earn money privately as a publisher with Amplify from Newark’s suffering. And, just a few days ago, the federal government accused Cerf of evading state and federal law and regulations in a way that enhanced the suffering of Newark’s children.
This is what’s happening to Newark schools now that Cami’s gone: A state official, Assistant Education Commissioner Peter Shulman, is running the district from Trenton. The school board voted to express its desire to hire an assistant superintendent, Roger Leon, to be the new schools chief. And Mayor Ras Baraka, bristling with irritation over negative reaction to the possible appointment of Christopher Cerf as Anderson’s official replacement for three years, says the city’s residents shouldn’t think about anything but regaining local control.
The resignation of Cami Anderson as state-appointed Newark superintendent followed weeks of negotiations among and between top officials of the Christie Administration, the office of Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, and members of the state school board. The almost unbelievable designation of Christopher Cerf–a friend and neighbor and former business partner of the man who runs TEAM Academy charter schools in Newark– as Anderson’s successor is the price Baraka and other city officials may have paid for what they consider a far more important prize, the return of home rule to Newark after 20 years of state control. The people of Newark may find it too high a price.
By Paul Tractenberg
NOTE: In 1990, 25 years ago, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled–in a case known as Abbott vs. Burke–that the state must fund disadvantaged urban school districts at a level that would help them overcome the poverty imposed on their children by a society and an economy that favors the rich. Recently, Rutgers professor Paul Tractenberg, a founder of the Education Law Center that brought the Abbott case, spoke about how the state continues to fail its urban children. This site presents excerpts from his analysis.
Members of the Newark Teachers Union (NTU) have until 5 pm Friday to vote for a new president and executive board. The new president will replace Joe Del Grosso who headed the union for 20 years and declined to run for re-election. It is an historic election, both because of the change at the top but also because it comes at a time when the Newark schools are in crisis 20 years after the state took over–with still unfulfilled promises to improve student performance, fiscal management, and facilities for children, parents, and employees.
EDITOR’S NOTE: I am proud to present this guest blog by Jonathan Alston, an English teacher and debate coach at Newark’s Science Park High School. Alston, born and raised in Newark and educated at Science and Yale, recently guided his debaters to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places in a national tournament at Berkeley. He has coached seven state debate champions. Alston also is co-host of “All Politics Are Local,” the Hip-Hop Political Radio Show. He publishes the blog Newark Teacher where this essay first appeared. It was written before Lamont Thomas, Science Park’s principal, resigned. I must caution readers it contains offensive language that I would not use but, coming from the heart, mind and soul of a gifted African-American teacher and writer, it adds raw and essential truth and power to his profound analysis of what is wrong with Newark–and New Jersey. And, yes, in fact, the State Board of Education has the legal power to remove Cami Anderson and restore local control of the schools.
Newark public school officials are seeking the indictment of a top officer of the Newark Teachers Union. They are charging John Abeigon, the NTU’s director of organization, with “defiant trespass,” a fourth degree crime that carries with it possible penalties of up to 18 months in jail, a $10,000 fine, and revocation of state teaching licenses.