Hespe offers Cami a contract: Has Baraka been “played” already?

Cami Anderson--will she sign?
Cami Anderson–will she sign?
Ras Baraka--has he been played?
Ras Baraka–has he been played?


                Cami Anderson, the controversial state-imposed superintendent of Newark schools, has been offered a new one-year-contract, that, despite restrictions on her freedom to act, will allow her to continue imposing the “One Newark” plan that has become a severely divisive issue among residents of the state’s largest city.

                Several sources close to the Newark Public Schools administration and state Education Commissioner David Hespe say they believe she will accept the contract and stay for at least another year. The contract, the sources say, is renewable for another two years.

                The offer of the contract—which had been predicted by Anderson herself two weeks ago—is a direct slap at newly-elected Newark Mayor Ras Baraka who continues to demand her resignation. His successful campaign against Shavar Jeffries–an Anderson supporter–was a referendum on her and her plan to close the city’s neighborhood schools and replace them with charters and other privatized schools. Just last week, he predicted Anderson would leave because he believed “cooler heads will prevail.”

                His reference was to an expectation that Hespe would persuade her to leave. But, apparently, quite the opposite has happened—Hespe is now trying to persuade Newark leaders, including Baraka, to open a “dialogue” with Anderson to resolve the problems her plan has caused.

                “Hespe is shopping around the idea that community leaders should sit with her to open up a dialogue,” said one Newark schools leadership source who asked not to be identified. “He has reached out to a number of community leaders, but so far they have balked at his suggestion to continue a dialogue with her.”

                The offer of the contract also is an embarrassment to union leaders—most notably, Joe Del Grosso, the head of the Newark Teachers Union, who flat out predicted several weeks ago that Anderson’s departure was “imminent.”

                Del Grosso spoke as if Hespe already had decided to replace Anderson with a kind of dual superintendency that included veteran Newark administrator Roger Leon and a high-ranking state education department official.  The union leaders wanted Rochelle Hendricks, the former acting education commissioner who now runs the higher education coordinating agency– but Hendricks reportedly rejected the idea.

                When that plan didn’t work, the union leaders hoped Hespe would make life so uncomfortable for Anderson that she would quit. He sent a team in to review her operations, a probe headed by Cathy Coyle, a former assistant superintendent in the state-operated Jersey City school district. But that plan was contingent on Anderson, who makes nearly $300,000 annually, finding a new job. As one source said, “No want wants her—not even Amplify.”

                Amplify is a company owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and run by Joel Klein, the former New York City schools chancellor who worked with both Anderson and Chris Cerf, the recently resigned state education commissioner. Klein hired Cerf to run a division of Amplify that sells products to New Jersey public schools, including Newark.

                Hespe is scheduled to meet with Newark leaders this week to give them the bad news they didn’t want to hear. He is expected to tell them he will restrain Anderson’s often outrageous behavior—she has refused, for example, to attend school board meetings—and keep her on what one source called a “short leash.”

                One source at NPS headquarters said Anderson has told her closest associates she has been offered a contract but is not happy with it. “There  are also now provisions that would make it easier for the state to drop her and provisions that would make it easier for her to leave if she got a job somewhere else,” the source said.

                Union officials will not comment publicly but privately they say they feel they have been double-crossed by Hespe and Gov. Chris Christie who is sticking with Anderson as a way of showing Baraka that his election will have no impact on him.

                “This is payback for Ras winning,” said one union source.

                Baraka will be sworn in July 1, the first day of Anderson’s new contract if she accepts it.  The offer of a contract to Anderson comes at a time when the unity displayed during the election campaign may be falling apart.  Anderson’s opponents called off a major rally scheduled for June 13th, ostensibly because of the threat of bad weather. Some within the anti-Anderson movement fear Baraka may be softening his stand against Anderson as a way to demonstrate his reasonableness to business interests like Prudential that support Anderson.

                Opposition to Anderson had reached a peak in the last few weeks. She has insisted on forcing the “One Newark” plan on the parents of Newark despite her failure to meet key deadlines. She also has let go a number of popular principals, most notably H. Grady James, the popular principal of Hawthorne Avenue School, and the entire administrative team at the University High School magnet school.

