Did Cami Anderson plead the fifth? Has she lost touch with reality?

Anderson and Hespe at Tuesday's hearing
Anderson and Hespe at Tuesday’s hearing

Not a great day for Cami Anderson. The chairman of the legislative committee that oversees state-operated  school districts Tuesday accused the state-appointed Newark superintendent  of “taking the fifth” because she repeatedly refused to discuss her personal and business ties to a Newark charter school leader to whose organization she sold a Newark public school at less than fair market value. Anderson also was openly caught in a lie when she insisted before the Joint Committee on Public Schools (JCPS) that no school principals were in so-called “rubber rooms,” getting paid to do nothing–apparently unaware one of the principals was attending the hearing. She also was openly laughed at by committee members when she talked about a “legislative liaison” aide whom none  had ever met.

But the oddest thing that happened at the four-hour hearing was Anderson’s insistence that her reforms efforts should not be judged by falling state test scores because such scores were “inaccurate” and “unfair”–this, from a woman who has closed public schools and fired educators because of falling state test scores.

Anderson, a woman who has shown nothing but smug contempt for critics,  was reduced to offering  what amounted to personal pleas that the legislators try to “understand my journey”or “my passion”–mawkish and overplayed efforts to depict herself as someone whose past helped her understand the problems of poor people. In the end, she had to be rescued  after four hours by state Education Commissioner David Hespe who told the committee Anderson had had enough for one day and should be allowed to leave.

Hespe wasn’t  a witness. He wasn’t even supposed to be there. He was a sort of a minder–or, maybe, big brother– to hold Anderson’s hand (figuratively) while legislators from both parties relentlessly asked questions that demonstrated they failed to understand her genius and couldn’t give a damn  about her journey through life and her passion for education. After her ordeal ended, Anderson refused to answer reporters’ questions and  all but fled the committee room, chased by television cameras shining bright lights.

The day was clearly an embarrassment for her–and for Gov. Chris Christie who has held her up as a symbol of his devotion to what he calls “school reform.”

Never in the nearly four years that Anderson, once a  political operative for former Newark Mayor Cory Booker, has run the Newark schools for Christie has she appeared so cowed, so unable to respond to criticism.  So ridiculous. And, this time, she couldn’t throw a hissy fit and storm out or have her critics thrown out of the room by school security.

The day started out well for her. She came with a large retinue of well-paid aides and a screen where she could display her PowerPoint presentation about Newark “On the Move.” State Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex), the JCPS chairman, insisted she limit herself to a five-minute opening statement.  But Anderson ignored him and spoke for 24 minutes, praising her accomplishments, often to the accompaniment of some Newark residents shouting “Liar” and “Not true.”

The first sign the day would not go as planned for Anderson came when state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) began asking questions. “I am so angry,” said Ruiz, and explained how she had worked “day after day” trying to help Newark families, her constituents, find seats in  public schools that had been closed to families because of Anderson’s  botched “One Newark” enrollment plan.

Anderson tried to avoid the implications of Ruiz’s questioning by blaming the chaos and unhappiness of parents on demand for traditionally strong schools–but Ruiz was having none of it and the senator, the head of the Senate Education Committee, barely concealed her contempt for Anderson.

Ruiz’s attack on Anderson could have serious implications for the Newark superintendent whose contract must be renewed in June. Ruiz is closely aligned with Essex County Joseph DiVincenzo who, in turn, is one of Christie’s poodles despite a voter card which shows him to be a Democrat.

Republicans, predictably, tried to defend Anderson–Christie’s choice–but even their hearts clearly were not in trying to defend a woman who came across as such a friendless loser. State Sen. Samuel Thompson  (R-Middlesex) praised Anderson for her efforts but thought that, if she wanted to be a public official, she had to “develop a thicker skin.”

His half-hearted defense of Anderson provided a light moment when he asked her if she had a “legislative liaison,” an aide who would stay in touch with lawmakers on such important committees as  the JCPS or Ruiz’s education committee. When she replied, “Yes,” all the legislators instantly looked quizzically at each other and then laughed–because no one had even met him or her. Anderson, whose top aides make more than most school superintendents in New Jersey, did not offer to identify the reclusive liaison officer.

