Closing Newark schools is illegal because Anderson didn’t comply with law, legal experts say

Christie and Anderson: Ooops. Photo by Steve  Sandberg/1010 news
Christie and Anderson: Ooops.
Photo by Steve Sandberg/1010 news

The controversial plan by the Christie administration to close, transfer to charters, or otherwise “repurpose” nearly half of the city’s public schools is illegal and must stop, according to the Education Law Center (ELC). The scheme, dubbed “One Newark,” has sparked widespread demonstrations and open hostility among city residents directed against state-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson.

Elizabeth Athos, the senior attorney for the public interest law firm, warned Anderson in a letter dated Jan. 28 that the state administration cannot move forward with the plan because it has failed to abide by state regulations governing the closing of schools. It has not provided updated plans required by administrative rules that have the force of law and can be enforced in court.

The letter is expected to enhance the growing opposition to the Anderson regime running New Jersey’s largest district.  On Jan. 17, she suspended five principals who spoke out against the plan but then reinstated them in the face of community outrage;  the principals have since sued her in federal court.  She  banned a parent leader from entering the school attended by his two children.  Anderson also stormed out of a school board meeting last week in the face of anger and criticism from city residents.

Athos pointed out the ELC, last October, had warned Anderson that the state administration of the Newark schools had failed to submit “Long Range Facilities Plan” (LRFP) required by state regulations. Without that plan, Athos wrote, the Christie administration cannot close schools.

“Since that time, NPS”—the Newark Public Schools—“has issued its ‘One Newark & Long-term Ward Plans” even though the district has not taken any steps to secure DOE”—(state Department of Education)—“approval of a revised LRFP.

“A revised LRFP, updated to reflect current conditions, is essential to support any district determination to replace, renovate, consolidate, or close NPS public schools and preschools.”

Athos noted that Anderson’s plan would require the closing of Madison Avenue School, Hawthorne Avenue School, Bragaw Avenue School, Alexander Street School, and Newton Street School, along with one or more early childhood centers.

“While building utilization and conditions might necessitate reconfiguration of NPS schools and preschools, the district’s authority to close schools is circumscribed by existing DOE regulation.”

The regulations, she says, require that any “proposed closing is consistent with the school district’s approved LRFP” because “sufficient school-building capacity exists to house students for the five years following the closing.”

The district also must “provide assurance that the use of temporary facilities in the remaining schools will not result or increase as a result of the school closing.”

The ELC lawyer also says the regulations require “the re-assignment of students to other schools in the school district does not produce, sustain, or contribute to unlawful segregation, separation, or isolation of student populations on the basis of race or national origin.”

This last objection was given powerful backing by a recent study by Rutgers professor Bruce Baker and his graduate student Mark Weber—better known as the popular education blogger “Jersey Jazzman”—who warned that the “One Newark” plan would be harmful to the city’s neediest and poorest students.

Finally, the district must receive a recommendation of the executive county superintendent for the school closing.

Athos added, “Although not expressly required, we would also strongly recommend obtaining the support of the NPS School Board for any school closing, given the significant short and long-term impact such action will have on the education of current and future K-12 students and preschoolers.”

The ELC attorney noted the last long-term plan was prepared in 2005 and approved by the state in 2007.

“It is seriously outdated and is well beyond the five-year period of effectiveness under state law. Thus, any decision about closing NPS schools and preschools, in addition to determinations of facilities needs and priority projects, cannot proceed in advance of revising the LRFP to reflect changed circumstances and current conditions.”

The state regulations, the ELC attorney wrote, “are critical to making sound decisions on the district’s facility needs, ongoing building use and school reconfiguration.”

She repeated the ELC demand  from last fall that “you take prompt steps to complete and submit the revised” long-term plan.

“In the interim, we ask that you refrain from proceeding with any school or preschool closing, or other building reconfiguration” until she obtains state approval for the long term plan.

Matthew Frankel, Anderson’s chief spokesman, was emailed a copy of the letter and asked if the superintendent had a comment.  He has so far declined to comment on the ELC’s contentions.

The law center has a history of going to court to protect the interests of children in urban schools and was a leader in defending the school aid formula that the Christie administration continues to ignore.  While the Athos letter does not mention possible court action, the center could seek a court order stopping the “One Newark” plan based on violation of state regulations.

