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.
Don’t underestimate just how high that price will be. Cerf, the former state education commissioner, is a far sleazier political character than Anderson–as difficult as that might be to believe. Groups linked to him and former Mayor–now US Sen.– Cory Booker got millions from the money given by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
He is far more dedicated to the unbridled expansion of charter schools than Anderson was–and he is far closer, financially and politically, to the hedge fund managers promoting privatization than Anderson was. While he worked in New York, he closed 90 neighborhood schools and opened 100 charters.
Indeed, he flew down this weekend to New Orleans to participate in the Natinal Alliance of Charter Schools convention.
Cerf is a dangerous man to those who want to protect public schools.
As a private consultant with Global Education Advisors, he brought what later became known as the “One Newark” enrollment plan–with its own expansion of charters–to Newark before Anderson got to Newark. When he left as state education commissioner, he went to Rupert Murdoch’s Amplify, a company that had contracts, not just with Newark, but with other New Jersey districts. The company was run by former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein, the godfather of charter schools in that city.
Cerf claimed, of course, he had nothing to do with Amplify getting those contracts–and he claimed his getting a job with Amplify had nothing to do with those contracts, including one for $2.3 million in Newark.
Sure. And we all believe Chris Christie had nothing to do with Bridgegate, too, right?
Cerf also claimed he recused himself from signing off on Anderson’s sale of the 18th Avenue School, publicly-owned property–to the infamous “Pink Hula Hoop” collection of charter-related corporations. Cerf and the people behind TEAM Academy were close associates in New York–Cerf and Tim Carden were business partners.
This is what I wrote about Cerf’s connection to “Pink Hula Hoop” and Carden and the rest:
“The members of Pink Hula Hoop—the partners—are listed in one document as Timothy Carden, Hannah Richman and Dan Adan. Carden, his wife Amy Rosen, and Cerf were all once partners in the Public Private Strategy Group (PPSG) which, among other things, helped New York City’s school privatization efforts. Carden is also chairman of the board of Friends of Team Academy Charter Schools, the fund-raising arm of the charter school. Cerf, before he became commissioner, also was a member of the charter school’s trustee board. Now, he says, he recuses himself from any decision involving the school. Including, one wonders, any decision that generally helps charters, including Team Academy? Right.”
Critics of Cami Anderson are jubilant that she left. She was disrespectful, even racist, in her attitudes toward the people of the city–refusing to come to public board meetings and lying about why. First, she said she was troubled about references to her family. Then she blamed Baraka’s campaign. The real reason was her absolute contempt for the people she claimed she was trying to help.
My former colleague at The Star-Ledger, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Richard Aregood, refers to Cerf, Anderson, Carden, and the rest as “grifters.” I agree with him but I’m also sure he would agree with me that Cerf is a far more experienced and accomplished grifter than Anderson. Hell, he said he moved to Somerset County to get Senate confirmation when everyone knew he was living, as he still does, in Montclair. A neighbor to Tim Carden.
Here’s the problem: The most significant sentence in the Christie’s administration’s announcement of Anderson’s resignation as Newark superintendent has nothing to do with her or her replacement, Christopher Cerf. It’s this:
“Governor Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka plan to issue a more detailed statement in the coming days on this leadership transition to establish a common vision and path forward for the future of the Newark Public School District.”
Sources within the school district say this means Christie and Baraka will announce a pathway toward local control. Indeed, in his own statement today, the mayor said:
“The resignation of Superintendent Anderson is the first of many steps needed to regain local control of Newark Public Schools. Our ultimate objective is local control of our schools and we will continue to work diligently and fervently towards this end. This is an opportunity for transition and we want to be able to return control to parents to make decisions affecting their children’s education.”
An opportunity for transition? Maybe. Those who were aware of the negotiations that led to Anderson’s resignation say they were happy because Christie is moving toward restoring local control. Indeed, to me, that was the most shocking aspect of the deal–even more surprising than Cerf’s reinstatement. Don’t forget, just a few weeks ago, he mocked students demanding local control and said he had not changed his opinion about the issue.
Think of the logic here: Does anyone believe Christie has seen the light? Ok, and if he did–if he were knocked from his horse like Saul on the road to Damascus–would he appoint as his commissioner Christopher Cerf, the patron saint of charter schools and the godfather of TEAM Academy?
And, don’t forget, the earlier reports had Cerf coming in as an interim. But the statement put out by state Education Commissioner Monday David Hespe said nothing about his interim status. What it said was this:
“Mr. Cerf will be recommended for a three-year contract consistent with initial contracts in other state-operated districts including most recently Camden.”
A three-year contract is not an interim contract. It’s the maximum a superintendent can receive.
I don’t buy it.
Frankly, bad as she was, I’d rather see Cami Anderson running the Newark schools than Christopher Cerf. See the judgment of my friend and colleague Mark Weber (Jersey Jazzman) on just what sort of man Cerf is at http://jerseyjazzman.blogspot.com/2015/06/cerfs-up-in-newark-and-that-means-more.html
I don’t doubt Ras Baraka’s good intentions. He has been consistent in his opposition to Anderson and his support for a return to local control. Baraka also, however, has been careful to support charter schools.
I don’t want to see a plan for a return to local control that sees a further destruction of neighborhood schools in favor of charter schools run by the friends of Christopher Cerf. That price for getting rid of Cami Anderson would be far too high.