The best–and, probably, most telling moment–was provided by Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Essex), a former Essex County schools superintendent. Caputo was grilling her on a number of topics, including  so-called “EWPS”–or educators without placement. These are men and women who are dismissed from their schools, usually because of one of Anderson’s reform efforts, but can’t be fired because they are tenured and have done nothing wrong. At one point last year, more than 400 teachers and, perhaps, dozens of school administrators, were EWPS, educators receiving full salaries but doing nothing.

In the exchange between Caputo and Anderson about EWPS, flatly denied there were “rubber rooms”–a colloquial term given to offices where unassigned  but fully paid educators spend their days. She also denied there were principals in “rubber rooms.”

Tony Motley, the former principal of the Bragaw Avenue School, happened to be in the audience. He is a principal in a rubber room–it’s actually Room 904 at 2 Cedar Street where, he says, he spends his days working on his doctoral dissertation and doing nothing else for his full salary. His school–Bragaw Avenue–was turned over to Anderson’s friends in the charter movement and so he lost his job.

Some time after Caputo’s round of questioning ended, he learned about Motley’s presence in the Statehouse committee room and asked if there were any principals assigned to rubber rooms in the audience. Motley stood up and waved to the committee members. Anderson, clearly upset, insisted she hadn’t lied–and spoke emotionally about her “integrity.”

Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver (D-Essex), the former Assembly speaker and U.S. senate candidate, spent a great deal of her questioning time warning Anderson to get over herself and to drop her “attitude.”  She told Anderson she should not consider herself  the “sharpest tool in the shed.”

Oliver was joined by Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin (D-Essex) in wondering aloud how Anderson could refuse to attend Newark school board meetings and remain as Newark superintendent. The two legislators repeatedly raised the issue of Anderson’s failure to show leadership in boycotting meetings of her own school board.

Anderson was surprisingly unprepared for the hearing. Known for her ability to pull figures out of the air to support any position she takes, the Newark superintendent could not, for example, say how many teachers in Newark were teaching outside their certification–although that is a statistic she should have. She couldn’t tell how many EWPs there were. She was vague about transportation statistics. She made an odd comment about how “people in the district” wanted to go “the New Orleans route” and make all schools charter schools–a comment that came as a surprise to even school board officials who didn’t  know that was ever contemplated. She couldn’t remember the last time she attended a public board meeting (it was January, 2014) and she couldn’t say how much money was spent on EWPS.

And she made no sense whatever in her discussion of statewide test scores, especially among the so-called “Renew Schools.” These schools–in which principals were given great autonomy, teachers were transferred out, and the school day was lengthened–were at the core of Anderson’s reform efforts.

She had predicted children in the “Renew Schools” would reach 50 percent proficiency on statewide tests in two years. It turns out the scores came in far under her goals. Earlier, she blamed the declines on charter schools “skimming” better-performing students. At the JCPS hearing, however, she took a different tack–questioning the validity of the statewide test scores themselves, something she had never done before, at least not publicly. She went on at length about the problems children  faced–including mobility and economic deprivation–basically repudiating much of her own oft-stated philosophy that children’s circumstances should not be blamed for failure. Anderson was, in effect, making the arguments most of her critics have made against her reform efforts.

Her nerves clearly were frayed–and that’s when Rice, the JCPS chairman, began asking about the so-called “Pink Hula Hoop.” The state senator has tried for a year to get answers about how and why Anderson arranged to sell the 18th Avenue School to a profit-making corporation–actually PinkHulaHoop1 LLC-that was a profit-making front for the TEAM Academy Charter schools. Anderson, Christie and Senate President Steve Sweeney have stonewalled Rice’s efforts–and his frustrations showed.

The story is a complex one and involves past business associates and current friends of Anderson–and of former Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf. It also involved the state Economic Development Authority (EDA), which provided money for TEAM Academy. Rice says he believes the sale of the school may have been designed to help out Anderson’s and Cerf’s private associates.

When he began questioning Anderson on her ties to Tim Carden, a former EDA member who heads some of the corporations involved in buying the property, Anderson just repeated how she followed normal procedures for the sale of the land. Rice repeated his questions and Anderson repeated her mantra about following procedures. She wouldn’t answer the increasingly frustrated senator’s questions.

That’s when Rice accused Anderson of “taking the fifth”–citing the practice of some persons in danger of  criminal prosecution of refusing to answer questions based on the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Apparently, the questions got to Anderson–and to Hespe, who jumped into the conversation and demanded Rice end the hearing. That didn’t please Rice who said he was trying to keep Hespe out of the controversy but, he told the commissioner, “You had to open your mouth.” Rice then told of how Hespe had promised last year that he would help resolve the “Pink Hula Hoop” controversy before a decision was made on Anderson’s contract. Rice also revealed Hespe had promised to deliver Anderson to a JCPS hearing–but she blew off three invitations.