                Her critics have raised issues about her frequent trips away from the city; her decision to move to Glen Ridge—with the help of Amy Rosen, the wife of Tim Carden, the head of Team Academy charter schools; her extensive use of consulting firms; her refusal to appear before legislative committees,  and the granting of huge raises to close assistants at the top of the Newark Pubic schools administration when contracts with unions have not been negotiated and hundreds of employees are likely to be laid off.

                Parent leaders have begged Hespe to intervene but he has waited for more than a month to answer them. In a few days, it will be too late—Cami will have her contract, schools will be closed for the summer, and the political momentum built up since the Baraka campaign will wilt in the summer heat.

                “I think he (Hespe) has played Baraka,” said one source close to the Newark schools administration. “Now, I wonder how he will react.”

  1. I think it is perhaps harsh to say that Hespe played Baraka. More likely Baraka knows his options are limited and he is trying through the avenues he has to make progress. He is no longer the campaigner Baraka but soon to be mayor Baraka and with that comes a new role. He will have to manage the expectations – which he perhaps set unrealistically high – of supporters as he navigates the new territory. And he has to work within the system to which he was elected. It is a hard reality and an adjustment time will determine whether he can maintain the confidence and patience of his supporters. I hope so.

    1. “…Anderson has told her closest associates she has been offered a contract but is not happy with it. ‘“There are also now provisions that would make it easier for the state to drop her…”‘

      Oh really. Sounds a lot like how teachers felt when she tried to run around tenure laws.

    2. Yes. Managing expectations is critical. Those of us who supported Mr. Baraka should remain united with him. Those in Trenton and the Essex County Democratic (so called) leaders would be quite pleased to see Mayor Baraka’s support diminish. I supported Candidate Baraka and I will support Mayor Baraka. The fight is not over…

  2. Baraka never had the authority to remove Anderson. The district is under STATE control. The election didn’t change that nor could it. We known for weeks she was going to get a contract. She was notified, which is how contracts are extended. Instead of reading opinion pieces masquerading as journalism, read the public notices.
    And I’m perplexed as to why there’d be any issue with yet another NPS administrator living outside of Newark. Even the ones who live here don’t send their kids to the schools.

  3. The provisions that will make it easier for state to terminate and or make it easier for her to leave if she got another job, is in my opinion just a ploy. Cami will not allow herself to be terminated a deal was made to put those provisions in so that she could leave on her own accord. I’m quite sure she is looking when she goes on her excursions. She will leave
    after she gets finished ruining NPS.

  4. If union officials feel they were double-crossed by Hespe and Christie, they must be incredibly naive. Hespe and Christie did what anyone could have predicted they’d do, given the interests they represent. I wish union officials represented the people they are supposed to represent with the same passion.

  5. Hilarious. Both the mayor elect and union officials were giving bull to the public about Cami leaving. You must remember that she has the blind support of Christie who expects to make a “reorganized Newark school system” one of the pillars of his presidential election campaign. So continue to watch Cami decimate a school system that was first started in the late 1600s.

  6. Joe Del Grosso definitely needs a face to face with Hespe!

    Was Hespe just trying to keep things cool until the end of the school year or was he sincere but ordered to do things differently?

    1. It came from the Governor Hespe knows Cami is bad paper.

    2. Correction: Joe Del Grosso definitely needs to resign as president and let someone better able to steer the union on a better course.

      Bob Braun: I understand your frustrations but I don’t agree with your conclusion. I believe neither the NJEA nor the NTU has a membership prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to turn Cami around. I believe a parent-teacher boycott of schools in September would bring Cami down in 48 hours but this isn’t 1968 or 1970. Teachers and parents (including teachers who also are parents) are understandably frightened for their jobs and not used to the idea that collective action often is necessary to forward individual interests. In Newark and throughout the country, the peddlers of disruptive school change, backed by crazy, right-wing politicians like Chris Christie, have intimidated good people into believing they can do nothing to change the course of history. I hope that changes in my life-time. Christie, Cami, and the other disrupters no longer play by the rules leaders like Del Grosso, Baraka, and others have followed. The greater the disruption, their theory teaches people like Cami, the greater the evidence of success. I don’t like to say this but what Cami needs is a wave of counter-disruption so effective it washes her out of office. Marches won’t do it. Letters from well-meaning reverends won’t do it. Backroom deals won’t do it. Only direct action will do it.

