Newark Mayor Ras Baraka says he and state Education Commissioner David Hespe agreed to give the “One Newark” plan ten days from the opening of school to resolve its obvious flaws. Meanwhile, the mayor has demanded that state-imposed schools superintendent Cami Anderson provide him with extensive information about the inner workings of the plan that will close neighborhood public schools while opening up new charter schools.
“No, I’m not satisified,” Baraka said in a brief interview with this site after his meetings with Hespe and Anderson. Last week, after hundreds of parents were mistreated during a pre-open school enrollment session, an angry new mayor said he demanded meetings with the pair of Gov. Chris Christie-appointees.
He made the comments just hours after Christie again slapped Baraka down on the issue of public schools. “The mayor should run the city and not run the schools,” said Christie, who cited the city’s budget deficit. “The mayor has plenty on his plate to worry about.” Just a few weeks ago, Christie said Baraka had no say in the running of the city’s public schools that were seized b y the state nearly 20 years ago.
No one asked Christie about how the state school operation in Newark ran a deficit of nearly $100 million and failed to raise test scores. Christie, Anderson, and former Mayor Cory Booker–now a US senator–worked together to make Newark a showcase for privately-operated charter schools, many run by former business associates of Anderson and former state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf, another Christie appointee.
While Baraka says he hoped Anderson would provide the information he demanded–ranging from the problems of special education children to the legal status of buildings Anderson wants to give to private charter operations–he admitted his meetings really didn’t change anything.
“Obviously, she is going to go ahead with ‘One Newark,'” he says.
Although many Newark activists hoped he would be more forceful, Baraka said he would not encourage parents to boycott the opening of schools Sept.4. He says he supports the concept of a boycott–if that’s what parents want to do–but he obviously doesn’t embrace it as his own primary strategy for ending “One Newark,” returning local control over the schools, and firing Anderson–three goals he repeatedly has embraced publicly.
“I don’t have to encourage them,” Baraka told me. “The boycott has leaders. I’m not going to be their rah-rah cheerleader. They’re capable of organizing a boycott.”
He has tried to position himself as both a backer of one side–the anti-Anderson side– in the tense, emotional struggle against Anderson, Christie and the charter entrepreneurs and also as the city’s neutral chief magistrate. Baraka told me he would “protect the right of parents to boycott the schools and also protect the rights of parents who want to send their children to school.”
Baraka’s views beg the obvious question of the reliance many voters placed in him to fight the “One Newark” plan. Baraka was elected primarily on the basis of his opposition to Anderson and the plan and there was an expectation he would lead the fight to end “One Newark.”
Baraka has limited legal control over the schools, but he has enormous popularity in the city and could be the de facto leader of a boycott movement if he chose. But he has chosen not to.
The boycott movement got off to a late start primarily because of a scam pulled off by Hespe and other state officials who created the impression in June that Christie wanted her out. The political theatrics led Baraka and teacher union leader Joe Del Grosso to believe she would be gone by July 1. Meanwhile, Anderson herself spent much of May and June spending taxpayers’ money traveling to conferences throughout the country, keeping out of the headlines.
Hespe then double-crossed Anderson’s opponents by awarding her another three-year contract. By that time summer intervened and it was too late to mount a concerted effort to bring her down through a citywide boycott.
The strongest action Baraka described was to announce he would send city inspectors into buildings used by charter schools and other privatized school operations. He said he would not allow the buildings to be used until they have the proper certificates of occupancy.
Baraka was ambiguous about whether he would provide the police manpower Anderson has asked for to protect children while they take buses to schools throughout the city. The feckless transportation plan conjured up by Anderson puts Baraka in a tough spot–she is putting children in danger and he has no choice but to protect the children.
“Of course, we will protect the children,” said Baraka.
He also said he demanded Anderson resolve the problems of families with children sent to different schools and families with special education children who still have no proper placement.
Baraka admitted he did not believe Anderson would resolve all the problems by the opening of school–but he already has committed himself to letting it wait 10 days before acting.