A bad day for Ras Baraka–and public education in Newark

Was the mayor set up?
Was the mayor set up?

The Newark Central Planning Board, with the apparent approval of Mayor Ras Baraka, voted 8-1 to allow the charter school chain, Uncommon Schools, to build a new charter school literally within sight of City Hall.  One member of the board told this site that the panel was told before the meeting that Baraka, who had been viewed as a champion of traditional public schools, “let the board members know he was fine with the approval.”

Within hours of the vote, social media began circulating a photograph of Baraka posing with children who were apparently students of KIPP Schools, another privately-operated charter school chain, in front of a sign that reads: “Newarkers for MORE KIPP schools NOW!”

KIPP Schools runs Newark’s TEAM Academy charter schools that are seeking to open five more schools in the coming years. The dual expansion of Uncommon Schools–which runs the NorthStar charter schools–and KIPP would mean a devastating reduction in state aid that would otherwise go to traditional public schools.

The planning board vote and the publication of the picture came just hours after Baraka released a statement in which he said the planned vast expansion of charter schools in Newark would be “irresponsible.”

He told NJAdvanced Media that “To move forward in this manner without any consideration of the impact on students is highly irresponsible and shows no consideration for the majority of children in the Newark Public School system.”

Baraka has tried to walk a fine line between opposition to charter schools and support for traditional public schools. He has consistently said he doesn’t oppose charter schools but insisted that the Newark schools should concentrate on improving the traditional schools.

Last month, he went on a tour–paid for by supporters of charter schools–in which he handed out backpacks and school supplies to the city’s children.

On Facebook and other social media, Baraka’s supporters defended his posing for the picture behind the pro-charter sign, saying the mayor must have been unaware of  what the sign said and he was “set up” by pro-charter advocates. The picture was reportedly taken at the Breast Cancer walk in Newark Sunday.

Allowing himself to be the target of a cheap political trick doesn’t inspire much confidence, however. Some opponents of the deal he made with Gov. Chris Christie to get rid of former schools superintendent Cami Anderson say that also was an unwitting set up–getting the mayor to deflate the growing anti-state movement in Newark just at a time when Christie needed a quiet New Jersey while he was out of state running for president.

The deal brought to Newark as superintendent Anderson’s former boss and Christie’s former education commissioner, Christopher Cerf, a nationally-recognized champion of charter schools and a former trustee of a KIPP school in Newark.

Whatever the circumstances of the picture-taking, the planning board’s support for Uncommon Schools deals a real blow to the pro-public school movement in Newark.

“Either the planning board was disloyal to their mayor’s wishes or the mayor wanted them to vote for it,” said John Abeigon, the president of the Newark Teachers Union (NTU).

(More to come)



  1. Bob – Where did you send your kids to school? Did they attend Newark Public Schools? I do not think so. Perhaps you should stay out of this then.

    1. Many of the people that have fought in America’s wars were not born and raised Americans. They fought because they believed in what was right. Many civil rights protesters were not African-American. Your point misses its mark when you take a man who has knowledge of the corruption being done to the children of Newark to task. Regardless of where his children were educated, they can be proud of what their father is doing to fight an ongoing injustice. Are you not fighting because you were not educated in Newar?

    2. Begone, Troll.

    3. WTH? First, Mr. Braun is not a resident of Newark, so of course his children didn’t attend Newark Public Schools. Second, if his children had attended, it would likely have been prior to the so far ineffective takeover by the state, and certainly prior to the infiltration of the financiers whose interest is in monetizing the children of a Newark. Third, decent people do not “stay out of” situations that affect them only indirectly when they see injustice. What’s it to you, anyway – are you one of the vultures picking over the bones of public education for your own enrichment?

  2. I did mean “Newark?”. The double “k” on the keyboard got me. Bob keep writing. The real Hillary Clinton would be begging you to join her campaign staff because of what you know and how you present it. Please don’t stop.

    1. Hillary Clinton is a corporatist, not a champion of urban public schools.

      1. Ms .Shure, I always marvel at how you take a negative response to my posts. Your latest negativity ignores the fact that this poster made a personal comment to Mr. Braun that wasn’t called for. You weighed in on neither side with your response to me To me you are not an educator you are a complainer on life as you see it. Try offering some solutions to the current crisis in Newark instead of being so negative. We have children unable to attend their local schools because of the situation in Newark and if you aren’t a “Teacher in Name Only” you would be trying your best to solve that situation instead of always trying to correct me.