That’s when Anderson fled the room, chased by cameras.

Rice said he wouldn’t give up. He and other members demanded scores of documents–ranging from lists of consultants Anderson hired to the number of people getting paid to do nothing. He would have more hearings, he said–and he would continue to demand subpoena power for his committee.

“I’m not giving this up,” he said.

 

 

23 comments

  1. Andy

    Bravo! Excellent post, and how encouraging to learn that the state government knows how bad things are in Newark.

  2. Debbie

    Thanks for this informative description of the hearing. I hope the whole committee embraces Senator Rice’s promise to not give up on this. Cami Anderson must go and with her the entire reform gang. The question, of course, will be how much damage and thievery will have taken place prior to her departure… Zuckerberg money gone already…

  3. Urban Teacher

    Bravo! For the record, I, like many other EWPS, am not sitting around doing nothing. I am teaching outside of my certification.

  4. Barry

    Camy and all of her cohorts need to be indicted. Her operation and behavior smells of outright “public corruption” at the highest level. Is this really going on in America?? Where is the State Attorney General?? Where is the Essex County District Attorney?? Where is the U. S. Justice Department. Where is the FBI?? This is political corruption and anarchy at the highest level in New Jersey.

  5. TK_2015

    Another good Anderson quote, featured in the Wall Street Journal’s coverage of this day in the life of Cami:

    “For every person who communicates their frustration, there is someone who hugs me and says thank you,” she said.

    Thus we see, in plain black and white, the cynical political mantra:

    One out of two ain’t bad.

    Especially so (the cynical part), when you cull your constituency from the jaded, the entitled, the opportunistic, the morally compromised. And you have a few mega-jackpot backers, like Kenny Langone and his fellow cadre of billionaire Geppettos, who can print free passes until there is no tomorrow. They will gladly blow stardust up your backside, all day long, for the pleasure that it brings them in their self-described calling to save the world for the likes of trademarked demigods.

    One out of two. The spoils of a divided union and a corseted economy. Which brings us to another (Republican) mantra:

    Look out for number one.

    And watch out, stardust travelers, when the signs say that is no longer you. You might think about joining the revolution after all, Ms. Anderson, and I’m not talking about the corporate-cuddly-run-amok version, to which your twinkling eyelashes betray any denial of smitten fealty. I’m talking about the one in which we all matter, and you are bound, by a yet to be fully-functioning conscience, to recognize.

    You have been had, Ms. Anderson, by “virtue” of your self-absorption, and now you are completely indigestible to at least one in two of the people you have “rescued” from the status quo. Check that. You are 100% a-okay, by your own polling, on a test which requires a mere 50% proficiency, and you generously receive forty-five hundred free basis points–before you lift a pencil–courtesy of your friends in high places.

    Bob, thank you for staying true to Newark, mapping it out, getting it in print, and helping to “nudge the world” by just this much. Yours, in league with the community which honestly aspires to act from conscience, is no small accomplishment; one in which many are discovering a handle, now long in the braiding. A better brand of warmed-over stupid, Cami might learn, is a truly contempible offering, even to the “poorest of us.”

    Three steps back, Anderson & Company. Heave-ho, people.

  6. marin

    Great Report. I saw a comment that said she had a melt down, however Spotlight did not give an accurate picture of what really happened at that meeting.Thanks for reporting the truth.

  7. FirstHand

    Thank you for this detailed report of what happened at this hearing. I wish I could have been at the hearing to see and hear everything myself, but your description was the next best thing to being personally in the room.

    What I want to know is why are approximately 400 effective teachers in the EWP Pool, either working in a school, in or out of certification, or at 2 Cedar Street and the district hired approximately 400 brand NEW teachers, many from Teach for America? Why weren’t the EWP teachers given the opportunity for any job opening NPS had available first before new teachers were hired?

    Bob Braun: Someone else might be in a better position to answer this question than I, but, from what I understand, teachers are given at least an illusory opportunity to apply for the positions but no school principal is required to hire them so they remain EWPS. I will ask the union.