      1. Bob, your memory is short. Last year Joe Del Grosso barely won reelection as NTU president BUT he lost the majority he used to have on the NTU executive board. This was just after he sold the membership down the drain with a ridiculous contract that made the teachers lose thousands of dollars in income a year.

        Obviously Bob you remember Joe as a rabble rouser in the 1970s when he demanded more action from the Carol Graves leadership. Now that he is in charge, he has become a mil-toast. Going to Board meetings, staging protest marches, etc., is not going to change Cami. She knows that he and his union are inept and a joke. She will jam through her changes with the result an ever growing flood of students wanting to attend charters to avoid the NPS chaos and low faculty morale.

        Come September when Cami’s changes go into effect, we will see chaos in every school that the changes affect. Parents who can ill afford paying or taking their children to distant schools will keep them home. Who will visit their homes to enforce the compulsory education law? No one – Cami laid all the attendance counselors off last year.

        Bob Braun: Joe Del Grosso took over the union in the 1990s, not the 1970s. I was critical of the contract that Randi came in to close. It is not up to me to determine who should lead the NTU, nor is it up to me to tell the membership what it should do. These are working people with children, parents, loans, college tuitions, mortgages, car payments. I never had a union at The Star-Ledger. I’d like to believe the best thing to do morally and politically is for the union membership–members of all the unions–to join with parents and boycott the schools in September. That would require a level of unity only one person might have a chance of creating and that one person would be Ras Baraka. I don’t think he will do that and I don’t fault him for that. He has a city to run and the town-wreckers in Trenton will make life as difficult as possible for him. It’s difficult to be optimistic. It’s also difficult to determine the wisest course of action. I don’t think it’s helpful to blame one guy, Joe Del Grosso, for the demoralized state of its people–if you want to blame someone, blame Christie, Booker, or Anderson or the people in the tall white bulding with the Prudential written on it. They have a lot more to do with it than Joe.

  7. Politicians running campaigns for office are never the solution to problems, only an independent movement for change can keep the pressure on no matter what the obstacle. Did everyone forget what Obama looked like in 2008 and what he really is?

    Baraka has been very good for Newark because his election strategy was based on building a movement but it, in the long run, wont work because we dont really live in a democracy and never have. He will have to play ball with the ruling class in this dictatorship of wealth.

    We need leaders that are unafraid to criticize the system itself. Capitalism survives only by convincing us it can be reformed to work for us, in reality it has only ever worked for the corporations and their paid politicians. We need more organizing and sounding the alarm, especially since Baraka won. No one should have this movement in his back pocket and use it when convenient and put it away when its inconvenient.

    Bob Braun: Thank you for these very wise words.

    The movement and people who put him in office owe it to themselves to maintain their strenth and continue to build a mass base for change, no matter who is in office. Historically, it is the only way real change can happen. The system always tries to crush and control independent movements for change and that cant be allowed to happen.

  8. Cami said she out foxed Sen.Ruiz and JoeD.Only thing is to see how tax payers feel about rewarding a person who created a 60 million dollar deficit.

  9. Bob – your unfortunately are right again – from here, it sure looks like Baraka blinked, but I don’t think he got played (I don’t think the man is naive). Regardles, it’s a really bad sign, because, from the perspective of this Newark outsider, it sure seemed that the Baraka election was a referendum on Cami and “One Newark”

    And there does appear to be a lack of unity and resolve required to shut down the system until Cami goes, which would happen if teachers unions and progressive groups were united and committed to direct action.

    You are also right in the comment above about how the right wingers have intimidated good people, especially the role of job and financial insecurity – the precariousness of life – – and that must change.

  10. Hey Steve Des, why don’t you stay on this article and stop making self serving arguments irrelevant to this discussion.By the way, the membership approved that contract so move on and lets direct our anger at those trying to rob public education, Cami, Christie and now apparently Hespe.

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