        1. Really? On what basis have you determined that I am not an educator? You would like me personally to resolve the charter take over of the Newark Public Schools. I am flattered. What is your occupation by the way?

  3. Mr. Braun, you are missing my point. You sent your children to a private school, a very expensive one. You had a choice and you were fortunate to afford it. I am not saying that was a bad choice. I am not saying you should have made that choice. You did what was best for your family. But proactively working against those parents who want the same opportunity is not fair.

    Bob Braun: You, sir or madam, are inaccurate as well as cowardly. Reveal your name publicly and get your facts straight. And I would point out that I simply write about the schools. Others like Christie (Mendham), Cerf (Montclair), Anderson (Glen Ridge) actually have controlled or now control–not just write about–what goes on in the Newark public schools. Your proposition that I cannot write about what happens in some town other than my own is preposterous. Check the membership of the trustee boards of KIPP and Uncommon Schools and you will see mostly residents of the suburbs or Manhattan–what right do they have to lobby for a redistribution of public funds away from public schools? I have absolutely no objection to private schools, by the way. If the corporations using their money and political clout to destroy public education would, instead, pay for scholarships to private schools (without the expectation of a tax break), then let them put their money behind their pretensions. We all know, however, that charter schools are privately operated schools that serve only a few while robbing public money from schools that MUST serve all. It is both a thinly disguised effort to destroy public employee unions and a return to the escapism of private, discriminatory academies of the days just following Brown vs. Board of Education. Only, this time, discrimination is based not simply on race but on wealth, ability, ethnicity, parental engagement, and political connections. If you continue to attack me and my family personally and refuse to reveal your identity, I will not print any more of your hateful screeds.

  4. Many people refer to Charter Schools as offering a choice, however, in substance no real choice is being offered at all. The charter schools seem to have unlimited resources for cutting edge buildings and technology that the real public schools do not have. It is kind of like if you were buying a car and you were offered a brand new car or one with 100,000 miles on it for the same price, the “choice” is predetermined. The traditional public schools in Newark are being intentionally starved to death and no real “choice” is being offered at all.

    Sometimes you have to go to war to correct injustice, that time has arrived in Newark if traditional public schools are going to survive. It is time once again to take it to the streets and maybe someone will listen. Get angry and take back your schools instead of allowing them to be run by wealthy outsiders who know nothing of Newark.

  5. this dialogue is long over due.. braun must be a person concerned who wants to give others a voice..negative or positive everything concerning our children is what we need to be conversing about

  6. the mayor should not be unaware of his surroundings..nor his sidekicks..every school that the mayor has been employed at failed under his watch & is still failing

  7. Well I was born and raised in Newark, went to Clinton Ave, Louise A. Spencer, Arts High and Kean College when I attended. I am a product of Newark, the educational system that was in place back in the 80’s and 90’s is nowhere near where it is now. I have two young aspiring scholars who have been in a Charter School since K and currently are in 8th & 6th. This was not by choice it was by chance they where able to get in on a luck of the draw with the back then lottery system. Now folks have a choice & I am all for it. Why not let others gain the education that my scholars are receiving…we need to stop making this all political and make it about these babies….let these babies excel.

    1. Your scholars. Your SCHOLARS? I have a daughter. Drink that koolaid.

  8. Mr. Braun:

    Most of us seated at the meeting last evening were parents – not politicians. We were and are not interested in the politics! We are only interested in the opportunity for every child in this great city to receive a quality education and our right as parents to choose for our children. If the Mayor solidified such a vote for North Star to service the 900 children in need, I say kudos to him! This seedy story of a “set-up” of Newark children having the Mayor take a picture at a Breast Cancer Walk is horrifying and his not having knowledge of the logo ludicrous. I would hope the Mayor of this city and former educator understands the perplexities of a failed school district – failing for more than the 20 years of state control but nearly historical failure. I would pray that at the end of the day, the Mayor will muster up the courage and stand by the thousands of parents who are begging for what we know is best for our children – all children. A quality education is key to curing all the ills of this city and it is time. While we thank you for your interest., we would hope you would understand this is our choice, and our concern….in our city and for our children!

    Bob Braun: The only problem with your note is that it suggests Baraka, who just the other day called the expansion of charters “highly irresponsible,” is a hypocrite for supporting the expansion of both KIPP and Uncommon Schools. I can’t make that judgment yet. Also, so long as there is only choice for a few, so long as the neediest children are excluded from publicly-funded schools, I will continue to denounce charters for what they are–discriminatory. You have chosen to take care of your children and I suppose that means you believe none of us has any responsibility for all the children. That’s your real choice and you made it. But I do not believe the public should be funding your choice. Ask the hedge fund managers who are propping up the charters to fund your tuition at a private school and then we can talk.