  8. Pingback: Bob Braun: Cami’s Disastrous Appearance at Hearing | Diane Ravitch's blog
  9. Christie4BoyManLove

    How does Cami live with herself and sleep at night? That is a sign of a truly deranged psychopathic individual because anyone with an ounce of scruples or moral conviction would have quit or jumped off the 280 bridge into the Passaic river long ago.

    Bob Braun: She is a Broadie and the Broad Academy teaches that disruption is good for reform. Disruption is toxic, even incendiary, to urban environments but Cami doesn’t understand that. Se is naïve and inept.

  10. Florence Swan

    Does anyone else think Cami Anderson will resign before she is to present the documents(…scores of documents–ranging from lists of consultants Anderson hired to the number of people getting paid to do nothing) Senator Rice has requested she present?

    Bob Braun: It certainly is possible that Anderson will resign before she complies with the Rice committee demands–but that doesn’t mean she will resign soon. I believe she will not comply with the committee’s demands for document production for months, maybe even years. She was uperintendent for nearly four years before she showed up at the committee that has oversight over all state takeover districts.

    • Florence Swan

      I doubt Senator Rice will wait months, if not years, for her to produce his requested documents. He stated “I’m not giving this up.” Anderson is now in the hot-seat so she will have to produce. She doesn’t have a choice in the matter now that she has been exposed as not being truthful.

  11. Pingback: Cami Anderson’s Bad Day (parody) | Hear Know Evil
  12. Stressed

    To Urban Teacher and Bob Braun… EWPs. All it takes is four schools going renew or closing or a combination of renewed or closings and ‘poof!’ you’ve got 400 EWPs on your hands. When a school is renewed, the entire staff is EWP. However, some of those people applied for and got their jobs back, or applied for different positions in the district and got them. Sometimes it’s just program cuts – like eliminate a course, like shop or music, and the teacher becomes EWP and that teacher hopefully finds another position, if there is one in their area.

    I’m not saying that this EWP thing is a good thing because most of the people who find themselves with that dreaded label (felling like they did something wrong) get new positions. But to say 400 people were EWP, doing nothing, and getting paid is just not true. Perhaps at the end of the school year, there may have been that number, but by the end of July positions were being filled.

    As for Urban Teacher… unfortunately you, like TFAs who come in with no certification, continue to teach in schools, particularly the more challenging ones, and teach outside of their certification.

    One thing I’d like to ask Cami Anderson is why is the TALENT Department hiring so many principals, administrators, and other assistants (all the way down to clerks) to people who aren’t from Newark. You can’t tell me there is no one in Newark or Essex County or the State of NJ who can secure those positions? You close schools, EWP staff, or pink slip good people without tenure, then make-up new positions and hire people from Seattle, Philadelphia, or NYC.

  13. Urban Teacher

    Hi Stressed,

    I am a certified teacher with more experience than I would like to admit. A comparison with TFA is without merit. TFA are generally sans certification. They are taking positions away from highly qualified teachers.

    • Stressed

      Urban Teacher… I apologize. I was trying to commiserate with you for having to teach outside your subject. What I was trying to speak to was the difficulty staffing schools with challenging populations so that you and others have to teach outside your area of expertise. My inclusion of TFAs, as I said, was that they come to those schools with NO certification.

      • Urban Teacher

        If we start with the premise that all EWPS were in positions prior to the commencement of the musical chairs charade, we can easily see that these issues have little to do with the difficulties of staffing. These are deliberate machinations by the administration to deprive veteran teachers of their livelihoods and their self respect.

        Bob Braun: I think that is exactly so.

        • Stressed

          I’m in agreement with this. I also said way above that I don’t understand how we have people coming from out of state to fill new, made-up positions, even clerks or assistants to assistants. There is no one in Newark who can do those jobs?

          • Stressed

            And FYI, I was made EWP due to “budget cuts” primarily because I was at the top of the salary scale (with little time to retirement). I found another school to work out my days. Point is: There is so little respect from this administration for experienced teachers, we’re the ones they are pushing out and we all know it’s to save money and has nothing to do with quality education.

  14. educationwillsetufree

    Thanks, Bob, as always you are one of few willing to write the truth. I m in complete disbelief as to why this woman is being allowed to head anything, never mind, Newark Public Schools. Her ability to get continue to be employed, with talk of a yet another pay another pay raise, is incredulous.She will go down as one of the most incompetent supers of all time.

  15. Pingback: In Newark, Cami Anderson Again Demonstrates Contempt for Democracy | janresseger

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