(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?)
Gov. Chris Christie, scheduled to announce his presidential bid Tuesday at a Livingston public school, clearly believes he bought himself a year of peace to run for president by firing state-appointed Newark superintendent Cami Anderson and creating a “Newark Educational Success Board” to draw a “roadmap” to local school control. But Christie has not given up on school privatization and he will not betray the people who fund him. The panel is dominated by his employees and by corporate representatives who have both promoted charter schools politically and financially and supported other Christie policies, including eliminating tenure.
While it might bring about some form of local control, the question remains open—what exactly will be controlled? Will the Newark schools, as in New Orleans, be given over to charter schools? Will the “Newark Educational Success Board,” in fact, mean the end of neighborhood public schools in Newark?
Let me be upfront about some things. I trust Mayor Ras Baraka and the four appointments he made to the board. Retired educator Mary Bennett, parent advocate Grace Sergio, and Newark Student Union leader Jose Leonardo are trustworthy veterans in the fight against state control and Anderson. Rev. Perry Simmons signed the letter by 77 members of the clergy opposing “One Newark.”
Mayor Baraka has accused me of “liberal paternalism” because I oppose the appointment of charter-advocate and former state education commissioner Christopher Cerf as superintendent of Newark schools. That’s fine. I am not above criticism. I hope it makes me a better writer. But it is not my role to make people feel good or to like me. I am not a public relations adviser. I hope I deserve the title of “journalist.” I see my role as writing what I believe. What I write, I write from the experience of dealing with Cerf, Anderson, and Christie. What I write, I write from observing Christie appoint committees designed to get his own way and pretending the exercise was one of partnership or bipartisanship—just take a look at pensions, the tenure law, and PARCC testing. Just look at the “working group” that was supposed to restrain Anderson last year—a group that never met.
Christie is a liar. So is Cerf. They are unworthy of trust. Anyone who believes them should be reminded of what Mary McCarthy said of fellow novelist Lillian Hellman –“Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’”
Let’s look at the composition of the nine-member committee. It will be dominated by Cerf and Rochelle Hendricks, a former education commissioner who runs— badly–higher education for Christie. They clearly will do the governor’s bidding.
Cerf, of course, developed the “One Newark” plan as a private consultant, helped Anderson impose it, and then went off to work for Joel Klein at Amplify. When he worked for Klein in the New York City public schools, he closed 90 neighborhood schools and opened 100 new charters. In New Jersey, he brought in a secret group of charter and voucher supporters to help him evaluate charter school applications.
Let’s look at the others—starting with Cerf’s Montclair neighbor, Donald Katz, CEO of Audible Inc. and champion of charter schools, especially Northstar. In a recent interview, he said, “On a policy level, we are trying to be part of education reform and helping the families that are trying to help their kids through rigorous charter schools. We decided to have our interns be paid interns who are high school students from North Star [Academy, a Newark charter school], and then from other schools where North Star people went. They had to go through the whole HR process and get hired. They had bosses and were really a part of the culture. It just became a really meaningful part of the company.”
Then there is Al Koeppe, deep in the corporate culture of Newark as CEO of PSEG Co. and Verizon, Koeppe was chairman of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) that followed Christie’s wishes to give charter schools—especially the well-connected TEAM Academy–$125 million.
Finally, Ross Danis, executive director of the Newark Trust for Education. The board of this organization—which receives money from the Mark Zuckerberg-funded Foundation for Newark’s Future—includes the head of the Newark Charter School Fund. Danis is the recipient of the “Trailblazer of the Year” award from the New Jersey Charter School Association. He served on Christie’s education transition team that called for a massive expansion of charter schools and the imposition of a pay freeze for public employees, including teachers. He also served on Christie’s committee that came up with the anti-tenure law that will lead to the dismissal of so many experienced teachers in the near future.
Just as I don’t expect Bennett, Sergio, Leonardo or Rev. Simmons to change their minds about what Newark needs, I also don’t expect Cerf, Hendricks, Katz, Koeppe, and Danis to change their minds, either. Or to defy the governor.
Baraka’s people will act in good faith. That’s likely to mean less support for demonstrations and other acts of resistance to state control. Sadly, good people play by the rules. That’s why good people often get hurt.
The problem is the corporate/Christie group has the power, the numbers and the backing of the governor. These are people who will do what Christie wants, not what the children of Newark need.
Let’s look at who is not on the committee. No school employees at all. Not one teacher. Not one principal. No representatives of employee groups.
No members of the elected school board.
No Roberto Cabanes of NJ Communities United, someone Baraka wanted. No Lauren Wells, the brilliant architect of Baraka’s educational policy and his chief academic officer. The statement doesn’t reveal who nominated whom, but I am sure Christie didn’t nominate Jose Leonardo and Baraka didn’t nominate Cerf. I also don’t know whether Baraka had veto power over Christie’s appointments but Christie apparently could block some of the mayor’s appointments.
Now let’s look at what the committee, in fact, will do. What it won’t do, despite some media reports, is return local control by the end of next school year. The language is a little, well, confusing. The statement—released on Friday afternoon, always a good time to avoid media scrutiny—says “The panel will immediately begin to solicit input from and engage the local community in its deliberations and provide us with a detailed roadmap, including benchmarks for return to local control as soon as that can be accomplished but no later than by the end of the upcoming academic year. “
Read it closely—it’s the “benchmarks” and the “roadmap” to local control that are scheduled to be done by the end of the upcoming academic year. Not local control.
When does local control happen? Well, after the timelines, the benchmarks, and the roadmaps are all in place, the state school board—Christie’s rubber stamp—and the commissioner–Christie’s tool—will work with the elected board on “the goal of restoring full local control as soon as possible after the established benchmarks have been met.”
Call me a cynic, but that sounds like “never” to me.
Or, at least, not until Christie is out of office—and that won’t happen until, gulp!, he becomes president or leaves office on his own in 2018. And that assumes, of course, that some other privatization-loving governor, Republican or Democrat, doesn’t take over. Somehow, I don’t see George Norcross’s Steve Sweeney granting local control to Newark any time soon. Norcross is having too much fun turning Camden into his own personal fiefdom and naming schools after himself.
Let’s remember: Christie promised he wouldn’t touch public employee pensions. He even signed a law promising to support public employee pensions. He lied about that. He trapped the NJEA into agreeing to a “roadmap” for pension reform. Like many schoolyard bullies, he is very good at sucker-punching people who believe him.
Christie will lie to support his ambitions at any opportunity. Newark—thanks to Baraka and the Newark Students Union and many others—was boiling over with anger because of the disrespect shown to the city’s residents.
Now, Christie has bought peace for at least a year—a year in which he will travel across the country bragging about how he can reach out to those who disagree with him to reach solutions. He will try to convert the issue of Newark schools from a liability to an asset. He did it when he ran for re-election in 2013 by bragging how he could work with Democrats on pension reform.
He will do it again, only using Newark this time. It is no knock on the mayor or anyone else who acts in good faith to say simply and repeatedly—Christie cannot be trusted.
One of the great ironies of the last few days is the interview Anderson granted to The New York Times in which she blamed Baraka’s “politics” for her resignation. In fact, it was Christie’s politics that led him to throw her under the school bus. This man uses people—like David Wildstein and Bridget Kelly as well as Cami Anderson—and then he throws them away.
The future is scary. What happens if I am right and Newark doesn’t get the school home rule it deserves? In the recent state Supreme Court decision on pensions, Associate Justice Jaynee LaVecchia cited Christie’s pension promises and how they were broken. She wrote:
And it well may be in Newark. A staggering loss of public trust.