  9. I can still recall how vehemently Dr. Lauren Wells supported Baraka against critics like Bob. I wonder where she stands now. Hillary, why doesn’t it matter to you where the proponents of charter expansion live and which schools they patronize? Why are you so freely giving of your support to schools like charters, that your tax dollars pay for (assuming you pay taxes) but who are not legally not required to disclose to you as a taxpayer? Do you have any concerns about how the decentralization of a publicly funded and publicly administrated school system will affect a city school population with high transient rates?

    What secret formula will charter expansion use to treat the actual problems, the actual students, actually have, that actually hinders their learning?

    Should Newark become completely charterized, do you imagine the charters will simply manufacture “new and improved” students or will they educate more of Newark’s same old students?

    How will the uniforms, air conditioning, daily mantras, and brightly colored walls, young and enthusiastic out-of-district teachers reduce the impact of factors affecting learning like, food insecurity, poverty, violence, abuse, transience, lack of transportation, lack of access to hygiene, teen pregnancy, and chronic unemployment? I’m asking because those are all issues which have pretty much been prevalent since forever, and if the charters know something, I’m just wondering why they’re holding on to the secret for themselves.

  10. Wasn’t going to comment anymore since my last post had a somewhat idiotic comment from another post.
    Thank you Mr. Braun for the continuous reports on what is happening to the children and parents of Newark. It doesn’t matter where your children went to school. Can anyone name some famous people who achieved MUCH in life and attended NPS??? I am sick and tired of all these people who think they are “saving” the children. I am very uspet over the fact that I taught these children for over 34 years and did a damn good job of it. It makes the veteran teachers look like we never taught. Hmmm. School reform all over again in another way. We have had more school reform models in Newark than any other district. Money flying all over the place for workshops, staff development and consultants. Did they work? We took school reform models that were known to have FAILED in other states. Well lots of money went on these models and NO improvement. There are MANY factors facing our children. Education is just one area that must be addressed in their lives. I don’t see how this “mess” is any different. I would like to see real scores published and real studies done about the improvemnt of these children in Charter Schools in Newark. I also have an issue with the non education of special needs and bilingual students. Who is educating these students? I know for a fact that many Federal educational laws have NOT been upheld in the non education of these children. Mr. Braun if you are not the VOICE and these issues then the TRUTH will not be told. I thank you for who you are and people need to stop attacking you! And lastly shame on you Mr. Mayor!

  11. Bob – the venom of attack is directly related to the effectiveness and power of your arguments.

    You are seriously hurting and threatening them now (politically, not in a violent sense), so keep on writing more and more critically.

    Hillary is obviously a troll – as is the pseudo-distressed parent perspective just seeking the best for their kids.

    I am surprised, however, that Mr. Abeignon appears still to give Baraka the benefit of the doubt.

    The only wither/or question is:

    Is Baraka a cynical hack or did he get duped and played by Christie?

    No more time for the fine line you note.

    1. It would appear that the voters were duped by Ras. He is lining up with Christie, and selling the students of Newark to the privatizers, and in the process putting certified teachers out of work, many of them female. It is a vicious cycle, and the only ones who benefit are the privatizer/profiteers, none of whom live in Newark, and the politicians who benefit from the donations. Booker and Christie share donors, are cut from the same cloth. It appears Baraka has joined those ranks.

  12. I’m trying to understand how you do not notice a poster pressed against your waist and with merely tilting your head down you can see what it says? He is not behind the girls holding the sign. He is upfront and in between the girls. What did he not notice? If the sign was not up under him, maybe the explanation would come across as impressive, but with the banner making contact with him makes it hard to understand how it wasn’t noticed. Just my observation of the photo. The picture says it all. As usual, Ras is speaking out of both sides of his mouth. He can’t be for and agains at the same time. Newark schools have been failures for 50 years. Baraka & the NTU are as much to blame as anyone else. If the parents want charters, let them have charters. The mayor & the union only care about themselves. The children are pawns. Baraka is only trying to appease his base by deceiving them and at the same time trying to appease the reformers so he can get his piece of the proverbial pie.

  13. I send my child to public schools where I live. I teach in Newarks in one of the roughest areas of the city. I will have any one of these teachers teach my child. They are caring educated people who are professional in their craft. I taught with Ras so I know his passion. I am concerned with how far he is willing to go with this charter school nonsense. If all schools in Newark become charter schools then they are no longer charter, they are public.

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