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.”