David Hespe, the former New Jersey education commissioner responsible for many of the worst excesses of state control of the Newark public school district, has a new source of employment–the Newark public school district.
And the district, still run by another former state education commissioner, Christopher Cerf, is doing what it can to hide Hespe’s role. After twice denying Hespe worked for the Newark public schools, Cerf’s aides finally conceded the other former state education commissioner, Hespe, “is employed by a firm we are working with.”
But that is about as forthcoming and transparent as Cerf–or Hespe himself–is willing to get. Hespe, who runs a consulting firm called Effective Educational Solutions, LLC, and has worked for two politically connected law firms, ducked repeated telephone calls and emails seeking information and comment on his new job.
Hespe’s work for Cerf is the latest in a dizzying exchange of jobs between top state educators. Hespe appointed Cerf to run the district which has been under state control since 1995. Cerf had preceded Hespe as state education commissioner–and Cerf himself had worked for the school district before he was appointed state education commissioner. Jobs among pals of outgoing Gov. Chris Christie spread like a highly contagious stomach virus among preschoolers.
Contagious. Nauseating. But profitable.
Both Cerf and Hespe as state education commissioner supported the so-called “reforms” imposed by Cami Anderson, Christie’s first choice to run the state-operated district–wrenching changes in district enrollment patterns, the closing down and sale of public schools and their assets, the misuse of new teacher tenure rules to dismiss veteran teachers and union activists, and the vast expansion of privately-operated charter schools.
That charter expansion came at the expense of traditional public schools. Tens of millions of dollars were transferred annually by Hespe and friends to privately-operated charter schools to ensure they are “saved harmless” from state aid cuts–cuts that devastated regular public schools. Hespe supported the transfer of public funds away from Newark public schools to the charters.
Just what Hespe–or Effective Educational Solutions, or both–has done and will be doing now for the school district is unclear. Cerf’s aides are insisting that, to find out how it is spending public money, this site file claims for routine information under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), a time-consuming, easily delayed and skirted procedure that can result in high costs to the media. Cerf’s aides are ignoring the statutory requirement that records of contracts be accessible “immediately.”
But this site has learned Hespe has been paid at least $36,000 and will receive thousands more per month in the future. Sources say he has been paid for legal work–he is an attorney–but also may be paid for consulting work related to the transition of the district to local control.
Hespe, who left state office in 2016, won’t say.
Published reports show Hespe–either personally or through Effective Educational Solutions–has worked for the Paterson school district, also a state-operated system, and the Hackettstown district. He also bid on another consulting contract in Palmyra. Effective Educational Solutions also was hired by the New Jersey Association of School Business Officers (NJASBO) to offer presentations at the organization’s convention.
Hespe also is listed as “of counsel” to at least two politically connected law firms that specialize in education. One is Porzio, Bromberg and Newman in Morristown whose managing partner is Vito Gagliardi, Jr., the son of a former state education commissioner and himself a veteran education law expert; Hespe is listed as a member of the firm’s “education team.”
The other is Schwartz, Simon, Edelstein and Celso in Whippany. There, Hespe “advises school districts, charter schools, private schools, and public and private higher education institutions,” according to the firm’s website.
As state education commissioner, Hespe enforced the pro-charter, anti-union, state aid-cutting policies of his boss, Chris Christie. He also backed the locally unpopular policies of Cerf and Anderson that led to vast charter expansion, the dispersal of young children across the city as part of the “One Newark” enrollment plan, and the firing or forced resignations of hundreds of veteran teachers, many of whom chose to resign rather than go through humiliating detenuring procedures–procedures that drained the Newark Teachers Union of resources.
Among the worst decisions handed down by Hespe was his support of Anderson’s firing of attendance counselors which led to a spike in absenteeism. A spike that was hidden for years by the bizarre state publication of absenteeism reports that showed Newark had no absenteeism.
Central office employees are fearful of speaking about Hespe’s hiring and its implications for the future of Newark’s schools–the administration can be vindictive about critics. However, some have privately expressed the fear that Hespe’s hiring represents part of an effort to lock in Cerf/Christie/Hespe/Anderson “reforms”–especially protection for charter schools and the “One Newark” plan that feeds students to struggling charters. Cerf was an officer of a national pro-charter lobbying group when Hespe appointed him to the Newark job. Cerf has had business ties to charter supporters and employees.
Others rankle at the thought that well-heeled lawyers and consultants are getting paid while Cerf continues to cut funds to regular public schools.
“It’s outrageous that money that should be going to children is instead going to well-placed political figures,” said one school employee.
The state took over in 1995 after a long investigation showed–ironically–examples of nepotism and cronyism in the Newark schools. The state’s record running the schools has been poor but, with Christie’s assumption of office in 2010, it took a radical turn–to making the city “the charter capital of the state,” according to published reports.
Christie worked directly with former Newark Mayor Cory Booker to force charterization on Newark’s children–and Anderson (a campaign worker for Booker), Cerf, and Hespe were the governor’s chief enforcers of the policy.
The anti-charter movement grew and reached an apex when thousands of city residents took to the streets in 2014 and 2015–just when Christie was starting his laughably unsuccessful presidential campaign.
But a deal reached between Christie and newly-elected Mayor Ras Baraka led to the mayor’s withdrawal of support for the anti-charter movement in return for a vague promise of a return to local control.
The promise proved illusory–because it won’t be kept until Christie leaves office next month, when state control would have ended anyway, without continuing the humiliating reforms hated by so many city residents for another three years.