Christie tries to buy a year of peace in Newark–but is he lying (again)?

Christie: Has he bought a year of peace in Newark?
Christie: Has he bought a year of peace in Newark?


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?


Jose Leonardo, vice president of Newark Students Union. speaks to crowd at City Hall
Jose Leonardo, vice president of Newark Students Union. speaks to crowd at City Hall

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.


He lied about pensions.
He lied about pensions.

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.

Why isn't Lauren Wells on the board?
Why isn’t Lauren Wells on the 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:

“The loss of public trust due to the broken promises… is staggering. ”

And it well may be in Newark.  A staggering loss of public trust.

  1. More political, untruthful hanky-panky coming from the unfit
    N J Governor…soon to be ill-equipped, presidential candidate! Oh, my!

  2. You may be reluctant to knock the Mayor for signing roadmap to a roadmap to benchmarks to the possible return of local control, but I am not. Who came out ahead in this deal? Christie. He got what he needed for Tuesday. What did Newark get? A hoax of a group with no power, stacked with Christie appointees. Christie did what he did because Newark was winning. That’s when we double down and push harder – not capitulate to a warm and fuzzy cooption of the people who led the fight against state control. I hope I am wrong but I sure don’t see how this helps Newark or the credibility of the mayor at all. (A fundamental requirement of anyone wanting to sign anything with the Governor should be to talk to the NJEA first. We should all learn from that huge mistake). Think of the option – stand out on the steps of city hall and say he finally capitulated to the pressure of the community. And the community rejects his appointment of Chris Cerf and demands an appointment of the community. Now that would have been a much better option to show strength and resolve.

    1. Becca,

      Newark teachers are represented by the AFT not the NJEA. The NJEA agreed to the tenure amendment, the pension revisions and famously endorsed corporatist Cory Booker in his run for the Senate. I have not heard of any public comment forthcoming from either the NJEA or the AFT regarding the Cerf appointment. Randi Weingarten is well known for her collaboration with the education reform agenda. She supports Common Core, PARCC, VAM and merit pay for teachers. Both organizations have accepted donations from the Gates Foundation. What would be the goal of consulting with these make believe labor leaders?

      1. I don’t think that the NJEA took money from the Gates Foundation but if you have the info on this, I stand corrected. I believe the NEA may have taken Gates Foundation money?

        1. Joe,

          I have been unable to uncover any direct contribution by the Gates Foundation to the NJEA. I, therefore, revise my statement.

      2. From Diane Ravitch’s blog 3-10-2014:
        EXCLUSIVE: AFT SHUNS GATES FUNDING: The American Federation of Teachers ended a five-year relationship with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation after rank-and-file union members expressed deep distrust of the foundation’s approach to education reform. AFT President Randi Weingarten told Morning Education the union will no longer accept Gates money for its Innovation Fund, which was founded in 2009 and has received up to $1 million a year in Gates grants ever since. The Innovation Fund has sponsored AFT efforts to help teachers implement the Common Core standards – a Gates priority – among other initiatives.

        1. Joe,

          Ravitch and Weingarten maintain a personal friendship and Ravitch is Weingarten’s staunchest supporter. As a Newark teacher, I am the beneficiary of the Weingarten largesse. I am an EWPS rated Partially Effective halfway down the yellow brick road to being brought up on tenure charges for my previously unblemished record. I have taught in renew schools for the past two years. The last school year, I was forced to work in three roles outside of my certification. Weingarten came to Newark to personally negotiate the “historic contract.” Weingarten has agreed to every reform that has come down the pike. The AFT donated funds to the Teacher Village under construction in Newark primarily to house TFA. If you investigate the AFT, you will discover that the organization provides cover to TFA. Charter school cheerleader Richard Kahlenberg has twice been featured in recent issues of AFT periodical American Teacher. Kahlenberg believes that charter school founders seek positive outcomes for poor minority children. He also subscribes to the bad teacher, bad school mantra. Has Weingarten weighed in in the charter school champion Cerf nomination, or is she seeking cover in the Hamptons?

          1. Urban Educator, I am very sorry for your predicament. It’s so wrong on so many levels that you and other good teachers are being placed in such an unjust and untenable situation. You have every right to blast the AFT and Weingarten for this Kafkaesque educational dystopia. Thanks for all the additional info that I was not aware of. Weingarten does indeed have a lot to answer for.