Activists opposed to the Anderson plan are expected to bring up her failure to abide by state regulations at this week’s state Board of Education meeting. The board, however, has acted as little more than a rubber-stamp for the plans of the Christie administration and its commissioner, Christopher Cerf.

The ELC analysis, however, could add momentum to legislative efforts to stop school closings throughout New Jersey, especially in urban districts. Proponents of the bill, introduced by state Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex) and cleared by the senate’s education planet, say they believe it could empower the Newark school board—given only an advisory panel by the state takeover law—to block the school closing in Newark and other cities.

14 comments

  1. LA

    What I don’ t understand is how Cami has worked against the interest of NPS when that was the job she was hired to do. Any employee purposely sabotaging their institution would be immediately fired and held liable. Who does that in this case? I feel like we are begging her to resign with little recourse of forcibly removing her from office and that makes me sad. I will hold hope that actions are taking place to correct this huge injustice.

    Bob Braun: I believe the takeover law gives hiring to the state education commissioner who is just an extension of the governor (I remember when the commissioner had an independent, five-year term). Christie just gave Anderson a $50,000 bonus and face time at the State of the State so I wouldn’t expect him to fire her.

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  3. Arabella

    Everyday something else comes out that is horrific about New Jersey.
    How does someone get a $50k bonus when they didn’t move the academic achievement. She was hired to close schools and promote the Wall Street Charter agenda a true soldier of Mayor Bloomberg. No education expertise just a soldier in the destruction of public school education. Just like the Governor closed the lanes on the bridge and gave all of his friends jobs at the Port Authority, this behavior beyond illegal, she should be held in contempt of court for what she is doing to communities and our children. Glad the chickens are coming home for all of these fake leaders in New Jersey. We are the joke of the country

  4. Rita M

    When public officials and lawmakers forget there are laws in place that need to be followed, justice unexpectedly comes flying back at them in a legal way. Thank you, Bob, for calling them out and bringing these stories to us.

  5. Jeff Ballin

    Missed the point. Her mission, first and foremost was to break the unions and open the door for privatization and profit. The Christie, Cerf, Annderson cadre has never been about kids, education, or community. They have exerted their authority in the same manner as any bully, I.e. Bridge gate.

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  7. ellen rosner

    The parents, teachers, students and concerned citizens of Newark provide inspiration for the rest of the state, and for the country. Someone had to stand up and say, We will not allow our children to be moved around like pawns on a chessboard, for the profit of the billionaires. Legal action is fine, but nothing has ever happened, but the people make it happen. How ’bout a demonstration of 400 people at Cami’s house? Would that make the point clearer? How about occupying the Board of Ed?

  8. Tony

    Bob
    I am a tired parent why should kids go to school today. It is snowing!!!!! The whole state is closed!!!!! What needs to happen the death of a child for people to realize that the sidewalks are not cleaned and kids opt to walk on the street. But Anderson called for a professional development day on Wednesday. It was a nice day we should have had classes. The professional development days are a joke given were demoralizing initiative. My kids are not getting the best education possible because the teachers fear job loss!!!!! Who can teach under punitive conditions!!!!!

    • Tony

      Just got to my kid’s school. Turns out that the school is closed. The decision was made at 7:30. But who did they tell?

  9. Newarkbluesman

    She seems to know how to close schools permanent,but can not close them for snow.Today,we were informed at 7:32 some were informed as late as 8:00 Students and teachers are in at some schools.IDIOT.

  10. Mark Twainfive

    Just an observation from an elderly concerned grandfather:
    Many years ago, California was known for having the best K-18 schools and universities and more recently New Jersey was known for the same thing, so what happened when we cut back on Educational resources to these exceptional systems of learning for our children and their future? When special interest wealthy people, their wealthy foundations, and their wealthy corporations tell us that money does not matter and throwing money at the problem will not help, then why does it seem obvious that taking money and resources away caused this regression to occur at the same time these people have increased their personal wealth beyond what anyone would have dreamed possible just 20 years ago! How did we allow this to happen! No one cared enough about the children to question their motives? Shame on us for allowing the 1% to take us back 100 years to the time of extreme wealth and poverty existing within a short distance of each other.

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