  3. Local control implies that the superintendent would be selected by the Newark community. Cerf is not the man to return the district to local control. He is cut from the same cloth as Christie, Booker and Anderson. He authored the playbook on how to transform Newark Public Schools into an all charter district and he was handsomely compensated for his efforts. What is liberal paternalism? Baraka is hopelessly naive to buy into Christie’s political posturing in the run up to his presidential candidacy announcement. I am now officially a bad teacher teaching in a bad school in Newark thanks in large part to Christie’s political acumen. Returning Newark Public Schools to local control will require divine intervention and Cerf is certainly not the messiah.

  4. Bob – you nailed it again.

    This Committee is a classic co-optation strategy.

    While the good folks in Newark go in the room in good faith as “stakeholders” to “negotiate”, all the energy, resources and focus on protest evaporate.

    That’s exactly what Christie wants – he can’t have his largest city in rebellion as he’s running for President.

    Baraka appears to have gotten played.

    He had leverage over Christie and a growing local movement – he blinked and just blew a huge opportunity.
    Guess I’m another paternalistic liberal.

  5. This is designed to fail.

    While Christie buys time with a co-optation strategy, even if the roadmap to local control is real it is a loss.

    What good is local control over a privatized Charter based school program?

    Any “local control” will come with the policy set in stone and strings attached that prevent the reversal of the policy or the control over resources.

  6. Cutting a deal with Christie is the equivalent of cutting a deal with the devil. Is Baraka naive? Weak? Christie has shown time and time again that his word and his assurances are worse than worthless. After you’ve paid good money to buy snake oil from a smooth-talking salesperson, you don’t go back and buy more.


  8. Serving on the board of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is apparently not considered a potential conflict of interest for designated state district superintendent Cerf. Are there any furthers questions as to the intentions of The Decider and his loyal servant? The return of local control to the district has not been dealt in this hand Mayor Baraka.

  9. The result of all this political maneuvering is that the students, whether in a public or charter school in Newark are NOT receiving the education they deserve. Look at the facts… nationwide The Charters are NOT doing a better job…The teachers in Charters are leaving after 2/3 years of teaching and those that stay are trying to form unions…..This is NOT about education it is about the almighty $$$$$.

  10. I for one feel that Roberto, Ms Wells and Ms. Gregory should of been on this panel and also Donald Jackson. These people have been working hard to get Newark back local control and their input is important .Christie got to pick this panel.

  11. The big problem is not the Panel. The problem is Cerf being named Superintnendent.


    NO Newark community representatives should sit with Cerf as Superintendent.

    Bob Braun: That is a good suggestion but each individual member will have to make that decision. Christie, of course, will then stack it with anti-Baraka people like Shavar Jeffries and his supporters. It is quite an insult and a threat for someone who just took a position with a national charter school group to lead this effort supposedly designed to return local control. I guess it will be local control of charter schools–the Andrew Smarick model.

    1. Bob,
      You and I know and everyone reading this knows that the panel is not a path to local control. It is a path for Christie’s futile attempt to capture the White House.

      If they go forward and indeed appoint Cerf, then let him appoint others to the panel, a panel with no legitimacy. The struggle would then continue, more energized than ever.

      Cerf’s appointment IS the litmus test…

      Bob Braun: I think it’s worse than that. We all know Christie can and will do precisely what he wants to Newark, committee or no committee. You’re right–that decision was sealed when he appointed Cerf. The committee becomes a mere fig leaf and that is an insult to the people of Newark and the struggle they have carried on for years to regain local control.

  12. I can’t believe the mayor agreed to this. I don’t want to believe that he could be this naive. This isn’t progress. Christie’s dog and pony show.

  13. Ras thought this was OK? no way! Something must be missing. As our new Union President said- They have two months to get it together, not a year. Who is kidding who!!!

  14. Perhaps it’s best if Dr L Wells has a role once NPS is honest-to-goodness under local control.

    Maybe State Board Ed won’t automatically approve Cerf.

    1. booklady,

      The thirteen members of NJ State Board are appointed by the Governor. My prediction is they will rubber stamp the Cerf appointment. He is the perfect candidate to finish off the charterization process in Newark. All that will be left of NPS will be schools to warehouse expensive to educate Special Ed students, ELLs and children with challenging behavioral issues. Some schools on the high end such as Science High might remain as well.

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